English Premiership

Significant drop in EPL late comebacks

2015-11-20 20:15
Sir Alex Ferguson (Getty Images)

London - From Manchester United's 'Fergie Time' triumphs to Sergio Aguero's 94th-minute title-clinching goal for Manchester City, England's Premier League has long been synonymous with dramatic comebacks.

But that may be changing.

As teams become more robust defensively due to more sophisticated tactical preparation and higher levels of physical fitness, so they are becoming better equipped at protecting leads.

The result is that the team that scores first stands an increasingly strong chance of winning, with statistics revealing that comeback victories are at a 10-year low in the English top flight.

"The first 30 minutes is becoming the decisive period in Premier League matches," former Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham wrote in an article for The Independent earlier this season.

"Premier League football this season is all about pace on the counter-attack. Everyone wants to sit deep and play on the break, so they can nullify the opposition's counter-attackers, frustrate them, and then pick them off."

Figures sent to AFP by Premier League statisticians Opta reveal that the ratio of teams going on to win after falling behind has dropped below 10 percent for the first time in a decade.

Since a spike of 14.18% in 2012-13, the percentage of teams coming from behind to win per season has successively dropped, from 10.81% in 2013-14 to 10.10% in 2014-15 to 9.84% in the current campaign.

The average over the nine seasons prior to 2015-16 was 11.07%.

With teams now more adept at defending leads, playing on the counter-attack has become the preferred modus operandi for many Premier League sides.

The knock-on effect is that away victories are on the rise, borne out by the fact that there have been 42 away wins to 43 home wins in England's top division so far this season.

'Fast transitions'

Conventional wisdom dictates that home sides are more likely to win due to familiarity with their surroundings, support from home fans and the onus traditionally being on the hosts to attack.

But several teams are subverting the theory, with Arsenal, West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Everton, Liverpool, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa having all picked up more points on the road than at home.

West Ham and Palace have proved particularly adept at playing on the break, the former relying on the directness of players such as Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini, the latter utilising the pace and trickery of Wilfried Zaha, Bakary Sako and Yannick Bolasie.

It develops a trend witnessed at last year's World Cup, most notably when defending champions Spain, pioneers of 'tiki-taka', fell to successive defeats against the Netherlands and Chile despite bossing possession in both matches.

FIFA's official technical report on the World Cup highlighted "outstanding fast transitions and counter-attacking tactics" as the tournament's most effective attacking strategies.

"Counter-attacking tactics were once a tool in a team's armoury, but now some teams base their entire play around such tactics," it added, citing 21 games in which teams who saw less of the ball emerged victorious.

Overall, away wins in the English top division have been rising steadily for some time, but recent seasons have seen a pronounced leap.

Figures published recently by The Times showed that away wins as a percentage of total victories rose from 31.1% to 36% between 1970 and 2000, before broadly levelling off in the first decade of the current century, only to leap up to 39.4% in the five years since 2010.

Higginbotham, who also played for Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland, believes that English clubs' conspicuous rush to ape the possession-based tactics employed by Spain during their 2008-2012 highpoint has been abandoned.

"This is the era of the counter-attack," he said. "Everyone wants the right to play on the break."

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