I have two types of final third possession to show you today: attempted final third possession and completed final third possession.
Attempted Possession% = attempts for/(attempts against+attempts for)
Completed Possession% = completed passes for/(completed against+completed for)
This is the data:
This is the data in graph form:
OK, a few things: It is no surprise to see that trailing teams post higher possession %’s (attempted) than leading teams. These pass % numbers are the foundation on which trailing teams are able to outshoot a team with the lead. Oupassing leads to outshooting the leading team.
But why are trailing teams able to outpass leading teams? Leading teams (especially at +1, and some at +2) sit back and allow the opposition time to play passes into their final third. A defensive shell operates, say, 20 to 25 to 30 yards from goal, which still leaves plenty of room for the trailing team to pass the ball into and around in that final third.
Of interest is the information at minus 1/plus 1 regarding possession% of completed passes. The -1 team posts a higher Completed pass % than Attempted pass %. How is this possible?
When a trailing team is passing the ball in the oppositions final third it likely encounters a defensive shell and numerous defensive bodies that is has to pass around, in other words defensive pressure. So how is it possible that a trailing team who faces this defensive pressure posts a higher Completed pass% than the leading team who doesn’t face this ttype of defensive pressure when attacking? I think it has to do with pass length and difficulty of pass.
Trailing teams who attack against this defensive pressure likely have more ball support (attackers and passing options) and play shorter, lower risk passes as they probe around the opponents defensive shell. This likely leads to a lot of completed final third passes. The leading (+1) team, sat deep, trying to protect its lead likely plays a higher number of long passes or counter attack passes when attacking. Longer passes into or inside the opponents final third involving fewer attackers and ball support than a trailing team would have leads to a lower number of completed passes.
Well, this is my rough theory. Feel free to have a good ‘ol kick at it if you want. It is also worth noting that once a team moves past +1 things change somewhat.
The leading team (+1) has problems on both sides of the ball in terms of pass completion and pass prevention: It breaks up a lower percentage of the oppositions final third passes (passive defensive shell) and posts a lower pass completion percentage likely due to the longer pass with fewer attacking bodies to aim for.
We should never take team level final third pass numbers at face value for those numbers need context (game state). It is also worth treading lightly when quoting an individual player and his final thrid pass numbers and completion numbers. Those individual numbers need context, and the number of minutes spent at certain game states would be just one part of that context.