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Pressing Strategies: Which Clubs Are Setting the Pace?

A Closer Look at Premier League Pressing Strategies

Six games into the Premier League season, the dust is starting to settle, and we are beginning to discern the outlines of team strategies and playing styles. While it might be premature to draw extensive conclusions about team performance, it is prudent to examine certain metrics that reveal the stylistic intent of clubs quicker than goals or points do, as demonstrated by The Athletic.

Defining Pressures in Football

Pressures, as defined by Opta, are a defensive event attributed to an individual player, applied directly to the ball carrier or indirectly to potential receivers. Having a quantifiable log of off-ball events per team allows us to look beyond mere defensive actions and delve into a side’s intent to close the opposition down. By breaking this down by location on the pitch, we can analyse the percentage of each side’s total pressures across the defensive, middle, and attacking thirds.

Data below from The Athletic.

Chelsea’s Pressing Intensity

Chelsea, under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, has displayed a near-average volume of pressures in the middle and attacking thirds, reflecting their somewhat subdued start. However, a detailed examination reveals their out-of-possession numbers are notably strong. Chelsea’s PPDA (Passes Per Defensive Action) of 8.8 is currently the most intense in the league, suggesting efficiency and coordination in the press after ceding possession.

Tottenham’s Stylistic Transformation

Tottenham, under the tutelage of Ange Postecoglou, has undergone a notable stylistic transformation, becoming the division’s most front-footed side out of possession. This shift is evident in their high share of pressures in the final third, nearly 10 per cent above the league average. This aggressive approach has proven fruitful, with Tottenham registering more goal-ending high regains than most, highlighting the impact of Postecoglou’s philosophy on the team.

Bournemouth’s Aggressive Pressing Approach

Bournemouth, with Andoni Iraola at the helm, has seen a shift in style, pressing more aggressively high up the pitch. This approach, integral to Iraola’s philosophy, has been productive, with Bournemouth logging two goal-ending high regains so far. While results have been elusive, Iraola is imprinting his authority on the way his side plays, and the numbers substantiate this.

In-depth Analysis:

The proportion of total pressures allows us to account for the opportunity that each team has to defend, offering a fair comparison between the pressing requirements of different teams. This analysis provides insights into who is more likely to play in a high, mid, or deep block when they don’t have the ball.

Last season’s final top six have all been similarly front-footed out of possession, performing comfortably above the league average for their share of pressures in the attacking third. However, context is paramount when interpreting the data. Chelsea’s eagerness to win the ball back quickly has been as much about necessity as it has been a stylistic choice, given the share of time they have spent in different game states.

Manchester United, leading the table with 47 possessions won in the attacking third, is closely followed by Tottenham. The stylistic contrast between Antonio Conte’s philosophy and Postecoglou’s is stark, with the latter focusing on winning the ball back as quickly as possible.

Everton, under Sean Dyche, has been interesting to observe, with their approach being direct in possession and focusing on winning second balls. This tactic, while not glamorous, can be effective in maximising possession high up the field.

Analyzing Pressing Strategies: How Top Clubs Are Setting the PaceConclusion:

The metrics discussed provide insights into style rather than substance, offering a glimpse into the early-season approaches taken by each manager when their team is without the ball. Whether each side will maintain this approach throughout the 38-game campaign remains to be seen. The pressing strategies adopted by various Premier League teams reveal a lot about their playing style and the philosophies of their managers, making it a crucial aspect to observe as the season progresses.

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