There are three managers in the Premier League who appear to fully understand the mechanics of taking and conceding shots from the right positions. Well there were three. There’s only one left and his name is Sam Allardyce.
One of the others was his partner in football crime, Tony Pulis. The other one was Sir Alex Ferguson. The sworn enemies in the good versus evil debate. The two heinous exponents of the long ball game versus the hero of free flowing football. The opposite ends of the football spectrum.
Well not in this regard. Looking at the numbers all three understand the importance of the central area of the penalty box in both their attacking and defensive set ups. For both Allardyce and Pulis it’s been a firm part of their footballing ethos, get the ball into danger areas quickly and directly, and keep your opponents from doing the same to you.
Ferguson did the same thing. He’s just went about it in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. United are no longer the swashbuckling side they were a decade ago and our feeling is that it’s a response to a few humbling European evenings over the years. The side is much more cold and calculating these days. Over the last three seasons they are the only team in the Premier League that has improved year on year both the position they take their shots from and the positions they concede shots from.
We’re going to concentrate on defence here. Take a look at the teams that restrict the opposition most effectively in terms of shooting position:
In our last piece looking at the last 3 years from an attacking perspective, we found there were good ways and bad ways to get into the right positions to shoot. So, which are the best ways to restrict your opponents to pot shots rather than good shots? Here’s a graphic based on team styles from the excellent information at whoscored:
There are three really effective “styles” to restrict the opposition getting in to good shooting positions. These are possession football, keeping passes short, and controlling the game in the opposition half.
However, we look at Stoke and West Ham and they clearly don’t do this. There are plenty of other teams who adopt a similar physically aggressive and long ball style as those two. They just don’t appear to have the ability to carry it out as effectively as the Potters or the Hammers. Stoke have spent a small fortune on specific kinds of players to play this way. West Ham have just broken the bank to sign Andy Carroll for another season.
Once again we see that keeping the ball in your own half (either by design or by your own lack of ability to get forward) does a team few favours.
In attack we saw that if a team avoided certain ways of playing they were better at converting chances. There seems to be no style to avoid defensively. There is no “better” way of playing in order to stop the opposition converting chances well. It seems that as long as you have the players, any system can work defensively. But if you don’t have the players to play it (Wigan, Spurs, Liverpool) then you are going to concede more than you should.
Being structured in defence is obviously of benefit. Previously we saw that it doesn’t pay huge dividends for a team to be too structured in the way it attacks. Only Manchester United seem to have fully grasped this.
It may be David Moyes’ greatest challenge to grasp this too. Everton have been one of the most structured attacking sides in the league in recent years. The Scot has already tried to go back to his old club to sign crossing king, Leighton Baines. It’s more than possible that with United’s abundance of forward options, Baines wouldn’t become the kind of attacking focus he did at Everton. But if that is Moyes’ plan, he may well be making his first mistake at Old Trafford before he’s even walked through the door.
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