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Cardiff City and possession – do the stats tell the full story?

Cardiff City and possession – do the stats tell the full story?

In a world populated by #crapstats, it seems that passes completed and overall possession are king. Throughout our Premier League year, much was made about the lack of possession Cardiff had as a team. Possession is 9/10ths of the law, pundits would cry. And that conversation seems to have continued following Cardiff’s 2-1 victory over Luton. Indeed, even Swansea fans on stag dos were pitching in with their opinions:

Of course, when you look at our possession stat, it was dwarfed by Luton’s:

In isolation, of course, this looks bad. Luton had, near enough, twice as much of the ball as Cardiff and that would suggest they were the better side. But these stats can never be viewed on their own. It’s true that Warnock has never been big on possession and passing, instead focusing on intent with the ball. 

With that in mind, let’s explore further:

This overview delves further into the detail, looking at other stats alongside possession. So what can we take from this?

You may consider that Luton attempted double the amount of passes that Cardiff did, completing nearly 200 more overall. Pretty stark. But when you look at this stat in tandem with the passes in the attacking third, a clearer picture starts to develop.

Cardiff are a direct team. The fact that out of 272 passes attempted, 160 were going into the attacking third – a rate of 58% – shows that Cardiff are going to be looking to make attacking gains where and when they can and as quickly as possible. When you compare this with Luton’s final third total of 109 out of 467 – less than a quarter at 23% – a difference in style starts to emerge. 

Putting this side by side with the passes in the penalty area – Cardiff attempting nearly three times as many as our visitors – shows that as an attacking force, we were clearly more threatening. There’s also an interesting reversal in the territory stat. Sure, this isn’t rugby, but we clearly camped out more in Luton’s half than they did ours – with the possession and territory stats nearly a reverse of each other. 

If you want to delve deeper into the passing stats, consider the following:

Luton’s top five combinations for passes. Sluga, their goalie, appears in three out of the top five, accounting for 47 passes – slightly more than 10% of all of Luton’s passes.

What can we take from this? Luton are happy to retain possession in that defensive third. Coupled with other combos – Pearson to Butterfield, Bradley to Tunnicliffe – suggests they will recycle the ball through the middle of the park, putting the onus on their central midfield players to create and take the ball over halfway. 

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Cardiff’s combos are, as you would expect, nowhere near as high:

These are our top six (no reason other than they are all of a similar number). Ralls name appears in three of the six, showcasing the importance we place upon him as a distributor but also as an outlet. We also see Smithies to Paterson and one would assume these are long goal kicks looking for his head. The other two are pretty self-explanatory. Bennett to Murphy is a classic of the wide genre – a full back trying to find his winger either with a through ball or so he can overlap – and then Pack to Paterson suggests a defensive midfielder trying to find his attacker. 

When it comes to players making passes into the attacking third, the below list shows Cardiff top four. That’s 77 attempted passes into or in the attacking third. And of the full list? Cardiff’s attacking third passes account for 160 of 272 overall passes. 

While it’s fine to consider Cardiff’s lack of possession as something to be concerned about, there are positives to take away from the weekend’s performance. Despite an overhauled team, with several new and old players coming into the starting XI and the bench, Cardiff managed to put on a relatively attacking performance, even if they looked disjointed at times. And the fluidity and passing will improve. Even so, to be looking to attack as often as possible is going to stand us in good stead in a ruthless division.

All stats taken from the Stats Zone app, available for download on iOS and Android. 

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