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2011/12 EPL Season Review--Possession (part 1)

Welcome to part 14 of my review of the season.

Today we shall be looking at possession in the EPL. This will be part 1 of 3 on this topic. Over the next three posts I will be looking into possession, what it is, who had it, what it means, and if possession as a mainstream stat is important.

Join me after the jump for what will be a strange and interesting piece. How strange? Wolves were the 10th best team by possession in the EPL. They finished with 25 points, so what went wrong.

Over the next three posts I hope to answer that question and hopefully see if possession has any true value.

The first post on EPL possession will feature only the possession tables. I will list the overall table, home and then away.

2011/12 EPL Table By Possession



Above is the EPL table by possession. This is overall possession in the EPL.

There are few surprises here really. Arsenal are 1st and have a reputation as an excellent possession side. Swansea were third by this measure and it is a real testament to Brendan Rodgers' coaching and tactics that a team can step up from the Championship and be the 3rd best possession team in the EPL on their debut. Liverpool will be a different challenge, but I expect good things from them under his management.

No surprises to see Man City (2nd), Man Utd (4th), Spurs (5th) in the top 5. Liverpool, Chelsea and Wigan round out the 8 teams who finished the positive side of the mean line. These clubs were the only ones who out-possessed the opposition over the 38 game campaign.

A word here for Wigan, also. Much like Swansea, they have a weaker squad but an excellent tactical set-up to keep the ball and use possession as a tool to prevent goals against (especially Swansea and their defensive half possession). Wigan are excellently coached and progressed as the season wore on, the upcoming season is an interesting one. Can they build on late season momentum (all stat counts were higher in their 6 game run at the end of the season) and become a mid table EPL side? I hope so, this may be Martinez's last season at Wigan and maybe the EPL. He will be a loss to both.

As for the bottom of the table, Villa look unsightly by this measure. Blackburn are unsightly.

Stoke? Oh dear, again I find myself writing about Stoke and their poor numbers in 2011/12. Their overall possession % is nearly 10% lower than the average. Now, possession isn't as important for Stoke as it for Arsenal but being out-possessed in nearly every game ( 17 of 19 at home, 17 of 19 away) is not pretty. Are they the modern day Wimbledon? I sometimes wonder what their training sessions look like!

2011/12 Possession (home)


Here we have the EPL table by home possession.

We see immediately that possession average runs at a shade under 52% in favour of the home teams. We see the same 8 teams out-possess the opposition as we did by the overall measure, albeit by a slightly bigger margin.

Arsenal and Man Utd are over 60%. Man City are very close to 60%. All outstanding numbers. Wolves (as promised) are 10th in the overall table and the home table at a shade under 50% possession. So what went wrong with that club, how did they register that low a points total despite good possession? The problems began when Wolves didn't have possession, they were terrible. Their shape and discipline broke, the quality of player was insufficient and they hemorrhaged shots and thus shots on target against. This cost them goals, games then points. Relegation followed.

We see Everton, surprisingly, in the bottom 3 by home possession. They had the the 8th best EPL home form yet gave up a lot of the ball at home for reasons unknown. Was it tactical? We don't know but they had an average of 3 % less possession at home than they did away.

2011/12 Possession (away)


The away table shows us a few different things. The mean line being a shade over 48 %


Man City climb to 1st, Swansea appear again with another excellent effort for a promoted team. Liverpool (who were a better away team) move up to 6th and Everton with a 3% leap compared to their home form.


Newcastle are the biggest sliders here, falling 6% on their home form. But, this is somewhat of a trend. The best sides (top 6) all see their possession % dip in comparison to their home possession form. Stoke are again a staggering 10% below the mean.


Possession is just a basic stat that needs an awful lot of context if to be considered important. Where is the possession held is my biggest question. There is a world of difference between Barcelona possession, pinning the opposition in their own final 1/3, and a Swansea style possession which is containment and not an awful lot of attacking possession.

The one change I would propose to the MSM in regards to possession is to add opposition half possession. That would be a start, a basic one but we cannot expect much more at this time.

Does possession correlate well with league position? I think over a 38 game season we can see that it does, albeit with a few notable exceptions. Swansea and Wigan (and Wolves to a lesser extent) appear in the top half of the possession table despite being bottom half in the EPL.

I would go as far as to say if no team can finish in the top 8 of the EPL with a poor possession number. Newcastle (5th) and Everton (7th) are the only teams from the top 8 of the EPL to be in the bottom half of the possession table, and they have respectable possession numbers, around 47.5%. Whereas, conversely, a poor performing EPL side can record a (relatively) high possession number but this will have little affect on their league position.

In a nutshell, possession is more important to the top 8 EPL teams than the bottom 8 teams. A poor possession number and you probably don't finish in the top 8. But a good possession number won't enable a cellar dweller (Wolves) to climb up the table. Scoring inefficiencies and player quality render the lower teams' own possession less important.

Part 2 on possession coming shortly.