Analysis: Spurs v Manchester United 13/1/19

Billed as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s biggest test to date as Manchester United’s interim manager, after some so called easy games, came at Wembley on Sunday afternoon and although it ended up a test of sorts it wasnt perhaps the sternest he had been expecting.

Games against Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth and away at Newcastle United had all ended with United winning all four games scoring 14 goals and conceding just the 3 and chuck in a 2-0 win in the FA Cup against Reading at Old Trafford and Solskjaer’s reign had started better than he could have imagined and with what seems a reinvigorated group of players the win on Sunday means it continues.


Starting 11’s

Mauricio Pochettino likes a diamond, we know that and it was no surprise to see him deploy it again on Sunday. Dele Alli will always be at the tip with the powerful yet somewhat cumbersome Moussa Sissoko on the right hand side, Christian Eriksen on the left and due to Eric Dier still out injured Harry Winks started in the screening role at the base. Diamonds can be complicated and need excellent discipline and bravery in the players positioning especially in attack to defensive transitions and this game was no different.

A diamond midfield is of course variation of a 4-4-2 but with no natural width. Given that Sissoko and Eriksen arent wingers and given Spurs have limited natural wide men at the club this becomes a natural set up for Pocchettino in many ways. Call it what you want some may say its a 4-3-1-2 and it can be interpreted that way but this depends on the the number 9 position (Dele Alli) floating around in midfield in positions ready to receive and turn with the ball to feed the two front men and not dropping in to make a four man midfield.

I thought Son’s defensive role in the game was interesting. He didnt really look to be interested in pressing Luke Shaw down the Spurs right hand side instead leaving that to Spurs right back Kieron Trippier and himself concentrated on pressing United’s central defenders with Harry Kane as Spurs looked to use their usual high intense pressing strategy. Not unusual perhaps but ‘Sonny’s’ game is all about pressing in the wide areas as well as up top.

Spurs high press

Sissoko’s presence around United’s Paul Pogba meant the latters ability to get on the ball and execute those ranging passes were restricted, well for the first half at least until Sissoko picked up an injury just before half time and Pogba’s freedom thereafter ended up being the difference come full time. Alli kept a (sort of) eye on Nemanja Matic as did Eriksen on Ander Herrera and this meant United’s midfield were suffocated and didnt have the angles and free players to be able to make any meaningful possession count.

United’s game plan seemed focused around trying to draw Spurs on to them and hit them on the counter and on a few occasions in the first half they did threaten in this way with Martial and Rashford having some joy. The fact United kept Rashford and Martial as high as the Spurs defensive line and Lingard not far off them signalled their intent.

xG timeline 

As my xG timeline shows above Spurs managed to restrict United’s attacking threat in the first half with some low xG shots. But it was on the stroke of half time that United managed to create the one opportunity that would end up with them coming away from Wembley with all three points.

United had the idea to make sure Rashford  and Martial stayed in the half spaces in between the Tottenham full backs and centre backs with Jesse Lingard occupying a more central role meaning the Spurs back four were stretched and with full backs Trippier and Ben Davies playing in their usual 10 yards inside the opposition half positions this then caused issues for Vertonghen and Alderweireld on who to pick up and when to shuffle accross not only due to the fact Rashford and Martial were in the half spaces but also if United decided to switch the play one of the two United front men could be in on goal, and so it proved.


Rashford and Martial kept to the half space positions on either side of the pitch to stretch Spurs


Pogba’s delivery to Rashford who had started his run from the right sided half space on 44 minutes
It was no coincidence that Sissoko’s substitution on 43 minutes looked to have had an impact as Pogba was able to take a touch and dig an exqusite pass out over and into the right hand side channel in between Vertonghen and Davies that Rashford had been occupying since the first minute and fire a neat right foot finish across Lloris and in to the far corner, United’s occupancy of the half spaces from defense to attacking transitions had paid off.

United defending late in the game

A quick end to this post and i wanted to take a brief look at United’s defensive strategy toward the end of the game.

