With the support of InStat Football, who kindly provided match stats on this game, 11tegen11 is able to dive into the stats behind PSV’s disappointing 1-0 home victory over Legia Warszawa in the first match of the Europa League group stage. This review will focus on numbers rather than naked eye tactical observations and will concentrate on breaking down PSV’s game, rather than focusing on Legia. It will highlight some important aspects ahead of Sunday’s clash with league leaders Ajax.
PSV’s 4-3-3 system
After the disappointing end to last season’s campaign, manager Fred Rutten has come in for quite some criticism, being blamed for focusing too much on the defensive side of things and consequently holding onto a double holding midfielder system, even when facing inferior opposition. Rutten’s tactical plans seem a tad different this year, changes which have been highlighted in a previous post describing PSV’s switch from the double holding midfielder 4-2-3-1 system to a more genuine single holding midfielder 4-3-3 formation.
In the present match, PSV’s summer acquisitions started together for the first time, meaning that Slovenian striker Tim Matavz, who was acquired from Groningen near the transfer deadline, as well as Strootman, Wijnaldum and Mertens all featured in the starting eleven. At the back Rutten held onto the Marcelo-Bouma pairing, preferring the tall Brazilian over Timothy Derijck, who captained ADO to their Europa League qualification last year.
A comfortable win?
PSV won this game 1-0, through a 21st minute goal by left winger Dries Mertens. In total PSV created 18 goal scoring attempts against Legia’s 7 with both teams shooting around a third of those attempts on target (6 v 2).
Half of PSV’s shots were from inside to box, yet only two of those nine attempts were on target. In contrast, Legia’s four shots from outside the box were all off target, while two of their three shots from inside the box were on target, but saved.
Possession analysis, the debate
A hot topic in recent debate on stats analysis in football concerns how to treat possession. Generally, possession is measured as time in possession, but this parameter has shown limited applicability. Quick counter attacks have been demonstrated to be the most dangerous types of possession, while slow build-up attacks can’t nearly match that goal scoring threat per second of possession.
The most straightforward form of possession analysis seems to simply count the number of possession and deduct the efficiency of turning these possession spells into attacks, attacks into shots and shots into goals. And of course, defensive efficiency could be provided the same parameters: preventing your opponent from turning possession spells into attacks, attacks into shots and shots into goals.
Possession and attack analysis, the numbers
Conventional analysis would express PSV’s dominance as 59% of possession, simply stating that PSV possessed the ball 1.5 times longer than Legia did. Another way of looking at the same information is to say that PSV had 143 spells of possession, which lasted on average 14 seconds, while Legia had 134 spells of 10 seconds on average.
With 143 possessions, PSV created 94 attacks, with attacks being defined as any possession with a completed pass inside the opponent’s half. Legia, on the other hand, turned only 65 of their 134 possessions into attacks. PSV’s attack ratio of 66% compared to Legia’s 49% proved the home side to be more effective in turning possessions into attacks.
PSV’s 94 attacks were quite unequally distributed, with 31 on the left flank, 38 in the center and only 17 on the right flank. Of 94 attacks, 18 shots were created, for a shot ratio of 19%. Although PSV’s left flank was the focus of almost twice as many attacks as their right flank, the shot ratio of the left flank was only 13% versus 18% on the right wing and 21% in the center.
PSV ‘outpassed’ Legia with 543/636 completed passes for a pass completion ratio of 85% versus 357/441 for 81%. The fact that PSV turned more of their possessions into attacks, or in other words, succeeded in playing more of the game on the offensive half of the pitch, was also reflected in their 56 passes into the box versus Legia’s 22. However, Legia’s efficiency of these passes was much higher, completing 13 of them (59%) versus PSV’s 15 (29%).
To those who’ve read the previous statistical analysis of PSV’s game, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Kevin Strootman was PSV’s main passer of the ball. Playing in the single holding midfielder role, he received 82 of PSV’s 543 completed passes (15%). Another eye-catching number is Marcelo’s 78 received passes, which highlighted the fact that Legia deliberately refrained from pressing him in PSV’s build-up. His central defensive partner Bouma received only 33 passes, the lowest number of all PSV’s defensive and midfield players.
Having received most passes, Kevin Strootman was also PSV’s main distributor of the ball, which he did quite well in terms of completing passes: 90/104 or 87%. A remarkable observation is his direction of distribution. Left-back Pieters received 21 of Strootman passes compared to right-back Manolev’s 5 and left winger Mertens received 12 compared to right winger Lens’ 1.
Apart from Strootman, one more PSV player deserves to be highlighted here. If not so much on the basis of his performances against Legia, although he scored the only goal of the match and managed three of PSV’s six shots on target in this game, then certainly because of his thrilling start to his PSV career earlier this season, having scored in the first five consecutive Eredivisie matches.
Mertens received 56 passes, mostly from Pieters (21) and Strootman (12), while attempting 53 passes of his own, indicating that he only lost three more balls for his team than he won back with defensive work himself. He completed 38 of his passes (72%), with the majority of incomplete passes being played into the box. Only 5 of his 16 passes in that area found another PSV player.
Mertens played a role in 59 of PSV’s 94 attacks (63%), highlighting his central role in PSV’s offense. His participation rate was much higher than team mates Lens (34%, correct for his 73rd minute sub), Toivonen (43%), Wijnaldum (37%) and Matavz (43%). Mertens participated in 38% of PSV’s counter attacks, 35% of open play attacks and 90% of set piece attacks.
Lessons for Frank de Boer
In-depth match performance data can offer a lot of insight into the patterns of play of a certain team. By studying the data from the PSV – Legia game, Frank de Boer can draw some useful conclusions on PSV’s playing patterns and their major threats.
A key factor for Ajax in Sunday’s game will be to frustrate Strootman’s passing game. He featured in a team high of 78% of attacks, so any pressure on him will significantly impair PSV’s game. His passing pattern, at least in the Legia game, was extremely focused on the left side of the pitch, with the left sided players receiving over five times more passes than their right sided team mates.
Another key aspect will be how Ajax deals with PSV’s wingers, who both play a very different game. Left winger Mertens is involved in double the number of attacks that right winger Lens is, and aims 30% of his passes into the box, compared to Lens’ 10%.
These two points are certain to return in the match review of the PSV – Ajax game, which may reveal more on the true strengths of both teams.
This post could not have been made without the generous support of InStat Football.