Is possession 9/10s of the footballing law?

Shots taken vs faced per match
Shots taken vs faced per match

The train of thought that possession is king is facing a serious challenge at home and abroad.

Barcelona’s dominance of the ball, honed at La Masia, and exported, via Pep Guardiola to Germany with Bayern Munich, has long been highlighted as the route to success.

I look for my team to play effective football, hopefully also enjoyable affective football

Sean Dyche

However, while Tiki Taka is far from dead, coaches have pondered how best to combat possession kings, and pressing and counter-attacking football is proving as effective.

Closer to home, Burnley were promoted two seasons ago, despite having less than 50% of the ball on average as they finished Championship runners-up.

And that trend has continued so far after relegation from the Premier League.

The Clarets went into last night’s Sky date at Derby County on the back of four-successive wins – all achieved with less of the ball than their opponents.

Burnley beat Brentford 1-0 with 38% possession, won 2-1 at Bristol City with 41%, saw off Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 with 46% and enjoyed a 2-1 win over MK Dons with 39%.

Dyche likes his team to have a mixed style of play, and, ahead of the win over MK, insisted: “Keeping possession of the ball is where I still feel we can step things up.”

Burnley improved in terms of their use of the ball against Karl Robinson’s men, but, even at home against a promoted side, saw less of it.

Dyche said: “There’s all sorts of different thoughts, a couple of years ago it was almost to the point that you can’t win without possession. We went up out of the Championship averaging just under 50% possession and averaged usually less passes than the opposition, but when you look at effectiveness, which is the best measure I feel of football, we were super-effective.

“I’ve always made it clear I’m not a zealot to one or the other. We look, and I look for my team to play effective football, hopefully also enjoyable affective football, which in my time here most would consider it has been; good on the eye and also productive in winning matches. That’s the kind of mix you’re looking to find

“We’re aware of the stats, I like that side of it, but I never other-think them.

“Different managers I think have different ways of defining a good performance, some use pure stats, some use a mixture as I do, some don’t even worry about stats as long as they’re winning.

“They’re a guide I think.

“Some of it’s common sense. There is a much higher chance of you winning if you have more shots and crosses into key areas, but that’s been around forever.”

For Dyche, it is about getting the best out of the tools available: “My personal belief is that mixed football is the most effective.

“Last year someone said something about long balls. I said ‘I’ve got Kieran Trippier, one of the best long passers I’ve seen and worked with’.

“Now we’ve got other players with great strengths.

“Andre Gray can run in behind and be effective with it, I would never take that away from him.

“I evolve teams on what I’ve got and what will be effective with the players I’ve got rather than tell them the brand we’ll play, it evolves from using their strengths.

“That’s just my way of working.

“The best teams I’ve watched and the best teams I’ve played in and against, they can find a way to win.

“When I became a manager, I always thought to become a diluted version of Manchester United in their pomp. I’m not saying diluted to be disrespectful to myself or to the club I’m at, but we obviously haven’t got the resource base. But when you go on the pitch, the habits, the way of playing, the way they can beat you in different.

“Manchester United in their pomp could beat you by pressing, by dropping off, by counter attack, by set pieces, keeping the ball or not having the ball a lot.

“To get your players to understand that and deliver it is a key thing for me. That’s what we’ve tried to evolve over my time here.

“There have been very good signs of it generally speaking. We’re getting back to being very effective in different ways at the moment.”