Dalot was an important change but Rashford again played a part

This is where i think Solskjaer deserves credit for the changes he made later on in the game.

After Pocchettino had brought Fernando Llorente on for Harry Winks in the 81st minute United knew they would be facing a barrage of crosses from the Spurs full backs especially from the Spurs right and side and the right foot of Kieron Trippier. So on came Diogo Dalot to add some more steel in front of Ashley Young at right back to halt Ben Davies charges down the flank and his crossing ability but also Marcus Rashford was deployed down the left hand side to cope with the pace of Trippier as United moved to a 4-5-1 shape with Romelu Lukaku as the lone striker chasing down loose clearances when United had managed to clear the ball long upfield. This essentially cut off the high ball supply in to the United penalty area with a relatively low number of those types of balls being crossed in and Spurs instead having to try to play their way in through the centre of the pitch which United had simply re-enforced with men.

Gareth Cooper

G.C Analytics

PPDA and pressing in the EFL Championship

A quick intro into PPDA & other defensive pressure metrics

PPDA or Passes Allowed per Defensive Action, isn’t by any means a new measure used in assessing a team or players pressing intensity, and there are others of course, but it has been around since at least 2014 and if my memory serves me well this is the earliest I could find  (  , don’t ask me who first used brought it to the fore though!) but its not really until recent times that Wyscout and the like have started to add it to their post match reports and also to the longer term team/player stat tables.

This is obviously good news for those of us who cant afford the high prices of a well known company and, although I would agree their endless lists of statistics is hard to rival, other data collection companies are doing a sterling job in the same areas nowadays.

Back to PPDA and what it can bring to the table as a metric. PPDA comes under the banner of ‘defensive actions’ PPDA measures the passes an opponent is allowed to make before the team we are looking at makes a tackle, interception or a duel of some sort. There is a simple formula they and I use when measuring this and it is the following

PPDA= Passes made by an attacking team / Count of defensive actions

So in theory the higher the PPDA number the lower the level of pressing intensity and vice versa the lower the PPDA number the higher level of pressing intensity.

In this post i will take a look at the differing ways in which the teams in the EFL Championship tend to press using not only PPDA, but also a couple of other metrics, and also the different intensity’s in how they do it and hopefully we can see some trends in using these measures to then be able to see how the teams tend to transition from defence to attack using their given styles or pressing.

PPDA in the Championship

I think we all know where is the best place to start. Leeds United.

efl champ ppda graphic
Passes allowed per defensive action in the Championship 18/19

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Marco Bielsa is a well known advocate of the intense, high press and although i stupidly haven’t used the x,y data of where Leeds tend to win the ball back the most in this post,  it is clearly in the middle to final third.

No surprise then that the Elland Road outfit and current league leaders are at the top of the PPDA table above. With an average of just over 6 passes allowed to the opposition per minute of possession ( 2 more of second placed Derby County) Bielsa’s stamp on this Leeds side is evident and although these numbers alone don’t give a crystal clear picture they are a huge indicator of Leeds pressing style and intensity.

To sum up we can gather that Leeds’ have a high intensity pressing style but what about some of the other teams in the Championship? Now of course I don’t watch every team on a regular basis just like most people don’t but I know this league and I have a good understanding of how these teams play.

Now obviously just because you have a high PPDA number it doesn’t mean you will be bottom of the Championship without a prayer. Middlesbrough are a case in point. Tony Pulis prefers a mid or deep block and tends to sit back a tad more than some other sides tend too and this is evident by their 10.79 passes they allow their opponents before making a tackle etc and this is also backed up by video from what i have seen. Swansea City are another strangely positioned team in this table. Swansea tend to defend very deep anyway and like to invite teams onto them and hit them quickly in the transitions from defence to attack with Leroy Fer recycling the ball in central midfield with the creative Bersant Celina.

