A look at statistics for Europe’s top players makes interesting reading when assessing defensive statistics. The top ‘interceptors’ is dominated by players from the continent, mainly Spain, with the Premier League’s top interceptor coming in at number 74, Stilian Petrov.
Top tacklers also is dominated by continental players with Toulalan at the top. In the top 50 tacklers there are only 5 English based players. If we look at aggression not one English side is in the top 20 for yellow and red cards. All of this is in spite of English sides having a reputation for being tough in the tackle compared to their European counterparts.
|15||Diego Perez||Serie A||DMC||4.1|
Of the top 50 tacklers as stated only 5 are based in England. Faurlin is not a particularly well known player and doesn’t regularly play for QPR
Interceptions are not even worth tabling as the top interceptor, Rayo’s Javi Fuego records 7.2 interceptions per game compared to the Premier League’s top interceptor Petrov recording only 3.6 per game.
In terms of aggression also the dirtiest side in Europe are Valencia who have had 107 yellow cards and 6 red cards this season. Chelsea are the Premier League’s dirtiest side with 60 yellow cards and 4 reds. The disparity between La Liga’s dirtiest side and the Premier League’s dirtiest side is clearly huge and arguably dispels the traditional view that Premier League sides are rough and overly physical as a thing of the past.
This is further compounded by the fact that Europe’s leagues see the top fouler commit 19.7 per game. Not one of Europe’s top 20 foulers are English. Whereas in England the team who commits the most fouls is Wigan with just 12.3 per game, again a significant disparity between fouls.
However, a look at the top clearances per game is dominated by English based players. The top three are British, Shawcross, Gabiddon and Anton Ferdinand. English based players make up five of the top ten in this regard.
|13||Gary Cahill||Premier League||DC||9.8|
Sergio is the first Spanish based player to appear on the list at 79 which marks a clear distinction between the way Spanish sides play and British sides play. The reason for this is that in a pressing style of play as implemented by Spanish sides teams win the ball higher up the pitch rather than requiring last gasp clearances such as can be the case in the Premier League.
Another factor that compounds this is blocked shots per game which again is dominated by English based players rather than continental players such as those in Spain or Italy. The first Italian player appears at number 22 and the first Spanish player at number 30.
|1||David Wheater||Premier League||DC||1.4|
|5||Roger Johnson||Premier League||DC||1.2|
We saw against Benfica a couple of weeks ago how several Chelsea players executed well timed blocks on the edge of the box during the first half. It appears to be a distinctly British way of defending as opposed to continental leagues. This is not as common in the continental game.
Tactical explanations for these statistics
Much of the statistics are a result of different tactics employed by British sides as opposed to European sides. The reason there are so many blocked shots in the Premier League is that Premier League clubs on average allow more shots against themselves than teams in Spain or Italy. The team who have the most shots against them in Europe is Wolves with 18.3. There was also a time earlier in the season when even United were allowing a high number of shots on goal each game.
This is not because British teams fancy themselves with long shots but more because of the style of play employed. British defences as a whole do not employ a pressing game like teams in Spain which explains the low number of interceptions in England. Most British teams defend structurally and with two banks of four rather than committing high up the pitch with a pressing game that results in a lot of tackles and a lot of interceptions. British teams tend to defend deeper than Spanish teams who often set up higher up the pitch to win the ball back quickly.
It is also well known that teams in Spain tend to play more short passes and enjoy higher possession than their British counterparts. It is this style of play that prompts a pressing game as a logical response in order to break the opposition play up and quickly regain possession for one’s own side.
Recently we saw Spurs employ a pressing game against a strong possession side in Swansea which worked to great effect but generally speaking is not a tactic employed in the Premier League.
In the City versus Arsenal game when defending City didn’t press high up to win the ball back in the same way a team like Barcelona press tightly. If you view City’s ‘average positions’ here you can see this first hand. We also witnessed Newcastle sit back and soak up Swansea pressure, allowing the side to dominate with 77% possession, rather than looking to press them and win the ball back. In contrast the average positions for Barcelona players versus Lavente was much higher up the field with only the two centre-backs spending the majority of their time in their own half with the other players pushed much higher up the field.
The implications for the British are generally that pressing is not necessarily the most effective way to defend in England. We saw AVB attempt to turn Chelsea into this sort of team with a high-line as well as a strong pressing line-up. Interestingly we have seen how Chelsea are the ‘dirtiest’ side in the Premier League in terms of cards picked up which is a direct result of the pressing game used under AVB.
Forwards are pressing more and making more challenges which leaves them prone to cards as Drogba and Torres were both sent off for Chelsea when they were using these tactics. Further to this defenders are pressing high up the pitch which leaves gaps in behind and means defenders are prone to last ditch tackles and cynical fouls to stop players breaking into this space. Zonal Marking poignantly display here how Chelsea were committing significantly more fouls per game when deploying these tactics than in previous seasons.
As stated previously Premier League teams block more shots which is a result of allowing more shots to come in due to a deeper defensive line perhaps than European rivals and a willingness to sit back and soak up pressure. Zonal Marking also show in the same article how Chelsea were conceding less shots per game when deploying their pressing game compared to previous seasons, around 21% less shots per game conceded due to these tactics.
As we have seen with AVB it is arguably the case that pressing tactics and a possession game combined are not tailor made for the Premier League.
One reason is that Spanish sides in particular press from the front which means phases of play are more fluid. This could explain why there are such a low number of clearances from Spanish sides like Barca for example as they defend from the front. A fact compounded by the high number of midfielders who have recorded a lot of tackles such as Toulalan, although he can occasionally play in defence.
A potential conclusion to come to from this is that English sides are not as fluid in their transitions from attack to defence and tend to defend in their own halves rather than all over the pitch as teams on the continent do as well as adopt a more rigid view of defending such as the use of lines of four in front of the opposition.
The likely difference in defensive tactics are thus that we can ascertain English teams on the whole tend to defend deep. Chelsea were heavily criticized and massively exposed when defending in a high line and their transition to a deep line has led to them conceding far fewer goals. Had AVB taken over a top Spanish team he probably would have had far better results as unfortunately his methods were just not compatible with the Premier League.
Follow us on Twitter here: @Think_Football
Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thinkingfootball
All stats taken from whoscored.com