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Super Frank Thread

Started by Jason,

2,808 posts in this topic

Unwritten: What is speed in football and how do you measure it?



Speed is an aspect of football that is so key, and yet so infrequently written about. There are various ways that teams can use speed to their advantage: attacking upfield fast, getting shots away quickly after turning the ball over, or moving the ball quickly to pull the opposition out of position.

Rapid movements, fleet feet and quick thinking: the Premier League has always been a league where the use of speed (or lack thereof, in some cases) has lead to greatness — Leicester City’s title-winning season, for example, was built on speed. It is something that’s deemed so important, yet from a statistical point of view it’s rarely mentioned.

The first kind of speed is the one we all know, and likely had to repeat again and again in physics lessons in school: ”speed equals distance over time”.

To start measuring how fast a side attacks, let’s first determine what a slow attack looks like. Take Manchester City’s 44-pass goal against Manchester United back in November 2018.

This move took City one minute and 55 seconds from start to finish. They moved the ball a total distance of 699 metres, for a territorial gain of just 42 metres (how far the ball was actually moved up the field).

Taking the territorial gain and the total duration of the passing sequence, the direct speed (how fast the ball moved upfield) can be calculated. This City goal, while aesthetically pleasing, is on the super slow side, clocking up just 0.38 m/s, and is one of the slowest goals in recent memory.

If City’s goal that day is the tortoise, the hare is Leicester’s fourth goal against Aston Villa in the 4-1 drubbing back in December:


With Ricardo Pereira (21) picking up the loose ball and sending it long, Dennis Praet picks up the loose header from Villa’s Douglas Luiz and sends Jamie Vardy on his way. This move comprised of just two passes (and only one of them is complete, violating one of the commandments) and took 11.5 seconds from start to finish. Moving 86.7m upfield, this goal was reminiscent of Leicester teams of yesteryear, with a direct speed of 7.5 m/s.

Calculating these metrics over every eligible shot in the Premier League in the past five seasons, we can see which is the fastest attack in terms of raw distance over time. The criteria used here is all shots that have come from open play, that aren’t rebounds, and don’t come from moves that only cover a tiny amount of ground (e.g. a goalkeeper getting tackled and the ball put into an empty net).

Leicester attacking speed

Leicester’s title-winning team are the fastest, with moves averaging 3.9 m/s. They also dominate the top five with the 2016-17 and 2017-18 teams included.

Where Leicester differ, though, is the absence of many passes in their moves leading to shots. Their passes per sequence is the lowest by a long way compared to the other teams (the lowest in the dataset, in fact) and shows how different Claudio Ranieri’s team was when it came to turning defence into attack. Essentially, they moved the ball  by carrying it forward, with Vardy scoring more goals following a carry of five metres or more than any other player in the Premier League that season.

Sean Dyche’s Burnley in 2018-19 sit third in the table by this measure, with their way of attacking quickly being slightly different to that of Leicester. While Leicester’s quickness was born out of long passing and ball carrying, Burnley progressed their attacks through even longer passes and winning possession from second balls.

The inclusion of Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United isn’t overly surprising, given the team is set up to absorb pressure and attack from deep, yet their attacking approach is different again. Objectively, they are the most passive pressing team in the Premier League this season, allowing the opposition 19 passes before sticking a foot in and attempting to win it back. They also start their attacking moves from the second deepest position in the league, after Arsenal.

With Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin as the two key attacking outlets in transition, Newcastle look to run the ball upfield, with Almiron and Saint-Maximin as the 3rd and 8th most willing runners in terms of distance-per-carry:


Moving the ball upfield with speed is one way that a team can be quick, but another is turning defence into attack quickly and taking shots soon after turning the ball over. Taking advantage of these transitional moments is key to creating shooting opportunities, and speed of thought and speed of reactions are the tools required.

Defining these moments when teams win the ball back and shoot quickly is relatively straightforward — any shot that comes from the ball being recovered in open play and taken within 15 seconds of the sequence starting is counted. Here’s the fastest teams in the last five seasons in terms of turning defence into attack quickly:


Naturally, this lists consists of clubs that press high up the field, or at least used to. Jurgen Klopp’s early seasons at Liverpool were when Liverpool’s press was at its most intense, which is a similar story to Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs.

