Progressive Passies, Through Balls and the importance of creative players

When Barcelona made history by winning six titles in the 2008-09 season, it was seen as a return to the possession-based system. Watching Pep Guardiola’s side use short forward passes to play an out-of-game team was a sight to behold. And what I highlighted was the importance of passing.

Barcelona has won the Spanish League, UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey, European Super Cup, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Super Cup, and Club World Cup. It was an unprecedented feat in football history that only Bayern Munich could repeat.

But what Barcelona has shown is how players with great vision can unite to reach The pinnacle of football with short passes As a rule they play. In turn, it will lead to a domino effect that will bring about huge changes in the game of football.

two simple scales

A player’s contribution to the game is broadly measured based on two broad parameters – movement on the ball and movement off the ball. These two are then broken down into further statistics. However, like many things, some stats were given more importance while some were covered up. This led to a very rudimentary understanding of the game. Two of these metrics were incremental passes and through balls.

We have other metrics like the number of passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA), which measures how strong a team is pressing. Another metric is the expected offensive offensive value (xOVA), which measures a player’s actual offensive contribution.

However, any metric to attack in one way or another is based on some basic metric. Two of these metrics are progressive passes and balls.

progressive passes

A pass is considered progressive if it meets one of the following three conditions:

  • The distance of the lane is not less than 30 meters if it begins and ends in its own half.
  • The pass distance is not less than 15 meters if the pass begins in the half of the team but ends in the half of the opponent
  • The pass distance is not less than 10 meters if the pass begins and ends with half of the opponent.

The use of distance is critical as it helps distinguish a simple forward pass from one that may require skill and vision to identify a teammate.

Usually most of the players working between the middle third and the attacking third of the field are the best forward passers. Kevin De Bruyne, Luka Modric and Thiago are among the best dogs to move the ball towards goal.

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Keep this in mind; If a player appears with the most passes in a match, the average person might say that the player was deeply involved in team play. While this may be true, more importantly, is the direction of the passes.

A look at passing stats from the top five leagues will show one thing clearly, defenders and defensive midfielders usually top the list.

In the Premier League, the most notable passers-by are Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte, Rodri and Virgil van Dijk, who are either defenders or midfielders.

It is the same case in the German League, the French League, the Italian League, and the Spanish League.

However, few of these players are among the best at seeing through balls. Therefore, most of their passes are associated with the opponent’s goal as a defender.

There are exceptions like Trent Alexander-Arnold who ranks 13th in assists but is by far the best progressive passer in the league.

cross balls

Most of the time, we can say that through balls are a type of progressive pass. It is a pass that takes advantage of holes in the opponent’s defense to send the ball to a teammate.

This skill is a very accurate representation of a player’s actual offensive value. Keep in mind that Lionel Messi may have a bad season but he is still topping the football charts in Ligue 1.

Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes, on a par with Tottenham’s Harry Kane, is the best through ball player in the Premier League.

Through balls are very important because successful balls usually result in a big chance for the team.

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Progressive passes and through ball contact

A through ball expert may be good at forward passes but not every forward passer can be a through ball expert. For many years, players have dominated these two metrics across the frontline. However, now it depends more on the system.

If we look at the top five players for through balls in the Premier League, there are four strikers and one defender (Joao Cancelo).

In the Bundesliga, we have two defensive-minded midfielders (Mahmoud Daoud and Joshua Kimmich) among the top five. Serie A has two midfielders, while the French league has two defensive midfielders (Youssef Fofana and Chic Doukuri) among the best through ball players.

This statistic is no accident. Instead, it shows how football tactics and systems have become more fluid. For example, look at Liverpool, which uses defenders as their creative fulcrum. This was probably out of the question until two decades ago.

Returning to the interstellar scale, we discover an interesting observation.

Ligue 1 defensive midfielders Fofana and Doukuri, who top the by-ball charts, are not on the same level for progressive passing. to me fbref Doucouré scored 5.16 forward passes per 90 minutes, which isn’t good enough to be in the top 10% of midfielders. On the other hand, Fofana’s performance is worse, good enough to only be in the top 20 percent of midfielders.

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However, this is not the case for all non-attacking players. For example, Joshua Kimmich and Joao Cancelo both have impressive forward passing counts of 9.51 and 7.62 per 90 minutes respectively.

This can be explained by the team stats with which these four players play.

Doucouré’s Lens team ranks eighth in Ligue 1 and doesn’t dominate the attack metrics in Ligue 1. It ranks sixth when it comes to goals, ninth in terms of xG, tenth in Building Disruption Percentage (BDP), and seventh in Field Tilt.

Meanwhile, Fofana’s team is fifth in goals and seventh in goals against them, but they top BDP and third in Field Tilt.

Kimmich and Cancelo dominate these metrics and play a much more offensive style of football which helps with the player stats.

So passing and crosses are metrics that have come a long way, no longer limited to a specific set of situations, but now more dependent on the system and tactics the team uses.