The connotations of pace and physicality are usually associated with English football. While there isn’t much in the way of defining tactical innovations coming out of English football in these modern times, the emphasis and direction of focus have been elsewhere: the speed that caters to the needs of the fast-paced and intense English game.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal said last month about the Premier League being a rat race, while he also talked up the need for speedy players in his squad throughout the course of the summer transfer window. It is no secret that one of the major attractions of Premier League football is the pace and directness with which the matches are played.
It has become increasingly evident that teams that have more pace in their ranks tend to do well in the ‘rat race’ of the Premier League, as proved this season by Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City. The Foxes, who barely managed to survive last season, employ a counter-attacking style of football that depends entirely on their speed on the break.
Meanwhile, league leaders Manchester City spent £49m on Raheem Sterling this summer, an obvious case of adding that extra yard of pace that is increasingly becoming one of the problem-solvers in the English game. Leicester, along with Everton and Tottenham, have lost the least number of matches in the league this season.
The Foxes currently sit fifth, and have scored the second highest number of goals this season. Their general patterns of play involve soaking up opponents’ pressure in a low block defensive setup and then counter-attacking in lightning-quick transitions with their forwards, particularly Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
Data courtesy of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Official Player Rating Index of the Barclays Premier League
This season’s stats for the fastest players in the Premier League are led by Vardy, who has hit a top speed of 35.44 km/h. Foxes winger Jeffrey Schlupp comes close in second at 35.26 km/h. Three other Leicester players make it into the top ten, which shows the orientations of the Foxes’ game are almost exclusively centred around fast-paced players.
Right winger Marc Albrighton, full-back Ritchie de Laet and centre-back Wes Morgan have clocked top speeds of more than 34 km/h this season, stats that clearly prove how Ranieri wants his players across the pitch to be quick, and that has been reflected in the form of Leicester’s good start to the season. Another interesting find from the stats is how defenders are some of the fastest players around in the Premier League.
Of the five defenders in the list, only Morgan is a proper centre-back while De Laet, Sunderland’s Billy Jones, West Ham’s Carl Jenkinson and Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels are all full-backs. Full-backs in the modern game have evolved from being utility wingers and castaway centre-backs to elusive specialists with more than sporadic involvements in attacking play, which is clearly justified by the stats.
Moreover, the full-backs run and cover the entire length of the pitch, which isn’t the case with strikers playing on the shoulders of the last defender or in front of a low defensive block. Stoke City’s Mame Biram Diouf is the only other forward in the list apart from Vardy, which shows why the so-called speed merchants like Theo Walcott, Yannick Bolasie and the aforementioned Mahrez don’t feature.