FEATURE | Ligue 1 pressing intensity and efficiency analysis
Mid-season offers a good opportunity to take a step back and study the standings in more detail. The sample size is large enough to highlight and explain trends with confidence and each team has generally been fortunate enough to compete with every other team in the league. One tactical facet that can be investigated and described using data is the pressing intensity and effectiveness of a team. Many of Europe’s top teams in recent years have used high and intense pressure in their tactical styles, such as Champions League winners Bayern Munich and Liverpool, but, more and more often, more and more teams also succeed by defending deep and rapid counterattacks. in possession.
A key metric that has grown in popularity in recent years is Pass Permitted Per Defensive Action (PPDA). This measure measures the average number of passes made by the opposing team in their own half of the field before a defensive action is taken by the team without the ball. A defensive action can be an interception, a tackle or a foul. A lower value for PPDA suggests that the team without the ball is pressing higher up the pitch with increased intensity, while a higher value implies that they are instead sitting and maintaining their position as the opposition advances the ball towards them. By looking at the PPDA metrics at this point in the season, it is possible to get an idea of how each team chooses to play without the ball in most cases.
The bar graph below displays the PPDA values and league positions for each Ligue 1 team at the end of Week 19. Due to scheduling issues caused by the effects of the pandemic this season, Marseille had no played only 17 leagues at this stage, Lens and Nice had played 18 matches and the remaining teams had played 19 each.
A first observation of the bar chart is the slight positive relationship between PPDA and league position. While there are some notable outliers, it’s clear to see a general increase in PPDA as the league position rises / worsens. To some extent, this trend is expected, as the stronger teams in the division typically push high without the ball, while weaker teams are more likely to sit down and defend deeply. However, this relationship between PPDA and league position is not perfect and there are a lot of outliers in the plot that confirm that a high intensity press doesn’t exactly guarantee that a team will perform well in the league. league.
With a value of 7.75, PSG hold the lowest value for PPDA at this point in the season. Considering that Mauricio Pochettino has only managed 2 of the 19 league games that this data is based on, this is still an appropriate representation of Thomas Tuchel’s influence on the side. Both managers are renowned for a high-intensity, high-pressure style of football, which requires every player on the pitch to work hard. However, at a recent pre-match press conference, Leandro Paredes was asked how things have changed under the new manager: “The intensity of the training has certainly increased from what we were used to. As I said earlier, the ideas are different. His response suggests that Pochettino’s tactics require an even higher level of work and intensity from his players. Although already displaying the most intense pressure in the league, PSG could become even more aggressive in their efforts to retrieve the ball as players familiarize themselves with the new manager’s tactical style.
At the other end of the scale, Montpellier was responsible for the highest PPDA of the 20 Ligue 1 teams, with a score of 15.86 after their opening 19 league games. Despite the less intense pressing in the championship, Montpellier had a good start to the season and finished in 8th position at the time of writing. Manager Michel Der Zakarian chooses to place his camp in a solid defensive structure without the ball and the 3 forwards will rarely press opposing defenders, preferring to sit with the rest of the squad. The team remains compact, with the attackers retreating and occupying the center of the field, making it difficult for the opposition to pass through the middle. The graph below shows the average positions of Montpellier from 11 years old during their 2-1 victory against Lyon at the start of the season.
The deep defensive form is evident, and Montpellier even played with the extra man for the majority of the 2nd half thanks to Houssem Aouar’s red card before half-time. Throughout this season, Der Zakarian has placed his team in what could be considered a “low block” with a fair amount of success.
Although the top 6 clubs have most of the lowest PPDA values in the league, there are a few examples further down in the table of low PPDA teams that have performed less well in their overall performance. Nice and Saint-Etienne are 13 years olde and 16e in the Matchweek 19 table, respectively, as their measurements suggest that both teams are attempting to retrieve the ball in the opposing half of the field with an above-average level of urgency. However, intense pressing doesn’t always equate to efficient pressing, and overall team performance cannot be defined by a single metric. According to FBRef, Saint-Etienne makes the 2nd most presses on the final third for 90 in the league, another metric that suggests focusing on high-intensity pressing. With the PPDA value of 10.12, it’s fair to conclude that this is a team that likes to play aggressively and with intensity, but they are a team that placed 15th in goals scored while conceding a high number of set goals and poor ranking also for individual errors.
Monaco ranks impressively for both the PPDA (9.08) and the hit percentage (43.6%), suggesting that they used one of the most intense presses, but also the most effective in the first half of the season. The graph below shows their average positions in a 4-0 win over Bordeaux in November.
Unlike the previous graph of Montpellier’s average positions, the high defensive line used by Monaco, along with the advanced positions of both forwards, underscore the aggressive tactical approach taken by the team. Their opponents were forced to make a number of mistakes and give many free kicks in dangerous positions, including a mistake from midfielder Yacine Adli which led to Monaco’s second goal and was the result of an effective closure of the Monegasque attackers.
Overall, PPDA does not give the complete picture, but it can still be a useful measure when studying the pressure intensity of the sides. While high intensity doesn’t necessarily correlate with high efficiency, it’s no coincidence that the top sides of the table show all of the lowest PPDA numbers in the league. The likes of Marseille and PSG, both of whom have a reputation for using efficient presses, are responsible for the two lower PPDA values which strengthen the association that has been placed between PPDA and a successful baling system. In contrast, Saint-Étienne has struggled so far this season, despite their similar pressing measures. A team’s overall performance, with and without the ball, relies on more than one aspect of tactical style and teams like Angers and Montpellier are examples of alternative styles that can still produce fruitful results. It will be interesting to see how the distribution of PPDA values adjusts at the end of the season, whether it is due to a new manager, a change of goals or the effects of new signings.