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  (statsbomb.com  , 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.

efl champ challenge intensity
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








1950-2018: Formations and tactics across the years

I love a good tactical write up, team formations and tactics have always fascinated me since i was a child and now being involved in football on a daily basis from this perspective is a dream come true!

From the EFL League 2 all the way to the Champions League and International football the way managers set teams up against differing opposition takes great skill and tactical nous especially if you are the underdog of course.

I wanted to take a bit of a break from writing about current teams and how they set up and take a brief look back on how formations and tactics have changed over the years. Mainly for a bit of fun but also to see if any current coaches or managers would ever think about going back to some of the formations that the great Brazilian and Hungary sides of the 50’s used to great success.

So here we go starting with the much revered Hungary team of 1950.

Hungary 1950 (3-2-1-4)

Ferenc Puskas thrived in the way Hungary played in the early 1950’s

“A new conception of football”  The Times reporting in 1953 after Hungary’s 6-3 demolition of Walter Winterbottom’s England at Wembley.

If we measure success in trophies Hungary wouldn’t be top of the list of course but mention Puskas’ name and anyone who knows anything about football would recognise his name and in this team he had great success scoring 84 goals in 85 matches in his international career spanning 11 years not to mention his club career tallies.

This 3-2-1-4 system is considered the forefather to what we know now as the 4-3-3 system with the term withdrawn center forwards also being coined as a phase in this era. This shape and tactics was set up to score goals at will nothing else and Puskas thrived in this system.

The vulnerability to counter attacks was substantial of course as two of the three defenders acted as wing backs and not your typical center backs so therefore leaving a sole defender plus one midfielder to defend the fort.

Brazil and the samba football 1958 (4-2-4)

“They tend to play football as if it were a dance, they tend to reduce everything to dance, work and play alike.” Gilberto Freyre 1959

Brazil 1958
With the right players Brazil were unpredictable in attack

The Selecao or Brazil to you and I in their 4-2-4 formation is still considered to be one of the best ever but the right players are needed to pull this off and boy did they pull it off!  Brazil had the players to play this way from 1958 all the way through till 1970, winning three world cups in this period. Of course Pele was the main attraction but it wasn’t just Pele that brought the flair. The bow legged Garrincha with his twisting and turning ability on the ball was also a great player in his own right.

Manager Vicente Feola had his team playing the perfect blend of exciting, constant attacking football had coaches around the world scratching their heads as to how to stop them. No one could guess or even anticipate how they were going to score until it was to late.

Didi and Zito were so flexible in midfield that this allowed the front four to run riot even against the best international sides. Pele would often drop deep to receive the ball with Garrincha keeping the width at all times and center back Bellini with his raiding forward runs that left opponents confused. Brazil played this way for over a decade which leads me on to…

Brazil 1970 (4-2-4)

Considered the best international team ever, Brazil’s world cup winners 1970

Given that Brazil had played this way up until this point still no team was able to figure out the best way to stop them such was the flexibility of the eleven players on the field.

Zagallo, Vava and Garrincha had gone but in came Rivelino, Tostao and Jairzinho in their place and there was no let up in the attacking way Brazil played and with so many memorable goals to choose with one of them being Jairzinho’s low and hard shot against England in the 1970 finals after a fine Selecao build up.  Jairzinho went on to score in every game in the finals in Mexico.

Gerson and Clodoaldo were immense in midfield and as in the past simply let the front four do so much damage with their interchanging of positions and flicks and tricks.

Carlos Alberto was also given license to raid forward from right back and this later on would become a feature of Brazil’s attacking play with the likes of Cafu and Roberto Carlos and then a few years later Dani Alves.

But even the best come to an end, well sort of.

Brazil 1998 (4-2-2-2)


Brazil 1998
The revolutionary 4-2-2-2 formation of the Brazil team of the late 90’s

By this time Brazil had started to use the full backs in a more attacking sense and having won the world cup in 1994 no one optimized this more than Cafu and Roberto Carlos with their immense fitness levels, Cafu’s outstanding defensive play and Carlos’ speed and wicked left foot.

