More Progressive Passing In The FAWSL And Women’s World Cup

In the last post talking about progressive passing I said once I get over some rustiness I’ll look into fine tuning the method and start looking at some different stuff than just player totals.

I’ve found how I can quickly tweak what’s deemed as progressive (rather than making Excel suffer like before) and I’ve had a mess around with some different ideas, but I’m not really happy with any of them yet, so I’m still using the same method as in the first post.

I have managed to get my data in a bit better order though, getting the minutes for players using the function in StatsBombR and getting attempted passes and other events. I’ve also taken a look at the performance of teams as well as players, which brings up some interesting numbers.

I’ve also now got a hotchpotch of progressive passes, opting to group any pass that was deemed progressive by any method together rather than do everything four times. It does go back on what I said at certain points, but I’m going for a more laid back approach where I don’t care exactly how they progress the ball just that they do.

Anyway, all this housekeeping stuff doesn’t really matter, I’ll get into some numbers.

How Efficiently Do Players Progress The Ball?

One of the main things to look into after the previous post was the accuracy of progressive passe to try and gauge how efficient players are at progressing the ball. The graph below shows the attempted progressive passes of players p90 and the completion rate of these passes.

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Before jumping to any huge conclusions, it’s also worth noting this still doesn’t take the difficulty of the passes attempted into account, but it’s a step forward from the previous post.

From the graph it’s Reading’s Josanne Potter who attempted the most progressive passes p90. Watching some clips of Potter she seems to like to switch the ball when she progresses it and given StatsBomb have an attribute to say if a pass is a switch I thought it’d be fun to see if it’s true. From the graph below, you can see it is.

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She’s in a league of her own when it comes to attempts, while her completion rate is strong considering the high number of attempts. I also feel like there’s a good pun/reference to be had with Harry Potter and the Golden Snitch and Josanne Potter and a switch but I can’t think of one.

After that slight detour, youngster Leah Williamson shines again with the 2nd most progressive passes p90 but a better accuracy than the other leading centre-backs, having the 5th best accuracy of all players in the division.

Williamson’s centre-back partner Louise Quinn is the player with the highest accuracy, which is even more impressive considering she attempted more progressive passes than average by a somewhat significant amount.

The upper left quadrant is an interesting one to look at, showing players who complete a lot of their progressive passes they attempt, but don’t attempt many. When I looked at Vertical Passing before it’s what initially brought Fabian Ruiz to my attention, the piece isn’t up anymore but the graph where he stands out can still be seen.

In the above graph 22-year-old West Ham centre-back Vyan Sampson has a great completion rate, behind only Quinn, but probably attempts too few passes to draw any big conclusion – particularly as these numbers only came in a small amount of minutes. She could be worth keeping an eye on, particularly if she can either maintain her accuracy over a longer period of time or start to be more progressive without a huge drop-off in her accuracy.

Two names who are just in the top right quadrant with strong accuracy are Ji So-yun from Chelsea and Sarah Mayling from Birmingham.

Ji So-yun had the 3rd highest accuracy overall and the highest of midfielders and forwards, while putting forward a respectable 6.8 progressive passes p90. Given her most popular position was attacking midfield, this number could have been even better if we only looked at the time she spent in a deeper role.

Sarah Mayling is yet another 22-year-old with some strong numbers. She attempted 6.1 progressive passes p90 with the 11th highest accuracy in the division. She played more minutes than Sampson, but she still played just shy of half of the available minutes. She’s anther one who could be worth keeping an eye on if she can continue these numbers across a longer time period.

It’s also worth noting Birmingham had the 4th highest xGD in the division and the 5th most progressive passes p90, but there is a significant drop off from the big three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City with these numbers. This could make you think if Mayling (or other players with strong but not huge numbers) played for a side with a set-up even more suited to progressive passing she may be able to grow these numbers further.

If we remove defenders from the above graph, we get the graph below.

