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Aston Villa's struggles with possession (with interactive data visualization!)

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Our newest contributor takes a look at Aston Villa's inability to maintain possession of the football, and gives you a handy tool to put the numbers in context.

Michael Regan

Please note: this was written on Friday, but it's posting today to prevent it from being lost in match day. Any numbers from the West Brom match won't be taken into account here. --ed.

Much is being written about our club at the minute, about things the club could have done better, should have done better and need to do better, a cause of great frustration with points being made time and time again. The transfer window is open and the frustration increases, “Why haven’t we signed anyone yet?” etc. I don’t want to add to either of those discussions, instead I wanted to look at the players on the pitch, which is possibly the greatest cause of frustration.

Below are three interactive (I hope) charts that show various stats which measure how successfully a player keeps possession. The “Losing Possession” chart shows the number of times each player is dispossessed and the number of turnovers per game. The size of each circle (each player) is determined by those stats combined, so if a player was never dispossessed but turned the ball over 3 times per game, it would be the same total (same size circle) as a player who was dispossessed 1.5 times and turned the ball over 1.5 times per game.

The “Successful Take Ons” chart shows the number of Take Ons each player and measures their percentage of success during the season, there will be a slight overlap in this chart and the ‘Losing Possession’ chart, however this stat adds detail as to how a player loses the ball. The “Passing Performance” chart should be the easiest to understand. Moving the mouse over each circle should reveal the players name (if it isn’t displayed) and a little more detail, and you can select and de-select players and positions from the menu in the top right corner, to make comparisons between players easier. (All stats were collated from Whoscored.com and Squawka.com)

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://public.tableausoftware.com/javascripts/api/viz_v1.js"></script><div class="tableauPlaceholder" style="width:654px; height:629px;"><noscript><a href="#"><img alt="LosingPossession&amp;Passing " src="http:&#47;&#47;public.tableausoftware.com&#47;static&#47;images&#47;AV&#47;AVFCPlayers&#47;LosingPossessionPassing&#47;1_rss.png" style="border: none" /></a></noscript><object class="tableauViz" width="654" height="629" style="display:none;"><param name="host_url" value="http%3A%2F%2Fpublic.tableausoftware.com%2F" /><param name="site_root" value="" /><param name="name" value="AVFCPlayers&#47;LosingPossessionPassing" /><param name="tabs" value="no" /><param name="toolbar" value="yes" /><param name="static_image" value="http:&#47;&#47;public.tableausoftware.com&#47;static&#47;images&#47;AV&#47;AVFCPlayers&#47;LosingPossessionPassing&#47;1.png" /><param name="animate_transition" value="yes" /><param name="display_static_image" value="yes" /><param name="display_spinner" value="yes" /><param name="display_overlay" value="yes" /><param name="display_count" value="yes" /></object></div><div style="width:654px;height:22px;padding:0px 10px 0px 0px;color:black;font:normal 8pt verdana,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;"><div style="float:right; padding-right:8px;"><a href="http://www.tableausoftware.com/public?ref=http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/AVFCPlayers/LosingPossessionPassing" target="_blank">Powered by Tableau</a></div></div>

Christian Benteke is the biggest culprit of ‘Losing Possession’, averaging 4.25 times per Appearance (App), but he isn’t alone, the majority of our attack-minded players (Holman, Gabby, N’Zogbia, Ireland, Weimann, Albrighton) are guilty of losing possession over 2 times per game, of course this is probably down to them facing fiercer competition/more pressure when in possession.

Using the menu to the right to filter out the other players, leaving just these 7, it reveals that only Stephen Ireland completes over 50% of his attempted Take Ons, but he has attempted just 3 (completing 66%, or 2), Weimann has the worst completion rate at 25% (from 12 attempts), but possession is possibly being lost too cheaply. These 7 players maybe need to take lessons from Ron Vlaar who attempted 12 take ons and completed 100%, or Delph who completed 68% of 19 take ons, or even Matthew Lowton who completed 55% of 20 attempts.

The passing stats of these players aren’t great either, with only 3 of these players completing over 75% of their passes, Benteke completes just 65.6% (and Albrighton completing sub 60%!), again this lower completion rate can possibly be put down to being under more pressure in the attacking third, however it could/should be much better.

It feels a lifetime ago that Benteke and Weimann (and Holman, and Bannan) linked up against Liverpool, for one of the best goals I can remember our Villa scoring (a slight exaggeration, possibly due to the previous two and a half seasons.) They were ruthless in front of goal at Anfield, but I don’t need to tell you, unless you’ve taken refuge behind the sofa (which I wouldn’t blame anyone for doing), that our recent form has been desperate, conceding 18 and scoring just 2 in the league, not forgetting our ‘performance’ at Bradford.

As a result of the recent form, our defence (& central midfield) have been getting beaten on and off the pitch, but I don’t believe that is the whole story, our attack could be guilty of surrendering possession too easily and putting our defence under more pressure than they perhaps should.

Since the Liverpool game, Benteke’s percentage of accurate passes has decreased (against Spurs, Wigan and Swansea he completed <55%, on a couple of occasions Guzan completed more passes). Brett Holman was dispossessed 7 times, and Benteke 6times against Spurs. Brett Holman and Stephen Ireland played for 60minutes against Wigan, in that time Ireland lost possession on 4 occasions, while Holman was dispossessed twice and his passing was sub 70%. Andi Weimann lost possession 8 times vs Swansea, and whilst we didn’t lose to Swansea, our defence came under enormous pressure. Apologies for not being able to show these stats on this page but they can be found at Whoscored.com and/or Squawka.com.

I don’t mean to absolve the defence of all responsibility, they haven’t been good enough, and it is an area that needs strengthening. And I don’t mean to point the finger solely at our forwards, but even if we strengthened in our defence and centre midfield in the final 2weeks of the transfer window, we need our attacking players to look after the ball better, try to be calm, be controlled. Surrendering possession cheaply, and often quickly, puts an in-experienced, and confidence lacking, defence under more pressure than needs be, and is a recipe for further disaster.