The Differential Effect of the Evolving Game Status in the Passing
Sequences of Top-Level European Football Teams
P. Paixão
, J. Sampaio
and R. Duarte
Escola Superior de Educação, Instituto Politécnico de Beja, Beja, Portugal
Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Vila Real, Portugal
Spertlab, Ciper, Faculdade de Motricidade Humana, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal
In recent years there have been several studies
seeking to understand how contextual variables such
as game location, the level of the opponent and the
evolving game status typically influence football
teams’ performances. Usually, investigations
examine the effects of these situational variables on
physical/conditioning, technical, tactical and mental
performance in football (Taylor et al., 2008). The
evolving game status (winning, losing or drawing) is
one of the most relevant situational variables
influencing performance in Association Football
(Lago, 2009). Hughes and Reed (2005) reported that
game status affected the frequency of shots, with
less incidence of shots associated to losing status.
On the other hand, other studies demonstrated that
ball possession depends on the evolution of the
score-line, with teams having greater possession
when they are losing compared to when they are
winning or drawing (Lago et al. 2007, 2009).
However, some studies have highlighted the
importance to consider and examine each team
individually since their different identities may
moderate the impact of the situational variables
(Hughes and Reed, 2005; Collet, 2013). The purpose
of this study was to examine the differential effect of
the evolving game status in the passing sequences
leading to a shot at goal, of four top-level European
association football teams.
A total of 20 matches of the final stage of UEFA
Champions League (2008-2009) were analysed and
222 passing sequences from 4 different teams (FC
Barcelona, Manchester United FC, Chelsea FC,
Arsenal FC) were selected for further analysis. As
inclusion criteria, all the passing sequences that
ended with a shot at goal were selected in order to
capture the way how each team created goal-scoring
opportunities. These teams were selected as the most
successful ones since them reached the semi-finals
of the competition. The dependent variable studied
in each sequence was the number of passes per shot
ratio (Hughes and Franks, 2005; Collet, 2013). For
each team, the passing sequences were distributed
by winning, losing and drawing game episodes.
We performed an automatic cluster classification
analysis (Two Step cluster) with the overall data,
which allowed identifying three groups of passing
sequences divided by their substantial differences.
Secondly we applied another automatic cluster
classification (Two Step Cluster) to identify
differences within each game status and to compare
for differences between groups of long and short
sequences. Finally we applied the Chi-square test
with contingency tables (between -1.5 and 1.5)
comparing the four teams with the evolving game
The results revealed that Barcelona was the team
with large number of passing sequences, while
Chelsea showed the lowest total number of passing
sequences. When teams were losing there was a
tendency for an absence of short passing sequences,
while winning teams increased the relative number
of these short sequences. Data also revealed
important differences between teams, with
Barcelona and Manchester United showing superior
capacity to increase retention of possession when
drawing than when winning.
Paixão P., Sampaio J. and Duarte R..
The Differential Effect of the Evolving Game Status in the Passing Sequences of Top-Level European Football Teams.
2013 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
Figure 1: Number of long passing sequences (group 1) and
short passing sequences (group 2) by team and according
game status (p > 0.05).
Generally, in the overall data the number of passing
sequences identified in each game status increased
with a higher favourable scoreline. This data
somewhat contradicts Lago et al. (2012), who found
a decreasing likelihood of reaching the scoring zone
as the status of the game was more favourable. The
four teams investigated in this study used
preferentially long passing sequences when they
were losing or drawing, and short passing sequences
when they were winning, which agrees with Lago
and Martin (2007) and Lago (2009) who found
greater possession when teams were losing.
The results obtained emphasise the idea of Lago
(2009), for whom the strategies in football are
influenced by the scoreline and teams change their
style of play during the match accordingly.
The results revealed also substantial differences
of passing sequences length between teams and
game status. These findings mean that different
teams distinctively adapt themselves to changes in
relevant performance constraints such as the
evolving game status, which reveal what Hughes
and Reed (2005) called team’s signatures of play.
Findings suggested that top-level European teams
tended to differently adapt the length of their passing
sequences as a function of the evolving game status.
These different behaviours of teams in similar game
contexts support the idea of Castellano,
Casamichana and Lago (2012) that teams can be
differentiated between them based on the relation
between their possession characteristics and
performance effectiveness.
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Longsequences(group1) Shortsequences(group2)