Many people in the footballing world would describe the Barclays Premier League as the best in the world. Others believe that the style of play in the Premier League is too similar throughout each team competing in the league. But over the past five years that hasn't been the case and the facts and figures show exactly why.
Barcelona have revolutionised modern day football with their free flowing possession play. in the 09/10 season, Barcelona's highest possession percentage in one match was a staggering 83% against Tenerife, in which they won the game 4-1. In the 11/12 Liga BBVA season Barcelona completed 23,848 passes of 26,942 attempted passes, to put into perspective Real Madrid only attempted 20,130 passes. So, rather predictably Barcelona achieved the highest past success in their league with 88.5%, 3.5% superior to the next most accurate passers Real Madrid. Now to show you Swansea's passing statistics. With 20,794 passes attempted last season Swansea attempted the second highest number of passes in the league, only 70 passes below the highest passing Premier League team, Manchester City. Swansea completed 17,813 of their passes and therefore attained a passing success of 85.7%. Only Manchester City bettered this, and that was only by 0.2%.
Now for a club like Barcelona you would expect this. Their club from top to bottom is revolved in working on their style of possession play, and being able to win titles in the process. Yet Swansea only adapted this style of play five years ago under Roberto Martinez, and are now building a side that could soon become an established team in the Premier League.
Joe Allen and Leon Britton were integral figures in Swansea's successful first season in the Premier League.
In the last five seasons, the passes per game ratio and pass percentage has improved dramatically. Here is a little table of the numbers that prove the Barclays Premier League is adapting to modern footballing tactics.
League Passes Per Game Passing Percentage
2007 - 2008 : 717 74%
2008 - 2009: 780 76%
2009 - 2010: 771 74%
2010 - 2011: 801 76%
2011 - 2012: 854 80%
Yes, you can argue that the main reason for such an incline in passes and completed passes is due to Swansea City. But teams such as Aston Villa and Everton were always known for their wingers to run down the wings, then to curl the ball in for a large centre forward to connect onto the end of the cross, taking no real concern in possession. This would make the full back positions much easier because they began to learn how to track a winger down the wing leaving him little room to manoeuvre.
But now wingers and even wing backs are beginning to cut into the middle of the pitch, to try audacious attempts from the edge of the area, or perhaps play a through ball past the defence for a striker to tap in. Furthermore this gives the full backs more work to do and if their wide midfield players cannot track back to defend, this leaves most defences in a vulnerable position, in which over the past few years we have seen goals fly in time and time again. Thus showing the importance of possession play.
Five of the top ten pass masters in Europe were from the Premier League.
Arsenal are probably the most recognisable team in the Premier League to adapt to this style of play, and were able to dominate in some style. In the 2003 - 2004 season, Arsenal were the first side to win the league without dropping a single point in every game they played. Purely down to the fact of the team was filled with world class players which had no fear in experimenting with their style of play, whilst maintaining possession. But now Swansea have started to show that any team can do so within a matter of years, and if your team isn't afraid to try this against the big teams, you can pick up crucial points throughout a season.
With big investors coming into lower league teams such as Nottingham Forest, Cardiff, and Crawley Town, these teams can afford coaches that will help apply new styles of football into lower leagues and help build football in the UK even more. Of course some teams and managers will maintain their styles of play, whether it be playing the offside trap, or using set plays to your advantage, but this still gives the game more diversity and the Premier League is becoming a starting point for British football.
Stoke brought the use of set plays to another level with the help of Rory Delap. His long throws thwarted other teams as they continued to score goals from the end of them. But teams began to pinpoint Stoke City's weaknesses and went for the attack instead of worrying how to handle the deadly throws of Delap. The same has happened with Swansea and Barcelona in their similar possession play.
Stoke City stunned teams such as Liverpool and Arsenal when they came up to the Premier League with their dominance in set pieces.
Chelsea stunned European football with a semi final victory over Barcelona, as they went on to win the Champions League. Their tactics were what you could call a 4-6-0, Barcelona were not able to play freely in the midfield because Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres (when brought off the bench), would sit back with the team, and be prepared to pounce on the counter attacks and set plays.
Whilst Swansea are only in the learning curve of these tactics, and with some weak points in their defence, stronger teams are able to dominate through sheer strength and technique. But if Swansea continue to grow, then other teams will use the same tactics and could yet again show a major weakness in what was known as a masterpiece in footballing tactics.
But the reasons why this is helping the Premier League grow is because of the already global attention on the infamous league. Coaches and investors will look at a niche within what you could call the "market", and adapt to a new style of play in order to make the Premier League more interesting. Manchester City before major investment were always in the shadow of their neighbours Manchester United with lack lustre football despite a huge fan base. But with major investment and key coaches coming in, this helped bring in players that would develop an attacking style of play that is strong in possession, solid in defence, and clinical in front of goal.
The Premier League will continue to grow and this can only be a good thing for our national sport. Yes the Olympics has shone a red light on the players that are on extortionate amounts of money a week in comparison to the heroes of London 2012. But the Premier League is growing on the pitch already and with small clubs like Swansea showing courage and becoming a breath of fresh air amongst the smoke clouds of the elite clubs, perhaps off the field matters will help make a minority of players bring back their love for the game rather than focus on the perks of their job.
So as we see the Premier League kick off once more for another season of madness, we will soon see in years to come, a more diverse league in which teams will adapt to new tactics, and hopefully help develop grass roots football in the whole of Great Britain.