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BLOG: Pochettino’s pressure

Southampton's decision to part ways with Nigel Adkins in January was widely seen as one of last season's bigger surprises in the Premier League [ 1, 2]. The decision was vindicated to some extent by the club's record under Pochettino:


Supr = Supremacy, i.e Goal difference per game

However, that perhaps doesn't tell the full story, with Southampton having picked up 18 of their points under Adkins in the 12 games prior to his sacking.

Still, while there may not have been a sea change in the team's results, what we are interested in here is Southampton's style of play - which unquestionably shifted upon Pochettino's appointment. Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who's playing career repeatedly overlapped with manager Marcelo Bielsa, Pochettino emphasises the importance of a "pressing game" [ 3], with his "style of play is to win back the ball as soon as possible and then play it"… "When we lose the ball we must have the mentality of winning it back as soon as possible". [ 4]

Actually implementing such a strategy in one of the strongest leagues in the world is quite different to talking about it; however the numbers clearly highlight the success of his strategy:


While their own 'style' (if you are happy taking time per possession as a proxy for that) whilst on the ball changed little from Adkins to Pochettino, the effect of the new manager's off-the-ball approach is almost literally off the chart. The gap between Pochettino's Southampton and the second-best team for limiting opposition time on the ball, Liverpool, is only marginally smaller (1.9 seconds) than that between Liverpool and Norwich in 20th (2.3 seconds).

Possibly most impressive of all was the consistency of the success of the approach, with Southampton limiting their opponent to a below-average amount of time per possession in each of their 16 games under Pochettino: 


To put that into context, only two other teams managed a streak into double figures across the course of the whole season (Chelsea and Spurs, both maxing out at 10) and only three other clubs across Europe's five major leagues managed a longer run (Rayo Vallecano 27, Bielsa's own Athletic Club 18 and Osasuna 17).

The colour on the chart above represents the opposition's time per possession in the game vs. Southampton compared to their season average (green being less, red being more), with just Stoke in their final game of the season surpassing their season average (which, to be fair, is a pretty low bar). Again, the level of the effect is astounding, 15 consecutive games limiting their opponents to at least 15% less time on the ball than their season average. By way of comparison, only Vallecano (also 15) managed such a streak for at least 10 games and only one other Premier League club (Spurs at six) achieved such a run of more than three games.

Southampton's decision to remove Adkins may well have been controversial at the time but the club's survival appears to have vindicated the board's faith in Pochettino. At the very least, his remarkable success at implementing his system on the team, and indeed the rest of the league, suggests the club have successfully identified someone with a clear plan and the ability to put into effect. Whether the rest of the league will be able to adjust to it may well prove to be one of the 2013/14 season's most interesting subplots.

PS To see where all the teams from Europe's five major leagues stack up in time per possession for and against, click here


Posted by Sam Green at 12:20


David L said...
I was one of those bitterly opposed to the sacking of Adkins. However now that i have had time to look, and think about the prospects of life under Pochettino, i am happily sure that we have much more potential to go places further up the table than we would have had with Adkins, who would probably kept us just above relegation season after season.
July 21, 2013 08:00

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