In more of my piping hot 5 alarm soccer analytics research, I discover in this article that, in fact, Stoke can be considered a direct, long ball team!
So, how do we define a team’s style of play?I went with whether a team plays the ball ‘short’ or ‘long’, and whether a team plays ‘wide’ or ‘narrow’. These two criteria should give us a good all encompassing criteria for evaluating a team’s style of play
So great, how do we figure out how short or long or narrow or wide a team is? Well we can’t use positive stats like pass completion rate or amount of touches in the offensive zone, because successful teams would have better numbers, and we’re not trying to evaluate skill we’re trying to measure success-neutral style of play.
Here’s the factors that went into my calculations:
Short or long:
Long Ball %
Amount of passes that are considered long. Duh this is important.
- Average: 13.9%
- Highest: Stoke City (20.1%)
- Lowest: Arsenal (8.07%)
Passes In Defensive Third / Game
I found basically no real correlation to winning, so I decided this could be a nice way of evaluating how much a team likes to play the ball shorty. Something like passes in middle third would of shown bias to team’s who won the midfield battle (good teams). The amount of passes in a team’s own third can basically be at the team’s own discretion, and therefore indicative of the kind of approach they’re trying to play.
- Average: 69.3
- Highest: Swansea (133.1)
- Lowest: Stoke City (39.4)
Narrow or Wide
Fullback Touches in the Final Third as a % of Total Touches
The amount of involvement of the fullback’s (outside defensemen) in the attacking phase of play can be seen as an indicator of a team’s width. This number is the percentage of total touches in the final third that the fullbacks get compared to the rest of the team, to avoid bias to better teams who get more total touches. It goes without saying the more involved a team’s fullbacks are in the attacking phase of play, the more ‘wide’ that team can be said to be playing.
- Average: 15.7%
- Highest: Swansea (19.4%)
- Lowest: Stoke (9.1%)
Funny how the same teams keep comin up, huh?
The amount of crosses made of the total amount of passes a team makes. A team not making a whole lot of crosses probably isn’t putting players in wide positions, right?
- Average: 3.4%
- Highest: Stoke (5.3%)
- Lowest: Fulham (2.4%)
Weighting of these factors is done by a couple different variables, the biggest one being the amount of times wingers play in a team’s formation. Fullbacks that are on a team that plays with wingers are at a natural disadvantage because of their space is taken up. Stoke is the best example for this. This is accounted for when determining total width.
So! With all these factors calculated to form an aggregate, here’s the style of play for all 20 teams:
(Click To Embiggen)
This graph certainly seems to check out, with Stoke City ranking as playing the long, direct game that they’re so infamous for, and Brendan Rodgers Swansea looking like the short passing, methodical passing team that suprised so many last year.