We take a look at all 20 top flight sides and compare just how good they are at playing route one football
‘When does a long pass become a long ball’, Graham Taylor lamented after years of being mocked for his style of football.
Taking Watford to as yet unmatched heights was some feat, but Taylor’s successes were somewhat ridiculed outside the Hertfordshire town 15 miles north of London.
His question, however, is one which has never been answered.
Watford were branded a long ball team, and Taylor a route one manager, and such criticisms remain 35 years on from the Hornets finishing second to Liverpool in the First Division.
Cardiff were given no chance of survival following their promotion to the Premier League because Neil Warnock’s football was considered outdated, while Burnley have been criticised for their physical and direct approach to the game.
People talk about a direct approach. What I say is there are only two ways you can pass a ball – for someone in to space, or to someone in to their body.
If you pass it in to space all of the time you will lose possession of the ball, if you pass it to someone all of the time you will not turn the opposition, so you’ve got to get the balance right if you are going to have a direct approach.
It may be that you have a situation where you are playing the longer ball and you have forwards who are going to run in to the channels behind the full backs, but you catch these players offside.
So you’ve got to get the delivery right, what also is important is playing the ball forward that little bit earlier.
Direct play isn’t about playing every ball forward, it’s about using the space more than you would by passing in to feet, a direct approach is passing more in to space than to feet but I’ve used the word pass you don’t kick it and rush it, you pass it in.
Nevertheless, long balls are part of the game, and some of the most successful sides in this season’s Premier League have mastered the art of ‘going long’.
Research by, which analysed this season’s Premier League Opta passing data for balls played in excess of 35-yards, has found that Chelsea have the best completion rate of all 20 top flight sides for their long passes attempted this season (62 per cent), with Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool rounding off the top four.
Three of those sides – sorry Jose – play the best football in the division, and the critics who blasted Taylor’s ‘long balls’ heap praise on Pep Guardiola and his side’s ‘long passes’.
A spokesperson for Bet-Bonus-Codes.co.uk commented: “The arrival of managers such as Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri in the Premier League, has seen some of the best football played in the history of the division.
“However, it’s interesting to see both teams top the table for long ball specialists. It shows, not only are clubs becoming more effective with short passing but having a plan B is as important to a team’s success.”
None of those sides have made the most successful long passes – that honour goes to Huddersfield (460) – nor attempted the most long passes; Burnley have lived up to their billing as a ‘long ball’ team by attempting 980 long passes throughout the season.
The Clarets’ high total means almost one in five of their total passes is a long ball, with Cardiff City’s proportion of long passes to total passes (22.2 per cent) the highest in the division.
The spokesperson continued: “What will be concerning to fans of Cardiff and Brighton is that their teams seem to be very focused on their long ball tactics when it just doesn’t seem to be working for them.”
And while the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City appear to have mastered the art of the long ball, they remain focused on keeping possession and playing as many passes as they can – regardless of whether they are on the ground or in the air.
The Blues have played more total passes than any other side this season, with City, Liverpool and Arsenal making up the rest of the top four.
Warnock’s team, called old fashioned and out of date, sit at the other end of the ranking, completing just 3816 passes in 2018/19.