Leeds remain the high-press kings but Portsmouth rank highest In League One & greater than Liverpool, Chelsea & Manchester United in executing key tactic

Pompey’s impressive unbeaten start to their League One campaign has many contributing factors – but central to it has been the aggressive high-press instructed by Danny Cowley.

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 2:26 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd August 2021, 2:44 pm

The head coach has been rigorously drilling his players to put pressure on opposition defences in order to dominate possession – and it’s already paying off.

The third-placed Blues – behind leaders Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe on goal difference – have won three out of their first four league matches, and all without conceding a goal.

Fans can already see the new style of play taking shape, while at the same time generating positive results.

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Of course, there’s a long way to go for Pompey to achieve their promotion ambitions.

But their new, forward-thinking approach to pressing is already making them stand out among their League One rivals.

In fact, it is even placing some of the giants of English football – and key exponents of the high-demanding gegenpressing tactic – in their shadow.

According to OPTA’s analyst platform, the Blues have the most aggressive counter-press in League One – tied with Rotherham – as they have the lowest passes allowed per defensive action stat (PPDA).

From Left: Danny Cowley, Marcelo Bielsa and Jurgen Klopp

PPDA measures how intense a team is pressing by counting how many passes are made by the opposition before gaining possession.

The lower the number, the more proactive a side is when trying to win the ball.

Pompey’s table-topping PPDA is 8.4, which shows how Cowley’s style of play is already being used to great effect.

Other sides famed for being proactive out of possession are lagging behind.

Rotherham United are tied with the Blues at 8.4 PPDA, followed by Wigan (9.1), AFC Wimbledon (9.2), Shrewsbury, (9.4) and Oxford United (9.9).

The two teams currently ahead of Pompey in the League One table – Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe – can’t hold a candle to Cowley’s men for pressing, averaging 11.4 and 12.3 PPDA respectively.

Generally, when a team focuses on pressing high up the pitch to break down the opposition, the more they dictate the tempo of the match.

Cowley has stressed in several post-match interviews the need for his side to have more control in their performances.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that in the Blues’ comfortable 2-0 win over Crewe Alexandra, they averaged 4.98 PPDA according to Wyscout.

There are countless ways to win a football match, but at the highest level, teams look to close down the opposition to dictate the flow of the game.

Jurgen Klopp’s imperious Liverpool side which won Premier League and Champions League trophies stand by the gegenpress.

But so far, the Premier League powerhouses all have less aggressive presses than Pompey when PPDA is compared.

The stats read – Chelsea (8.9), Manchester City (9.1), Liverpool (11.2), and Manchester United (12.6).

That puts them all below the Blues, albeit two matches less played.

The only team that is currently more successful at the press than Pompey is Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, with a PPDA of 8.2 after two matches.

Bielsa is considered the godfather and originator of pressing football, with the likes of Pep Guardiola praising the Argentine for his principles on how football should be played.

It is still early in the season and so much can influence Pompey’s form.

But it is clear to see that the Cowley brothers have already stamped their authority on the Blues’ tactical set-up.

Only time will tell whether this new approach will lead to promotion success.

- by Freddie Webb