It’s fair to say the Premier League has never been the most technically gifted league in the world. Throughout the 90′s and 2000′s many teams went for the more physical approach, playing a 4-4-2 with two combatting central midfield players as well as a strong number 9 to win the knock downs. However, in recent years the tide has slowly started to change. The increase in coverage of the UEFA Champions League has made many coaches and fans around England realise that the modern game is now requiring quick, technically efficient, clever footballers to distribute the ball effectively through the thirds (Defending third, Middle third, Attacking third). The game now rewards teams who keep the ball for long spells, even if that means playing backwards. This is something that the English have never been able to grasp.
As a coach and scout, I’ve had first hand experience of clubs requesting players who are strong, physical and can ‘knock a ball’ down the line. However throughout Europe, clubs like Barcelona and Ajax understood that in order to be successful, you need players who are technically comfortable, confident and quick. Not strong, tall and stupid.
However, since the 2008/2009 season, the league has become much more than a dogfight. If we compare Manchester United – the winners in 2008/09 and Manchester City, the winners of 2011/12, it’s clear that teams are now putting much more emphasis on keeping possession. In 2008/09 season, Manchester United completed a total of 741 tackles, whereas Manchester City in 2011/12 only completed 694. This shows teams are developing players to beat their opponents in 1 v 1 situations with emphasis on skill and pace. Another statistic shows in 2008/09, United made 21 defensive errors compared to just 10 for Manchester City in 2011/12. In years gone by, defenders in the Premier League had a simple job and that was to win the tackles, win the headers and clear their lines. However players such as Pique and Puyol at Barcelona have redesigned the role of a defender. Clubs now want defenders who can start the attacks off and distribute the ball early into midfield or into the striker.
Possession stats have also significantly improved over the three years. In 2008/09, Manchester United completed a total of 17, 319 accurate (completed) passes, whereas Manchester City in 2011/12 completed 18, 958 – That’s a difference of 1639 passes over the season. Open play pass completion has increased from 83-86%, total passes has increased from 21,624 to 22, 798 and total dribbles has increased from 304 to 325. Formations have also allowed for a more technical style of football. The Premier League has always been synonymous with the 4-4-2, however teams now employ a range of systems from 4-3-3, to 4-2-3-1.
Lets now compare two more sides. Wigan Athletic who narrowly stayed up after a remarkable last set of results, and Newcastle United – The side who everyone said was too big to go down. Once again, comparing the 2008/09 season to the 2011/12, it shows teams have developed a more technical side with more emphasis on retaining possession. In 2011/12, Wigan Athletic completed 13, 697 accurate passes whereas Newcastle only completed 11, 582. Wigan Athletic’s pass completion percentage weighed in at 77.74% to Newcastle’s 70.41%. The Latics created 60 more goalscoring chances and had a greater amount of shots on target. (162/125)
Comparing Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United may be unfair, after all Wigan Athletic did not get relegated, so instead lets compare the stats with Wolves – who did get relegated. The stats once again show a more technically efficient side in 2011/12 than in 2008/09. Wolves had a better pass completion rate (73.46%/70.41) as well as a greater amount of open play passes (14, 852/14, 172) 66 more accurate crosses, and more chances created (332/316).
Finally, lets look at Blackpool in 2010/11 season. They had more total passes (12,696/11,582), more accurate passes (11,553/10,463) more goals (55/40), a better pass completion rate (73.55%/70.41%) and shooting accuracy (42%/40%) than Newcastle. This shows year on year, teams are becoming more skillful, more patient and statistically – more technical.
How does this effect the future of English football?
Do these statistics offer any hope that the country is finally developing technically gifted players? Some may argue that because the Premier League is becoming more technical, players coming through the Academies are going to be better suited to this style of football – which should help the National team. However, the Premier League has become successful because of foreign imports. The reason for these changes over the past few years isn’t down to a change of coaching, or an influx in English players graduating from the academies, it’s because clubs are signing players from Spain, Germany, Italy, Brazil, USA, and even from some of the less well-known countries because they have been coached to play with the ball at their feet.
The Premier League is becoming more technical, but unfortunately it’s not down to the development of English players.
- Good Read