How important is the possession style of play?
In the 2017/2018 season, Manchester city dominated English football with the “pass, pass, and pass “style of football all thanks to Pep Guardiola. The citizens topped the average teams possession stats by keeping 66.4% possession of the ball at all times. They also became the first English team to attempt 1000 passes in a single game. They couldn’t but set a new record at 942 passes against Swansea in April last season.
A large number of English football fans were pessimistic about pep’s style of play working in England. And his first season in the English premier league as expected was very tough. In 2017/18, his style of play proved effective as he won the league title.
Different styles of play resulted in the following kind of results
• Possession football = good
• Counter-attacking football = ok
• Direct football = bad
Let’s look a little closer at possession football, is it really the best way to go?
Premier league winners
Five of the last 9 winners also finished amongst the top 3 teams in terms of average possession per game. It is also worthy of note that Leicester city had the 3rd lowest possession ranking per game in 2015/16. They have crowned champions in the same year.
Relegation teams and low possession
Newly promoted side Cardiff city has averaged 38.1% possession of the ball in their fixtures so far. This considerably low figure could scare believers of possession football. However, for the Bluebird fans, this isn’t the case. This is because holding onto possession doesn’t guarantee your stay in top-flight football.
Of the 27 teams who have faced relegation since 2009/10, only 8 were amongst the 3 teams with the lowest average possession per game in a season.
International and Continental football
In the champion’s league, it has been argued that if teams want results they should abandon the possession football. Thus making a switch to the attacking style of football (smash and grab).
Pep Guardiola was the last manager to succeed in the champion’s league whilst playing the possession football style. Since 2009/10 the counter-attack style of football has been more effective all over Europe.
“IN THE END IT’S NOT HOW LONG YOU HAVE IT BUT WHAT YOU DO WITH IT WHILE YOU HAVE IT.”
The world cup winners have an average possession of just about 49.1%. The world cup was another victory for conceders of possession and the counter-attack. Teams with even a high possession margin like Peru, Australia, Tunisia and Japan.
The dynamic nature of football styles and methods gives chance for every style to have a time of dominance. When an approach seems to be losing its uniqueness, the innovators improve it to make it much better.
Pep’s philosophy feels like the way to go in England right now. Although past occurrences have shown that even the most sophisticated of styles have a flaw waiting to be exposed. That been said, what works today might not be as effective tomorrow.
Dominant football tactics and philosophies don’t last the test of time. And so the question remains,
Is Possession Really King of Tactics?