Three ‘big six’ clubs currently sit in the bottom half of the table, while Leeds and Newcastle are testing the status quo – but why, and how?
We could be in for a topsy-turvy campaign with Leeds, Brighton, Newcastle, Fulham, Brentford, Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest all securing early top-half standings in the Premier League table.
We are only three games in, and it’s obviously early days, but Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea are all residing in the bottom-half of the standings after three games – and all have been rattled by intense opposition.
Early impressions suggest more teams are running further, sprinting more and pressing harder – so is this trend breaking the status quo?
Take Newcastle, for example. The Magpies ranked bottom for possession and were the deepest team in the division merely two years ago but have undertaken a staggering transformation under Eddie Howe with progressive intent and a rigorous press.
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Speaking after the 3-3 draw with reigning champions Manchester City, Howe said: “Physical stats are up there with our best, in terms of running. Running stats are linked to success in the modern game. That’s the way the game is going.
“Yes, you have to run, but you have to run intelligently. It’s a snapshot of how we want to be. We want to become a top team. To become that, we need to play aggressive, front-foot football.”
Another team bursting from the blocks is Leeds, who shocked Chelsea at Elland Road last weekend with a dominant 3-0 win – unnerving Chelsea with a high press and forcing goalkeeper Edouard Mendy into a mistake to break the deadlock.
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports before the game, Jesse Marsch said: “We have different pressing strategies and it’s not just based on formations, it’s based on what the opponent presents and where we want to overload the match – with and without the ball.
“With the ball, we have been so much more effective and so much clearer in build-up phases and in moments of unbalancing the opponent and asking them more questions on how to defend us in different ways.”
So, which teams are running further, sprinting more and pressing hardest?
Is running linked to success? Well, the current top three teams for distance covered include four teams in the current top four of the Premier League table. League-leaders Arsenal top the running chart, followed by Leeds and Tottenham.
The blue points in the chart below represent average distances from last season and reveal how the Gunners and Marsch’s side have achieved huge strides this term, while Aston Villa’s work-rate has plummeted to a league-low average of 101km per game.
In terms of sprinting, Leeds and Newcastle lead the way this season – another indication that work-rate really has improved the two teams’ fortunes.
Interestingly, despite topping the table for sprints, Leeds’ average has dropped considerably this term – but Marsh revealed the reason behind this decline: “Marcelo [Bielsa] had far more accelerations and decelerations.
“That’s partly down to [Bielsa’s style of] man-marking, where you’re following guys and trying to stay ahead of them – cutting and changing direction a lot.
“But, with us, what we want to be is really aggressive, and in pressing moments, which requires sprinting. We also want to be very good in transitions, both ways, which also requires sprinting.”
Indeed, Manchester United have already edged their average from last season after recording a league-topping 167 sprints.
The most drastic changes are at Southampton and Leicester, with the Saints’ output dipping 33 per cent from 132 per game to a league-low 92 – while Leicester currently reside second-bottom in the sprinting and Premier League tables.
‘High turnovers’ are defined as passing sequences that start in open play and begin within 40 metres of an opponents’ goal line. Put simply, turning over possession high upfield.
Once again, Newcastle and Leeds dominate this metric, with Newcastle winning a staggering 14 per game – more than twice their average from last season.
At the other end of the scale, newly-promoted Bournemouth have won the fewest high turnovers but understandably sit deeper and have less possession in advanced areas, while Brentford, West Ham and Palace also register low numbers and seasonal declines – with the latter two highly effective at counter attacks from. deeper areas.
This metric measures how many times a team breaks down opponent passing sequences that begin in their defensive third and end in their own half. So, this statistic basically measures aggression in defensive areas.
If the recurring theme isn’t clear already, it is now: Newcastle top this table, too. Leeds are far less aggressive in these areas, while Liverpool – a team renowned for high-energy pressing and running under Jurgen Klopp – notably rank among the elite.
Fulham have started the season impressively after sealing promotion to the Premier League as champions last term and currently sit seventh in the league table – and third for pressing teams in the defensive third.
Opponent passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA)
The final pressing metric we can compare across two seasons is measuring the average number of opponent passes allowed before making a defensive action, otherwise known as PPDA – with a lower number indicating a more rigorous press.
This statistic measures teams’ aggression across the entire pitch and sets Chelsea and Liverpool out on their own, followed closely behind by Leeds, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Newcastle.
Conversely, West Ham sit pointless and rock-bottom in the Premier League table and also rank bottom in this chart – allowing opponents to complete 21 passes before making a defensive action.
As Howe alluded to in his post-match comments, there appears to be strong correlations between running, pressing and success – with Newcastle and Leeds paving the way. Could their high-intensity style break the ‘big six’ status quo? Chelsea and Manchester City would ponder that one…