I clustered all Premier League passes this season into 100 “pass types” for analysis using their x and y start and end coordinates. Then I looked at which teams allow proportionally more of each type of pass, the idea that teams either proactively or reactively allow opponents into certain “tunnels” of buildup and passing play. Today we will focus on a couple well-defined tunnels: Man City and Liverpool, both of whom have certain pass types that are allowed among the 10 most often and 10 least often. First the types of passes Man City opponents play the most often:
Unsurprisingly, it’s long balls from the box area and then back-passes in buildup. In fact Man City allow more of those two long ball types than any other team in the league. This is sort of astonishing as they allow the fewest passes overall so to find any pass type allowed with them at the top is surprising.
They do not do anything special once that pass has been played (allow 39% completion rate, higher than the league average) it’s simply forcing that pass in the first place that means the defense worked. Getting the ball into this tunnel is a win in the first place.
On to Liverpool and the more interesting duality of tunneling. First the passes that opponents play often:
Liverpool allow short passes back and forth in your own buildup area, which is something you would not have been able to predict before the season with the Heavy Metal Pressing reputation of the Klopp side. No team has allowed more of these dinky 92% success rate passes. The three teams who allow the fewest of these passes: Tottenham, Man Utd, Man City. Chelsea is also at the bottom. The teams behind Liverpool on the other end: Burnley, Southampton, Cardiff, Bournemouth, Brighton. It’s an odd one. 4 teams have played 43% of the total against Liverpool: Tottenham (51), Man City (45), Arsenal (32) and Huddersfield (27 in one game). On the other end, Spurs have not allowed any team to play more than 14 of these passes in a single game and Wolves are the only team to top 20 total.
This clearly seems to be a strategic choice by Klopp, to essentially allow short passes in buildup without pressure and possibly to shunt opponents toward a certain side of the field.
No other team has such a pronounced shift in where passes flow to. So:
- Liverpool allow short buildup passes more often than any other team in the league proportionally, more totally than Burnley, Cardiff, other low-possession teams
- Liverpool see a higher % of these passes go to attacking teams right side than any other team has to either side
Maybe it has to do with the personnel? A quick watch of a selected game didn’t jump off the page video wise but the numbers are what they are: they are stark and point to a clear tactical choice by Liverpool.
Looking at the tunnels and pass types they keep opponents away from could help shine some light on that tactical choice:
So while they are the league leaders in right sided buildup passes allowed, they are on the other end when it comes to passes in the Liverpool half on their left side.
They face almost no pressure from the left side of their box after shunting so much buildup play to that side. It feels like these two might be related somehow. Of course in general Liverpool faces almost no pressure on their box, but Man City faces even less and they have faced 32 more “Pass 52” passes. The difference is quite large.
I think tunneling and pass types opens up analysis in a way that can benefit anyone trying to understand the game better simply due to the fact patterns emerge almost instantly instead of through endless hours of tape grinding.