Aston Villa enjoyed the lowest amount of possession in the Premier League against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday – but this figure isn’t as important as would first seem.
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Across the weekend of Premier League football – Aston Villa enjoyed the least amount of possession across all ten games – coming away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with just 30 per cent of the share of the ball.
It’s something that most fans expected. Aston Villa were never going to have a lion’s share of the ball against last season’s Champions League finalists, and in retrospect, there are a few teams who were close to matching the paltry numbers that the Villans registered in London.
Wolverhampton Wanderers managed only 34.7 per cent against their rivals for a Europa League spot this season Leicester City. It’s important to give things context in this regard, however, with many of Wolves’ starting eleven playing in the Europa League on Thursday over 2,300 miles away, there was bound to be some kind of fatigue which would likely impact the possession that the side would see.
And of course, at face value, Aston Villa were up against it for large swathes of the game – with the side making over 70 interceptions and 42 clearances collectively – and didn’t do all too much with their possession, especially in the second half.
But when you delve deeper into the metrics available, there’s more than meets the eye.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the players. Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane and John McGinn made a combined 64 attempted passes, which is criminally low in retrospect. This shows, at face value, that Aston Villa’s midfield just couldn’t deal with Tottenham’s. McGinn alone made only eight pass attempts, which initially looked VERY poor to my eye, but 7500toHolte‘s James Rushton put me straight:
“The lack of possession means that there’s little time to be doing anything except making a beeline towards the goal.
In our xG build-up, McGinn was one of the players who got further up the pitch than anyone else, making him the focal point as barely anyone else is involved up front.
McGinn passed less because he’d be looking for the final ball – and nobody seemed to want it bar the chance for Trézéguet.”
As an entire team though, there’s some interesting rankings that pop up in regards to the style of Aston Villa’s passing, and the types of balls they played – despite of the lack of possession and the lowest number of passes across the entire league (by 10).
You can pass the ball until the sun sets and still get no further in what you’re attempting. There are key metrics that can be explored in regards to the passing that happened.
For example, despite a lack of passes and possession, Aston Villa ranked third in the league across the weekend for the number of Key Passes made, just behind Liverpool, and you guessed it, Tottenham Hotspur. That’s a positive moving forward.
There is also a metric called ‘Smart Passes’. Whilst Key Passes could have registered as an assist, Smart Passes count as creative passes to evade a potential attacker or something similar. There were only three of these, and only two of them were accurate – something to build on, perhaps.
Something that will come as an interesting stat, however, is the long passing undertaken by Aston Villa. You would expect, with sides somewhat under the cosh like Villa were against Spurs, long balls to be pumped far and wide into the opposition half for two reasons; to potentially catch them off-guard and start an attack, or to give themselves a small breather before they started another push towards the Villa goal.
The above is a perfect representation of Dean Smith’s unwillingness to turn away from his philosophy despite coming up against better opponents. The only side to have made less long ball attempts than Aston Villa across the full 90 minutes was Manchester United.
It’s easy, like I did earlier, to look at a stat, such as John McGinn’s eight passes, or Aston Villa’s 30 per cent possession, and take it at face value. Applying context to a stat, or even placing meaning upon it – as I did in the paragraph above, can make the most uninspiring things stand out as something that could hold the side in good stead for games to come.