Packing: The football metric that explains how good Brighton's Adam Lallana and Pascal Gross are

"He's a genius in collecting passes between the lines, the area behind the midfield and in front of the defence."

Sunday, 28th March 2021, 2:53 am
Updated Sunday, 28th March 2021, 2:58 am
Adam Lallana

What is Packing?

Packing measures each time a forward pass or dribble is completed before, crucially, counting up how many opponents have been taken out or bypassed in the process.

So the metric focuses on vertical passing that takes players out of the game, which is a big part in how you win football games.

At the Euros in France 2016, 34 of 51 games were won by teams who had bypassed more players than their opponents. Only three suffered defeats.

See attached YouTube video for a visual explanation.

Where did it come from?

I came across Packing last year while reading Christoph Bierman's Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution.

In his book, Bierman explains Packing was created by former Bayer Leverkusen players Stefan Reinartz and Jens Hegeler back in 2015.

Reinartz was quoted as saying: "You need a pass giver and a pass recipient, to get into reasonably interesting spaces. You need someone drawing the ball and someone who plays the killer pass."

Who was good at it?

Mesut Ozil.

Bierman writes of Ozil: "He's a genius in collecting passes between the lines, the area behind the midfield and in front of the defence. He bypassed 66 players on average per game at Euro 2016 as a pass recipient, marking him out as the best offensive midfield player.

"It's a blessing for every team to have such a player in their ranks.

"In modern football, central areas are usually so congested that it's very hard getting into the spaces that Ozil routinely occupies."

Brighton

Albion have two players of this ilk in their ranks. And it's no surprise they are the two most intelligent and technically gifted players in the team.

Adam Lallana

He only has one goal and one assist in a Brighton shirt but he has been arguably one of Albion's most important players recently.

The former Liverpool man is a very intelligent player who, like Ozil, finds space and has the confidence and technique to be effective in dangerous areas.

According to Fbref.com, Lallana is in the top three per cent of midfielders in the Premier League this season for receiving progressives passes, which is the closest stat to Packing that is readily available to the layman.

A progressive pass is pretty self explanatory, it is a pass high up the pitch that moves the ball closer to the opposition goal. Lallana receives six of these per 90.

Packing allows us to quantify Lallana's effectiveness in a Brighton shirt. This is what he does. He finds dangerous spaces to receive passes, in turn increasing the chances of helping Brighton score.

Lallana is also in the top two per cent of midfielders in the league this season for touches in the attacking penalty area, further confirming his ability to find space in danger zones.

Pascal Gross

The playmaker has also been a key part of the way Brighton play, expansive and possession-based. His assists stats are good, recording six so far this season.

Gross is in the top eight per cent of midfielders in the league this season for progressive passes received. Brighton's number 13 receives nearly five progressive passes per 90 minutes.

He is also in the top six per cent of midfielders in the league for touches in the opposition's box with nearly three per 90.

So when you come away thinking "Gross played well again but he didn't score or assist", remember, he was probably very effective at Packing.

Final thoughts

Bierman gave his thoughts on the metric which I now use while watching football.

He wrote: "Spending time getting to grips with Packing has changed my view of football games. The metric has sharpened the focus on 'killer passes' and 'suicidal' losses of possession; I pay more attention to passing recipients and less to the passer."

Don't watch the ball, watch the intelligence of the player seeking the ball.