Leicester City’s remarkable rise to the Premier League summit in 2015 is notable not only for its surprise but also a direct style not normally associated with top teams. The metric I like to use to get a quick indication of a team’s tactical style is pass completion – and on this metric Leicester sit rock bottom of the league on 70%, propping up Tony Pulis’s West Brom and fellow surprise package Watford.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and indicates a tactical approach more focused on quick chance creation than retaining possession. But a common attribute of the very best teams is normally a high pass completion rate.
To illustrate this, since the 2009/10 season no team has won the Premier League with a pass completion rate of less than 80%. The lowest was Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2010/11. And, perhaps more pertinently for Leicester – every top 4 finisher has ended with a pass completion rate greater than 75%. The lowest was Harry Redknapp’s Spurs in 2009/10 with 76%.
Successful direct styles tend to be associated with the dark lords of low pass completion alchemy – Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce. And Tony Pulis is brilliantly successful at maintaining mid-table positions with completion rates in the 60s. But this Leicester team are something else, challenging the elite in a way that’s never been achieved in recent years with such a direct style.
Now, we’re not even half way through the season, so it could all go wrong, but many prediction models (including mine) give them a greater than 50% chance of ending-up in a top 4 position. This would be fantastic – not just to break-up the Champions League monopoly – but to demonstrate that an alternative well-executed tactical approach can be good to watch and succeed.
My table of all Premier League finishes since 2009/10 by pass completion % is here