Thiago Motta is dictating the tempo of games for Paris Saint-Germain thus far in the UEFA Champions League group stage, but there isn’t much offensive production to show for the Brazilian midfielder’s efforts.
PSG are, as they do in Ligue 1, attempting to strangle their European opponents through possession—through starvation, PSG’s goal is to limit the amount of chances the opposition has while being in control of the pace of the match.
Domestically, both Marco Verratti and Motta share the passing load, with Verratti averaging 96.7 p/g (passes per game) and Motta averaging 88.3 p/g. Playing essentially side-by-side, as Verratti is typically skewed to the right side of the central column, both equally check towards possession and attempt to turn or combine when PSG is building from the back.
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This consistency has transferred to the Champions League, but Motta is shouldering the responsibility to carry out PSG’s plan in possession through high average p/g numbers.
Motta is averaging 121 p/g so far in the group stage, the highest quantities we have seen since the Barcelona sides in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 Champions League campaigns, when Xavi averaged 129.8 p/g and 151.4 p/g respectively, and at least as far back as 2009-10.
Total passing numbers, especially player specific passing loads, are fairly arbitrary when attempting to correlate to success, but contextual relationships with the awareness of variables that might skew data can be made to determine historically successful playing styles.
(TotalP/g related to SoT/g in Champions League group stage since 2010-11 with Possession% determining size of plot point.)
Since the 2010-11 group stage, no club has ever made a Champions League final while averaging under 4.5 SoT/g (shots on target per game) in the opening round.
Now, this is obviously affected by many variables: quality of teams played in the group stage, PSG have two more group stage games against arguably inferior opponents and performance in the group stage is not the best indicator of total Champions League success, among others. But, the fact of the matter is that PSG need more shot on target through better chances and more effective possession.
The ultimate goal of possession, and most offensive actions, is to score. Scoring happens through more shots on target, and one of the objectives of high possession and passing numbers is to created more shots on target. The astute Michael Cox briefly explains the numbers behind possession tactics here for his blog Zonal Marking.
Since the 2010-11 group stage, out of the 193 sides that have participated, the current PSG team ranks 173 in a quick passing efficiency metric of SoT/TotalP (shots on target divided by total passes per game). Once again, many variables play into this current state and the metric doesn’t prove anything necessarily. It’s just an interesting extremity in the context of the topics previously discussed.
Through possession, can a side shift the defensive structure of the opposition in key areas and moments of the game to be able to take advantage of the vacated space or misaligned formation? This is crucial for a side that intends to dominate passing numbers and possession statistics.
Penetrating runs from midfield beyond forwards or strikers and KeyP (key passes) usually are ways to break the pattern of stagnant patterns of midfield possession. Can Angel Di Maria continue to lead PSG’s front six in both categories in the Champions League, or can Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic improve their poor sub 1 SoT/g and KeyP/g numbers?
The effective production in PSG’s attacking third of the pitch is the key to unlocking their Champions League success. I’m not sure they’re consistently dangerous enough to finally end up where they think they belong: a Champions League final.
Data from WhoScored used in this article.
Coleman Larned is soccer analytics writer based in Antwerp, Belgium. Follow him on Twitter