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Keira Walsh, another player highlighted in the last post, stands out with the most attempted progressive passes p90, but her accuracy falls below the other three leading midfielders of Dominique Bloodworth, Lia Walti and Sophie Ingle.

The real star of the group is Dutch international Bloodworth, who has the 2nd highest attempted progressive passes p90 as well as the 2nd best completion rate of these passes. She did spend some time in defence, but that shouldn’t take away from how strong her numbers are.

In fact, all of Arsenal’s midfielders look strong when it comes to accuracy of their progressive passing. Half of the top ten midfielders for progressive pass accuracy play for Arsenal with Bloodworth, Kim Little, Danielle van de Donk, Lia Walti and Jordan Nobbs all there.

It’s also interesting to see Claire Emslie in the position she is, having the 5th highest accuracy and above average attempts despite mostly playing on the wing. Tessa Wullaert had the 20th highest accuracy and was the only other winger to make the top 20 for accuracy. It did come in a small number of minutes, but this plus a huge xG assisted p90 make for a great combination.

How Efficiently Do Teams Progress The Ball?

After looking at how efficient players progress the ball the results for how teams progress the ball isn’t too surprising. The graph below shows teams attempted progressive passes and completion rate.

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The most surprising thing about how teams perform with progressive passes is that Arsenal and Man City attempted the exact same number of progressive passes in 2018/19. From the graph you can see Arsenal had the better completion rate, which isn’t surprising given how well their players performed above, but the identical numbers for attempts did make me think I’d done something stupid to calculate them.

Elsewhere, Yeovil are a distance away from everyone else, having both the least attempted and the worst completion rate, while Josanne Potter and Kirstyn Pearce’s strong numbers put Reading closer to the big three than the rest of the pack.

The more interesting numbers come when looking at the progressive passes conceded by teams. It’s worth pointing out that conceding attempted progressive passes isn’t an inherently bad thing, with the method I’ve done all it means is that someone is trying to progress the ball a certain distance further than where it has been in the current possession. This means that low probability long balls are progressive passes.

If a team plays short from a goal kick, is put under pressure and ends up punting the ball up field that would count as a progressive pass, yet you’d likely commend the team without the ball for pressuring the opposition into playing a low probability long ball.

With that in mind, it feels as though if you concede progressive passes it’s not too bad provided they have a fairly low completion rate, but, as the graph below shows, Chelsea are somewhat unrivaled when it comes to stopping the opposition progressing the ball.

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They not only concede the least progressive passes per game they’re also the best at stopping the opposition from completing them.

The more I dig into Chelsea’s defensive numbers for progressive passes and the more impressive they get. Looking only at progressive passes that come from the oppositions defensive third Chelsea are the best for completion rate while also conceding the highest percentage of their progressive passes within the final third. This is true once again when stretching the area to the opposition’s own half.

The fact that Chelsea have the highest proportion of progressive passes coming in non-threatening positions and the lowest completion rate for these passes is hugely impressive. It also makes it unsurprising that they have the highest percentage of their pressure events coming in the opposition’s defensive third.

It’s harder to spot patterns and outliers with the smaller amount of teams, but West Ham look having the 2nd lowest completion rate while still having a below average number for progressive passes conceded is also impressive, while at the other end Yeovil aren’t as far behind the rest as in attack, but still have the worst numbers in both categories.

Get You Somebody Who Can Do Both

After posting the numbers for progressive passes received in the last piece, I thought it’d be fun to try and see if there’s any players who have strong numbers for both progressive passes attempted and progressive passes received.

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While you can still see some interesting names here, the graph does look better if we remove the players who spent most their time at centre-back last season, giving the below graph.

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After talking about how good Arsenal’s progressive passers are, having the likes of Williamson, Bloodworth, Walti, Van de Donk and Quinn, it’s no surprise to see two Arsenal players leading the way for progressive passes received.

Arsenal full-back Lisa Evans probably stands out the most, making a respectable number of progressive passes while receiving the 2nd most p90. The only player to receive more progressive passes than Evans was her Arsenal team-mate Beth Mead, who also does well to sneak into the upper right quadrant with her progressive pass numbers being slightly above average.

