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Barcelona & Bayern Munich dominate the Possession Game

Just how much does possession affect a game of football? We all know that top teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich have most of the possession in almost every game they play, but are there teams who will manage to keep possession, but still struggle to pick up points, and are there teams who will get the points without the possession?

Taking into account the possession stats of all the teams in the top 5 leagues so far this season, we can see the correlation between possession and average points gained:Image

*data correct as of 14th March 2013

The average possession is obviously 50% while the teams get 1.37 points per game on average. Most points on this graph lie close to the line of best fit, but there are a few outlying teams who do not fit with the trend.

The teams who top their respective leagues in Spain, Germany and Italy are also top in terms of possession, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich way out in front. Manchester United are first in the Premiership at the moment, yet on average have less possession than Arsenal, Manchester city and Liverpool. In Ligue 1, both Lyon and Lille have more possession than first-placed PSG.

Atletico Madrid, along with their superstar striker Falcao, are currently third in La Liga, behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, despite having less possession than their opponents in most of their games. Interestingly, they have less possession than last-placed Deportivo La Coruna, yet find themselves at the opposite end of the table. This is largely because Atletico focus upon their position shape and discipline, rather than retention of the ball. This has seen them concede the fewest number of shots per game in La Liga.

On the other hand, Wigan and Palermo on average have more possession than their opponents, but still find themselves battling with relegation in their respective leagues, with Palermo in particular being bottom of the table in Serie A. This can mostly be put down to a lack of quality players and other off-field factors, such as Palermo’s constant firing of managers, which does nothing to help a team’s consistency.

The team with the lowest possession in the top 5 leagues is Levante in La Liga with an average of 36.9%. Despite this low amount of possession, Levante find themselves mid-table in La Liga, with a realistic chance of Europa League qualification.

However in general most teams do seem to fit with the overall trend, in that the teams with more possession will get more points on average than teams with less possession. Interestingly, this is still the case if we look at each league individually, showing that the possession game works regardless of which league you are playing in.

Looking at the line of best fit, we can show that, by increasing possession by 5%, the average points per game increases by 0.28 which, over the course of a 38 game season, adds up to about 10 points, which could mean the difference between relegation and survival, or between a champions league place and league winners.

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