Four, (Leeds, Forest, Derby and Norwich) of the current top 7 in the league table are also the highest intensity pressers in my table two of which occupy the automatic promotion places so hard work does get you places right? Kinda but not if you are Ipswich Town. Their PPDA of 8.52 is better than most EPL teams so to me this all points to a hugely dis-organised pressing style.

Challenge Intensity

Its all very well in practice pressing as hard and as fast as you like, or not depending on the style of play the manager decides to employ, but it has to actually work in reality. So we can look at a measure called Challenge Intensity as this is an actual success rated metric.

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Team breakdown of Challenge Intensity in the Championship 18/19

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Leeds United once again top the list and this backs up the PPDA graphic above not only that but this shows that Leeds are pretty successful when they decide to press and with a CI of 6.2 this is very impressive indeed. Somewhat bizarrely Ipswich are again up the top of a list so what is going on at Portman Road? Can it be that the Tractor Boys are trying to press and just not being successful? They are tackling at a high rate but yet sit bottom of the Championship table by some margin, weird. Maybe they are getting run ragged most weeks and having to tackle a great deal more. Someone should delve into them a bit more but as i said before my thinking is they are just so disorganised when they press that they are having to tackle a lot more.

Leeds and Ipswich are two very good examples of how good a pressing style has to be organised to be successful, or not.

Boro’, West Brom, Sheffield United and Gary Monk’s Birmingham City are all high flyers in the league table yet all have relatively low CI ratios and are not that much higher in the PPDA table pointing to possible preferences to deep blocks and compact styles of defending with transitions to counter attacking styles of play if your a supporter of these sides you will know better than me.

Post tackle

I hope the charts above have given some good arguments and some proof as to which teams like to press, how they do it and at what sort of success they achieve when doing it. Now by no means am I stating that the measures in this article give definitive reasons to everything involved in pressing styles but I think it goes a hell of a way in showing what can be achieved when applying these metrics to the data.

I wanted to go a bit further, and this area is more subjective. Can we try to identify what a team does post-tackle (ok, in general)? Do they lump it forward looking for the tall striker? Do they play forward and more direct through the lines? Or maybe passing to wider areas?

A quick look at a teams possession and passing rates is directly related to a teams pressing style and I’m going to use, yes you guessed it, Leeds United as an example. As we know Leeds tend to press quickly and successfully in relation to other teams in the league but does this mean they have the lions share on average of the ball in a game?

efl champ pass %
Average possession/passes per minute of possession

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In a word yes they do.

Only Swansea City and Sheffield Wednesday have a better PPM (Pass Per Minute of Possession) ratio than Leeds with Norwich City unsurprisingly very close behind them. This metric can also be used to determine which teams may play a more possession based game than others see Derby, Brentford and Forest for example.

So Leeds do indeed keep hold of the football when they have won it back and not only do they tend to retain it well but also move it around quickly with just over 13.5 passes per minute pointing to a solid possession based style of play.

I’ve dragged this on too long already but one last thing before I wrap this up. Its all very well having the ball a lot but does it go into areas that can hurt the opposition?

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Championship team passes into the final third

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Erm, so yeh Leeds are…look they get the ball into attacking areas and at a high rate.

I’ve stuck this graphic in here to show the ball progression of the Championship teams and there are some anomalies. Troubled Ipswich are getting the ball in to the final third on a regular basis but what happens after seems to be the problem with only 21 goals score all season. Preston are another side which we may not expect to see up near the top of this graphic but having scored 38 goals maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised after all.

Norwich, some may feel, are out of place here but watch them play and although they are battling with the aforementioned Yorkshire club, the two promotion hopefuls play quite different styles of football with Norwich much more passive in the early stages of their build up play.

The Championship is a hugely competitive league and only the 3 hardest of hard workers will be lucky enough to reach the promised land of the Premier League.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any thoughts or comments on this pressing issue (see what I did there?) let me know on here or on Twitter @ThatGarateyjc.

Gareth Cooper

G.C Analytics