English Premier League: Two Weeks In – What Have We Learned So Far? (part 1)


So we’re two rounds into the English Premier League 2011/12 season already and I thought I’d take a look at the some of the tactical highlights being shown by all 20 top flight teams. This article won’t be looking at formations (these are readily available in many places) but rather the key areas, strengths and weaknesses of individual teams football tactics, and key players.

You may think 2 games aren’t much to spot any ‘trends’ or traits, but Opposition Scouts will have to be doing this. I will look to revisit this every so often throughout the season, so we can see if those tactics we highlighted are continued and how effective they become.

Key to player dashboards (diagrams provided by FourFourTwo Stats Zone/Opta):

Arsenal – Neat Passing in midfield, problems either end

Nothing particularly of interest in terms of tactics from Arsenal. In their two games so far, Arsenal look to continue the same old short passing game, attempting an average of over 500 passes per game, with an average completion rate of 83%. Their main problem appears to be in the final third – only 5 shots from 23 (22%) have hit the target in the two games so far, and a significant reduction in chances created:

Compare the images above (this season on the left, same game last season on the right) and you can see the stark difference. Only 7 chances created in the penalty area this season, with 3 of those from corners – meaning in 2 games they have only created 4 chances within the penalty area in open play. In each of the games last season they created 5 and 6 chances respectively.

My previous article touched on the effect Fabregas’s departure would have on Arsenal, and here we can see the evidence they are just struggling in the final 3rd without him.

Aston Villa – Direct play favoured by McLeish

A new manager for Aston Villa with Alex McLeish crossing over Birmingham, and a change in tactics used. Obviously the loss of arguably the two most influential players, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing (Manchester United and Liverpool, respectively), certainly hasn’t helped, but already we have seen McLeish revert to similar tactics he implemented under Birmingham FC last season.

McLeish favours direct play to his front men, particularly away from home as you can see from the top image. At home he does seem to encourage a more mixed passing game, but still there is an emphasis on hitting the front men.

Blackburn Rovers – Missing Phil Jones

Compare the two charts above – top for Wolves this season, bottom for Wolves at the end of last season – and you can see Blackburn have been less efficient at defending. A key reason for this is the departure of Phil Jones. Although only 19, Jones became a key player for Blackburn, as you can see from his individual chart:

Responsible for 9 clearances, 5 interceptions and 2 tackles, Jones is clearly the big difference between this season and last. Until he is replaced, Blackburn look set to struggle at the back.

Bolton – Long ball to Davies still preferred route

Pretty obvious this one – but it’s suprising just how much Bolton look for Davies. Almost 20% of Bolton’s completed passes are to Davies:

They are then looking for knock downs off him – hence his ‘pass’ completion rate of just over 50%:

Another interesting factor is the roles of the two wide players, Chris Eagles and Martin Petrov:

Petrov looks to stay wide left, putting in a cross where possible, whilst Eagles seems to be allowed to drift all over the pitch, taking on his man and playing short passes.

Chelsea – Wide play and take ons a main feature, Torres needs to improve

Another team with a new manager, and it looks like Andre Villas Boas wants a key part of his team to be his wide forwards, encouraging players to take on their man and put crosses in. They have attempted more dribbles and more crosses than any other team so far:

One player keen to take on his man at any opportunity is Fernando Torres:

Liverpool – Long balls to Carroll, Charlie Adam has more variety, Stewart Downing could become key

In their first two games, Liverpool have shown a tendency to look for the big man upfront and hit Andy Carroll at any chance:

Not quite at the extremes of Bolton just yet (and 70% of Carroll’s passes/knock downs have found a Liverpool player) but something they are clearly using.

Another aspect Liverpool are looking at is using Charlie Adam as their playmaker:

Wether technical improvement or change in mentality from the coach – he appears to have improved this year. His pass completion rates so far have been 75% and 81% – compared with around 50-60% last year for Blackpool (Arsenal game used as a reference – 56% completion). The change appears to be in the passing style – last year around 75% of his passes were forward ‘killer’ balls, this season he is more ready to play the backward/sideways pass, with those balls being reduced to 50%.

Another of the new players, Stewart Downing is showing signs of becoming a key player, popping up all over the pitch:

Part 2 can be found here

Keywords: football tactics, team tactics, premier league, soccer tactics, team analysis, player analysis

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2 responses to “English Premier League: Two Weeks In – What Have We Learned So Far? (part 1)”

  1. rohanberrywriter says :

    Great article. Loved the analysis of Chelsea’s play as I’d been thinking some of the same things myself. Look forward to reading part 2.

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