20-year-old pair Erin Cuthbert of Chelsea and Georgia Stanway of Manchester City also have strong numbers in both categories, as do Chelsea full-backs Hannah Blundell and Jessica Carter.

One name worth talking about is Tessa Wulleart of Manchester City, who has the most progressive passes of the players in the top right quadrant, while still being significantly above average for progressive passes received.

Like with Evans and Mead at Arsenal, playing in front of players like Keira Walsh and Steph Houghton makes it unsurprising a City attacker receives a lot of progressive passes, but Wullaert’s numbers are still impressive.

Watching clips of her, she seems to like to drift in and receive the ball in the right half space area, where she can turn and run at defences and look to play passes to players running in behind. The below plot of her received progressive passes shows that a lot of them came in the right half space.

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The video below shows a few clips of her picking up the ball in these kind of areas before running at the defence and looking to play people in behind. I haven’t checked, but I’d also imagine these passes are deemed progressive for the way she progresses the ball with her dribbling and moves it much further up the pitch/closer to goal (there’s also some more good play from Walsh included in the clips too).

The strong progressive pass numbers didn’t quite translate into great xG production but having a player capable of helping the team progress the ball into dangerous areas is still valuable.

A Quick Look At The World Cup

The World Cup tends to move too fast for me to get anything out about it, but I thought to try and do something I’d just take a quick look at who made the most progressive passes during the first round of games.

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With the victory that the USWNT had it’s not a surprise to see one of their players leading the way, as left-back Crystal Dunn completed 15 of her 17 attempted progressive passes.

From an England point of view it was Lucy Bronze who impressed most, completing 12 of her 16 attempts. You can also see how a lot of England’s progression came down the wings, with Alex Greenwood also attempting 16 but only completing 7, while both Nikita Parris and Beth Mead attempted more progressive passes than any of the midfield three.

Then, after thinking it was weird Arsenal and Manchester City ended the season with the same number of progressive passes attempted, Japanese centre-back pairing Saki Kumagai and Moeka Minami both attempted and completed the same number of passes in their opening game against Argentina – completing 13 of their 17 attempts.

Japan may be disappointed with the result but the passing performance of 20-year-old Minami in particular does seem like a small positive that can be taken from the game.

Removing defenders, the best numbers probably come from France’s Amandine Henry. She had the joint 2nd most attempts with 15 but her completion rate of 80% is much higher than the players tied with her, while Canada’s Janine Beckie attempted the most with 16 but only completed 5.

With both metrics being whole numbers the scatter of progressive passes attempted and received isn’t great, but what’s immediately obvious is how Megan Rapinoe is in a league of her own. Again, with the manner of victory from the U.S. and the fact she was playing in front of Crystal Dunn, none of this is surprising, but it is the first thing that grabs your attention on the graph.

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Looking at England again you can see the importance of the full-backs, with only Ellen White receiving more than Alex Greenwood, while Lucy Bronze received 7, one behind Nikita Parris and Greenwood.

Another young Japanese player in 22-year-old Yui Hasegawa had strong numbers, with only Rapinoe receiving more, while also putting forward a strong number of attempted passes herself.

It’s not a big surprise to see Cristiane have strong numbers in both categories after her opening day performance, while Nigeria’s Francisca Ordega also shines in both categories.

However, it is worth noting that the last three names mentioned didn’t fare well when it came to the completion rate of their progressive passes. It’s obviously only one game, but Hasegawa was the only player to have an above average completion rate and even then it was only just.

I’ll try and revisit the World Cup numbers come the end of the group stage and look forward to the knock-out rounds. I won’t be able to do anything for around two weeks after the end of the tournament, but I might do a belated round-up kind of thing after that, although by then it’ll likely feel like a distant memory with the domestic season coming back and transfer stories everywhere.

Finally, thanks again to StatsBomb for the free data.

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