This is kind of a test, to see if I can write down and explain something I’ve found quite illuminating to myself. I’ve been looking into ball progression a lot (like here) and wanted to try and get a holistic view of how teams moved the ball from basically their own half into the danger zone. From there shots come into it more and it requires a different type of analysis. Right now I’m breaking the pitch down into separate zones and looking at how teams move through them up the field.
I looked at each teams 8 attacking players first off (front 6 and 2 fullbacks). I looked at their usage rate by zone, basically where they play their passes from:
A few things stand out here to me. First, I misspelled Salah’s name, but give me a break I’m out of practice and it was very late at night. Second, I correctly spelled every other name, so give me credit (except Mané depending on how strict you are with French in English).
Both nominally feature a front 3 but when Lingard is up front for United he plays clearly a step behind Sanchez and Lukaku, with an offensive touch profile more like Keita than one of the other 5 forwards. United in general don’t get as far forward as Liverpool, the fullbacks and the Fellaini/Fred vs Milner/Wijnaldum comparison both come out with the Liverpool players further forward. And Lukaku is really dropping deep a lot, he has a higher share of touches in zone 4 than any other player has in any zone.
Next I wanted to look at how the teams are advancing through the zones, it’s fine to complete 100% of your passes within the zone or backwards but you eventually have to move the ball forward if you want to score. So I looked at the average pass each player made by zone and then how often he progressed a zone. So taking an example here of Manchester United starting in zone 6:
The colors tell you how often they complete a pass moving the team forward, so Valencia in this case progresses the ball into forward zones 43% of the time he passes, the league average from zone 6 is 32%. Fellaini is at 43% as well, Fred 33%, Shaw plays conservatively at 27% and Pogba plays very short passes advancing the ball 21% of the time. It’s conceivable this is him dropping back under pressure, but that would take a little more work and is a separate post.
So then I just looked across the different zones as the two teams made their way toward goal…the images are below.
-Look at Zone 4 for Manchester United and you will see why I called it the Jesse Lingard effect. Not only does he drop deep, but he’s dropping deep to keep the ball deep. Lingard’s most common zone he plays in is Zone 4 and his average pass is actually backwards. He progresses the ball only 12% of the time from that zone, less than half of the league average of 25% and even lower than strikers Lukaku/Mane/Firmino who presumably often don’t have players in front of them to pass to. Keita for example who probably had the most similar profile to Lingard, advances the ball 33% of the time from Zone 4.
-United haven’t quickly advanced the ball through zones 4 and 5 using central players: Valencia and Shaw have mostly been fine but Fred/Pogba/Fellaini/Lingard all progress the ball less often than the average player. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: David Silva is one of the lowest in the league, but he isn’t trying to often and when he does, it’s always complete: these guys are and often lose the ball much more than the Chelsea’s and Man City’s who are so conservative.
-Wijnaldum has a bit of the Lingard in him, he almost never progresses the ball but Keita and especially Milner have been successful, moving the ball forward much more often than the league average. Liverpool’s attacks can flow quickly through those two where United don’t have central players who have done that.
-Liverpool also have fullbacks who are successful, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson progress the ball even better than Shaw and Valencia.
-Most know by know, but James Milner is a hell of a player. I once wrote Milner was not suited for midfield and remember him roaming aimlessly early on at Liverpool but he certainly seems to have settled in this season and is arguably the best among all these big-name players like Keita and Pogba at progressing the ball forward.
-Firmino and Salah have been great so far passing from zone 3, unlike Lingard and Sanchez for United. Mane seems to have basically been a shot hog so far this year, probably can have one of those.
Next piece will build on this and add in ball losses to try and flesh out the analysis. Might look at Man City vs Spurs.
Final charts simply show progression% from a zone, so Pogbra successfully progresses ball forward on 15% of his passes from zone 3 while Fred does it 24% of the time.