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Team Performance

STATS Playing Styles – An Introduction


Football is such a diverse sport with numerous tactics, unique scenarios and systems of playing. In order to capture the different ways a team plays, STATS have developed a framework that captures the playing style of a team throughout a match.

The framework has moved away from the traditional accumulations of single events to provide an impression of the way a team plays. STATS Playing Styles is a multivariate approach, therefore taking into consideration numerous events and factors that determine a team’s style of playing. This provides a vast amount of insights compared with an accumulation of events, from the amount an individual player contributes to a particular style of play to the playing styles teams use to create shooting opportunities.

The following are the eight Playing Styles:

  • Maintenance
  • Build Up
  • Sustained Threat
  • Fast Tempo
  • Direct Play
  • Counter Attack
  • Crossing
  • High Press

Each of the eight Playing Styles are calculated independently and, as a result, several styles can occur simultaneously within the same team possession. The strength of a Playing Style is represented by a membership value between 0% and 100% that is assigned to every team possession, based on the individual definitions and calculations. An exception to this is crossing, which can only be assigned a value of either 0% or 100% due to the crossing definition.

In this first article, four possession-based Playing Styles are introduced. In a second article, the remaining Playing Styles will be discussed.


This is the first of three styles that are calculated in a very similar way. Maintenance captures possessions in which a team looks to maintain and secure possession of the ball within the defensive area of the pitch (see image below).

The time spent in possession directly relates to the Maintenance membership value. As a result, the more time a team has possession in the defensive area the higher the maintenance value.

Build Up

Build Up also captures long and controlled ball possessions – but is aimed at periods of play where a team is looking for opportunities to attack. The calculation is similar to Maintenance, with the differences being the zone on the pitch and the time thresholds. The Build Up area is between the halfway line and the opposition’s penalty area (see image below) and works on the same principle that the longer the team has the ball in the highlighted area, the higher the Build Up value.

Sustained Threat

The Sustained Threat playing style is, again, similar to Maintenance and Build Up. However, here the focus lies on possessions in the attacking third of the pitch. The time spent in possession must be more than six seconds to be a Sustained Threat possession, which linearly increases to 100% membership.

Fast Tempo

The objective of the Fast Tempo Playing Style is to capture when the team is moving the ball quickly to increase the tempo and speed of the game. Fast Tempo looks at sequences of consecutive individual ‘fast possessions’. An individual fast possession must occur in the opposition’s half and can be achieved when the player releases the ball to a teammate in less than two seconds or when the player dribbles at a high tempo.


Ranking Premier League Teams

Teams are compared to the league average, which therefore allows a direct comparison between each club. Interestingly, in the Premier League, Hull City are 31% higher for Maintenance than the league average, making them the number one ranked side in the division. However, when it comes to Build Up and Sustained Threat, Hull City’s position is reversed as they drop down to into the bottom three in both styles, indicating that Hull are failing to transition possession from the defensive area into the opposition’s half.


On the other hand, Arsenal, who are renowned for their possession-based style, dominate possession in the Build Up and Sustained Threat areas. For Fast Tempo Arsenal are 146% above the Premier League average. Highlighting that when Arsenal have possession in the opposition’s half, the team aims to move the ball quickly.


Players Contributions to a Playing Style

Not only can a team’s playing style be measured, players that contribute to the playing style of each team can be identified. The graph below shows Sustained Threat and Build Up involvements with offensive ball movement points plus (oBMP+) as the bubble size (we will introduce oBMP+ at a later date).

Unsurprisingly, the graph is dominated by players at the clubs who are top in the Sustained Threat and Build Up Playing Styles (above). However, STATS Playing Styles effectively highlights the players who are key in particular styles for their clubs, providing an alternative objective measure to the number of passes, penalty area entries or assists.

The three standout performers in both Build Up and Sustained Threat so far this season are Mesut Ozil, Eden Hazard and David Silva. However, this also begins to highlight players who contribute more towards the Build Up play, such as Santi Cazorla, Ilkay Gundogan and Paul Pogba, as well as players with more involvement in the Sustained Threat area of the field, such as Willian, Heung-Min Son and Raheem Sterling.


STATS Playing Styles can, therefore, be an incredibly useful tool, objectively detailing anything from how a team tends to play in various situations to which players tend to contribute the most in each area. How a team’s style of play changes over time can also be examined, allowing users to assess what a manager has done in an attempt to improve his side.

For more on STATS Playing Styles, you can view our webinar on the subject here.

By: Marc Flynn