Manchester United buck the trend slightly. This season, they don’t exactly fit the bill in terms of a high-pressing side, but in Daniel James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, they have the youngest (and arguably fastest) collection of attacking talent this season. Being able to turn the ball over and attack at speed is another way of getting included here, similar to Leicester’s title-winners from 2015-16.

Chelsea’s inclusion in 2016 is intriguing, given it’s Antonio Conte first year managing the team, and also the first year of N’Golo Kante in midfield. Eden Hazard had his joint-best year in terms of scoring, as did Diego Costa, as Chelsea cruised to the title.

Lastly, teams can use speed to their advantage through crisp ball movement — letting the ball do the work — to carve open opportunities to score. There’s the caveat that this measure is far from perfect — with the absence of a timestamp of when the ball is received in the data, these statistics don’t take into account the time that a player is on the ball and the time that the ball is on the move (i.e. has been passed). Nonetheless, the table of fast-tempo sides below makes for interesting debate. To also cater for messier moves in the data (and on the field) only those which last 15 seconds or more are included.

To approximate tempo here, we take the duration of an attacking sequence and divide it by the number of passes that take place within it. A quicker tempo move is one that has less time between passes. Of two sequences that each last 20 seconds, the one with five passes and a tempo of four seconds per pass is quicker than the other sequence consisting of just two passes and a tempo of ten seconds per pass.


Arsene Wenger’s final year at Arsenal coincided with Arsenal having the fastest team for ball movement, with an average of 2.8 seconds per pass. Although the passing may have been of the U-shaped, painful variety, it was still done at a relatively high tempo.

Pep’s City also feature three times in here, which passes the eye test given how they look to pull opponent’s from left to right, waiting for the right moment to play through the lines and carve open a scoring chance. Notably, the tempo at City under Pep compared to Pellegrini has changed a fair amount, with the latter’s side averaging 3.2 seconds per-pass, the highest of any City side in the past five seasons.

These measures, however, are partly stylistic instead of being indicative of great attacking sides. While Fulham of 2018-19 had a relatively high tempo, and an attack good enough for mid-table last year, the defence was ultimately too flimsy to keep them afloat.

Speed of movement, reactions, and of the ball itself are just three ways that the fastest teams in the Premier League can be labelled as “fast”. It’s not always a winning strategy to be quick. Sides that play at speed tend to either burn out (Spurs), get tactically worked out by opponents (Ranieri) or lose the pieces that made the speed so successful in the first place (Conte’s Chelsea) — but it’s certainly fun to watch.

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Who is Chelsea’s most important player?



While Eden Hazard was around, any debate about who was Chelsea’s best player seemed to be a waste of time. During his seven-year tenure, most supporters regarded him as the club’s greatest asset, the one the team couldn’t do without.

Naturally there were other candidates, but the Belgian’s artistry and skill won universal acclaim — the club’s fans voted him Chelsea’s Player of the Year a record four times. His popularity also extended outside the confines of Stamford Bridge.

However, ask the same question about who stands out among the current group now and the situation isn’t as clear cut.

By the time football resumes again, coach Frank Lampard will surely have a fully fit squad to choose from for the first time. All the injuries and ailments which have hindered some of his men throughout the campaign before the break last month, should be fully healed.

If this is the case, which individual shines above all the rest, which is the one fans dread not being on the teamsheet? The assumption following Hazard’s departure to Real Madrid last summer was that N’Golo Kante would inherit the throne.

Kante was probably Hazard’s main competition over the previous three seasons. After all, the France international beat his team-mate to the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year award in 2017.

The fact Chelsea made Kante their highest paid player on £290,000 a week in November 2018 is a strong indication of the high esteem the hierarchy hold him in.

Kante is clearly one of the best players in the game at what he does, but 2019-20 has not been kind. The knock-on effects of a knee injury, which was first sustained ahead of the Europa League Final last May, has had a seriously negative impact. The former Leicester midfielder has started less than half of Chelsea’s games (20 out of 42) and his influence in many of those was not what one has grown accustomed to.

