One of the key aspects of Brendan Rodgers’ outlook on how his team should play football is the art of pressing the opposition to try to win the ball back as quickly as possible, with a target of winning possession back within seven seconds.
The good news for the Liverpool manager is that the Reds are already pressing more frequently than they were last season, after only a few months under his leadership.
Whilst statistics on exactly how much effort a team puts into pressing, or how long it takes to win back the ball are sadly not available, I have been able to use the data from EPLIndex on how many times Liverpool have regained possession in each third of the pitch to demonstrate the Reds’ overall improvement in this facet of the game.
I only have the figures for league games, so it is a fairly small sample admittedly, but then at the same time it is one-quarter of the league campaign. Here is a comparison with last season’s tally, with the numbers from this season extrapolated up to thirty-eight games in order to make the assessment easier:
What we can see here is that Liverpool are winning possession back more frequently, and on average higher up the pitch than they were last season, which is exactly what Rodgers will want to see from his team. This is impressive as the Reds have faced a difficult set of fixtures so far with four being against sides that finished above them last season.
It’s also worth noting that Liverpool recorded the joint-most possession wins in the final third in the top flight last season, so to have improved slightly is encouraging. The increased amount of midfield possession wins is down in no small part to the excellent form of Joe Allen, who at the time of writing has won possession more than any player in the Premier League
However, whilst the overall trend is very pleasing, if we break it down into sections of the pitch across the season so far, then there is evidence that the team are being pushed back more than they were at the start of the season.
As the below graphs show, the number of times possession is won in the final third is at its lowest rate-per-game this season, whilst the defensive third rate is at its highest:
This could of course be a consequence of having a small squad of players who have to play in virtually every match. This weekend’s tussle with Newcastle United is the Reds’ nineteenth competitive fixture of the season; the equivalent of half a league campaign will have been completed by the 4th of November, in other words.
Looking at the Reds’ opponents’ figures paints the same picture. After only allowing ten final third regains in total to occur in their defensive third across their first seven matches, Liverpool’s opponents Reading and Everton picked up five each in the Reds’ last two fixtures to bring the tally to twenty for the season.
Whilst that may be comfortably below Liverpool’s impressive total of thirty-one, the sudden upsurge for the opposing teams does suggest that the Reds’ pressing has slacked off in recent weeks.
Still, the figures still show that pressing has improved in both frequency and location on the pitch overall, and that will be pleasing to Rodgers. Some fresh legs will surely be required in January though to ensure this encouraging trend doesn’t disappear without trace.