Brazil have always been inventive in their formations and the 4-2-2-2 was no exception. This set up didn’t always work so well with them getting beat by a talismanic performance from Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final of 1998.

This shape was labelled the ‘perfect square formation’ by some. There were no wingers but there were wing backs so this meant the space in between this square in midfield was in abundance.  The passing speed was unbelievable and confused opponents with quick one and two touch passing in tight areas with the inevitable Bebeto or Il Fenomeno- Ronaldo finishing off the move with a goal.

Some of the goals were a sheer joy to watch and I for one was lucky to be of the right age to see them play this way.

Interestingly this shape has been used as recently as last season with Hoffenheim’s exciting young coach Julian Nagelsmann adopting this formation in the Bundesliga.

Barcelona 2010 (4-3-3)

Like the Brazilian team of the early 70’s in international football this Barcelona team has been mentioned as the best club team in decades with La Masia producing some of the greatest and most skillful players La Liga and even the world has ever seen.

Barca 2010
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in a 4-3-3 in 2010

Barcelona and there tiki-taka possession based football took on all that came before them in the 2010 season.

David Villa added to the attacking weaponry after signing from Valencia and Barcelona started where they had left off the previous year winning the Champions League, La Liga and the Supercopa and finishing runners up in the Copa Del Rey final of that year Barcelona were unstoppable in every sense of the word.

Lionel Messi was at his best yet again scoring 43 goals in 53 games and with the evergreen Xavi conducting and controlling the game from the deep lying midfield position and Andres Iniesta creating chances with eye of the needle through balls to Villa, Messi and Pedro Barca were scoring for fun.

Dani Alves was truly immense for Barcelona during his time in the team with his rampaging runs from right back reaching as far as the 18 yard area and into goal scoring positions.

The one two’s on the edge of the box between Messi and Iniesta were a key feature of their play and countless goals were scored this way. Messi was, and still is,  the archetypal false nine and is arguably the best in this position, ever.

Of course good things don’t always last and this was the case with this team but still to this day Barcelona continue to dominate games with possession based football a feature of their coach Pep Guardiola.

Manchester City 2017 (4-3-3)

The inverted full backs employed by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City last season.

Like Pep’s Barcelona teams the main objective for this City team is to keep possession of the ball for the majority of the game, create opportunities by passing a team to death, and then with lightning quick speed split their opponents open with quick passes into Sane and Sterling coming diagonally into the box for pull back opportunities or indeed shooting themselves.

Guardiola’s pressing rule of winning the ball back as soon as possible once possession is lost is also key in springing counter attacks and although being a year without a title City were back to winning ways last year storming to the title with a record number of points.

The passing range of Kevin De Bruyne is a key feature of City’s play from back to front given that the pace of Sane and Sterling on the run means they can be found in excellent attacking positions.

Fernandinho is the Busquets of this City team but unlike the Barca man he will get forward and has a decent right foot and this is actively encouraged by Guardiola.

So there we have it a very brief, but i hope informative,  history in successful formations and tactics from some of the greatest teams the world has ever seen i hope you have enjoyed the read!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Benteke’s frustrations

If Crystal Palace spent more time and energy getting the ball into Christian Benteke, especially in the air, they would stand more of a chance of adding to a poor goals tally. Benteke’s aerial threat had Laurent Koscielny and co worried but Palace did not make the most of his threat in the air by not putting the crosses in needed for him to make a difference as the graphic below shows.

Compare that with Arsenal who even with Giroud upfront,who is a very similar striker to Benteke, didn’t really bother crossing the ball in air for him apart from on a few occasions. When the ball was delivered for Benteke to attack he won the majority of those aerial balls into him. But it wasn’t done enough and this is a simple method for Townsend and Zaha the Palace wingers to do agreed but it needs to be a priority over trying to take on their opposing defenders sometimes to get ahead in a game instead of having to play catch up all the time.