Play as he did in the first two meetings with Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup and Premier League and Kante will always be the first name on the teamsheet. For example, in the league encounter, he not only scored a stunning individual goal but led the way by gaining possession for Chelsea 11 times and completed 81.6 per cent of his passes.

Yet some TV pundits still argue that, like Maurizio Sarri before him, Lampard has not been getting the best out of Kante by often playing him to the right of Jorginho in a three-man midfield rather than centrally, in front of the back four. Judging by this season’s form alone, it would be hard to make a case for the 29-year-old to be Chelsea’s MVP. But the past means he is undoubtedly going to still factor heavily in the conversation and rightly so.

So who else comes into contention? A current front runner in the poll for Chelsea’s most influential footballer this season is Mateo Kovacic, who has performed at a much higher level than his first year at the club.

As a profile piece highlighted earlier this week, the Croatian’s individual’s statistics are on the rise. For example, after attempting an average of 3.2 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes last season at a success rate of 68 per cent, he currently averages 4.7 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season with a 79.3 per cent success rate. Conversely, for a man who has played 36 times, a return of just two goals and three assists is a little underwhelming and has to feature in any case for the prosecution.

If Lampard’s selection policy is regarded as a key factor, then Mason Mount instantly becomes a front-runner because no-one has played more in a Chelsea shirt. Despite being his first season as a senior Chelsea player, Mount is the only one to have featured in all 29 of Chelsea’s Premier League games. His versatility has been a major asset for Lampard too as he’s been employed as a central midfielder, out wide, as a No 10 and pushed up close behind the striker.

He is also Chelsea’s second-highest scorer in the top division with six goals and yet the level of criticism aimed in his direction on social media suggests Mount’s popularity is by no means universal.

The same could be said for another academy graduate in Tammy Abraham. The striker leads the way with 15 goals in all competitions, but only two of those were added in the last 11 appearances. Still, one wonders, where would Chelsea be in the league table had Abraham not led the line with such aplomb during the first four months? His displays only began to dip once fatigue from playing on a regular basis and various fitness issues began to take its toll.

Lampard’s consistent selection of Willian means the Brazilian has to be a contender — his display in the 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was perhaps the best by any individual in a blue shirt. But again, his list of admirers appear to be matched by detractors. The same could be said for Jorginho.

After a slow start, captain Cesar Azpilicueta raised his level back to the normal standard. The ability to play at right-back, left-back and in a three-man backline makes him crucial to the cause. And yet, Chelsea’s disappointing record of keeping just nine clean sheets across all competitions has to be factored against him, even though he is obviously not solely to blame.

There is of course a possibility some will regard those who have played far less due to various ailments as Chelsea’s key man. What of Christian Pulisic, scorer of six goals in 23 appearances? The USA international posed a real threat when fully fit. Callum Hudson-Odoi was just starting to show glimpses of his best form following a serious achilles injury when he picked up a hamstring strain two months ago. And who can forget Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has not kicked a ball for the first team since last May due to an achilles problem of his own?

It is perhaps a reflection of Chelsea’s standing in the game right now — they trail Liverpool in the Premier League by 34 points and were comfortably beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie — that there are negatives and pluses by everyone’s name.

Past achievements dictates my choice of Kante still being No 1, but only just. Who’s yours?



absolutely disagree

for me it is Kovacic, we often so struggle when he does not play (especially before Gilmour blew up in the past few games) and when Kante plays we struggle usually, minus a few decent games from him

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Frank Lampard video-called an NHS doctor, who has been working in an intensive care unit in a London hospital, treating coronavirus patients. See their conversation here...


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'I watched a lot of their games': Rodrigo Bentancur speaks about his admiration for Lampard


Juventus midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur has spoken about his admiration for Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Sergio Busquets.

It is no surprise to hear that Lampard has been an inspiration for a lot of players, especially midfielders.

The Chelsea legend is renowned for his goal-scoring ability from midfield, scoring over 300 times in his playing career.

Lampard still holds Chelsea’s all-time top-scoring record with 211 goals and is fifth in Premier League history with 177 goals – the only midfielder in the top 15.

Juventus’s Bentancur is one of those who took inspiration from the Chelsea manager, admitting that he studied Lampard’s games.



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