How Important is Possession?

12 Sep 2023 | 7 comments

The recent match against Millwall was the first league game this season where Blues had the majority of possession in the game. Millwall had also had less than 50% possession in their previous four league games, so arguably something had to give.

Nevertheless, as the team starts to transition to a new era, will we see Blues changing their style and keeping the ball more? And, if so, is this likely to yield more points?

Looking at last season in the Championship and plotting average possession against points gained, the graph below shows that, generally speaking, the greater the possession equals the greater the points gained. There is some variability of course but, for example, no team with less than 45% average possession, including Blues shown in red, got more than 53 points. On the other hand, all of the teams with 55% or more average possession gained 62 points or more.

 

 

Looking more broadly over the past five Championship seasons emphasises this relationship still further.

Category Proportion of teams that averaged 50% or more possession over the Season
Automatically promoted teams 100%
Teams promoted through the playoff 80%
Teams in the playoffs 70%
Teams who finished in bottom 3 (before any points deductions) 13%

Out of the ten teams that were promoted automatically over that five-year period, all of them averaged 50% or more possession across the season. The last team that got promoted with less than 50% possession was Cardiff City in 2017/18.

Of the five teams that got promoted through the playoffs during this time, four of them averaged 50% or more possession with the exception being Luton Town last season who only had just over 45% possession on average. That shows that it is possible to be successful with less than 50% possession but, clearly, the vast majority of successful clubs kept the ball more than that.

Of the teams that got into the playoffs in the last five years, 14 of the 20 (70%) had 50% or more possession and of the 6 that had less than that only Luton Town were ultimately successful.

Looking at the other end of the table, the picture is slightly clouded by teams having points deductions. If we ignore those and just look at the teams that would have finished in the bottom three without any deductions, we can see that just 13% of those teams had possession of 50% or more. So, the vast majority had less than average 50% possession.

Interestingly, during this five-year period Blues consistently had less than 50% possession each season which is perhaps indicative as to why the club  struggled.

So, whilst having more possession is not a guarantee of success, as evidenced by Luton Town and indeed Leicester City when they won the Premier League, generally more possession seems to increase the likelihood of success. Although, of course, it’s always crucial as to what you do with the ball when you have it.

As the new squad begins to settle in, with better players than we have had for some time, hopefully Blues will be able to show more control of the ball and start nudging up that possession statistic. If they do, and of course use the ball more effectively when they have it, then there is every reason to believe that the team might be able to build on the strong start to the season that has already been made.

 

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7 Comments

  1. susan allen

    It means nothing if teams pass it sideways and backwards in their own half as lots of teams do We do not

    • Ijaz

      Possession has to be with purpose whether that is to build an attack or to keep it from the opposition so they cannot hurt you. At times we have pressed possession based teams so they have become trapped in their own half passing the ball amongst themselves while we have tried to capitalise on mistakes. The opposite is also true as it enables such teams to maintain pressure on opponent boxes while the low block team clears attack after attack until they can launch a counter of their own.

      The stats show one style is superior at producing results and the blueprint we should ideally follow.

  2. Ijaz

    I think the blueprint is clear. We have been a low block side for a number of years playing on the counter attack. However this has been mainly because of our lack of creativity in midfield. We do have some of those now so it should be possible to evolve our style to a much more possession based side. The successful sides control the tempo of the game and make it difficult for the opposition to gain a foothold in the game. If you were to have a boxing analogy they would be the boxer while we would be the brawler looking for the knockout blow. I think you are correct in your prediction that with better players we could evolve. To be successful in the EPL we do need to be much better on the ball so if that is our ambition then we need to improve our ball retention.

  3. Mitchell

    Perfect analogy by Ijaz. Be interesting to see what possession stats emerge after this full season of infinitely better players.

  4. MRu

    The other thing to keep in mind is the longer you have the ball the less chance you have to lose. Possession based football is not just about scoring its not letting opposition have the ball to hurt you. Every team in the league is looking for that midfield player who controls the tempo. I certainly don’t see that in our squad so you play with what you have. My biggest concern is the extra bums on seats want to be entertained and it sure isn’t that.

  5. Mark R

    The evidence is pretty clear isn’t it? If Blues want to increase their chances of success they have to become a more possession-based team, which is exactly what they appear to be moving towards.
    Besides this, how many fans enjoy watching their side spending most of any game without the ball? I certainly haven’t enjoyed this over the last decade or so, particularly at St Andrews.
    However, I understand each manager we’ve had set the team up in the way they felt gave Blues the best chance of winning each match, and on occasion, as a counter attacking team we’ve had some joy.
    Anyway most, if not all, of the players we have in our first team squad now are comfortable with receiving the ball under pressure, and that enables JE and his coaching team to develop this more possession-based approach.

    KRO

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