Playing Styles and their Effect on Clubs’ Performance: Comparison Between La Liga & Serie A


Possession, parking-the-bus, long ball, high pressure pass and move, are all different football styles performed by clubs and national teams all over the world. All of these styles had, in a small or large extent, provided different clubs with victories. However, one thing is taken for granted. Nobody can claim that there is a catholic playing style that will always be 100% successful in the long run.



Nevertheless, it would take over a lifetime of watching competitive football matches plus a million lines of code to actually model the performance of a football club based on its style of play, the match conditions, the abilities of each player on the field, even their exact mentality on that particular date. Statathlon’s Project 04 actually works on developing such models, taking into account the above mentioned criteria.


The aim of this research is to examine a variety of in-game statistics, both offensive and defensive, and illustrate whether they have an influence on the overall performance of a club. Because of the diversity of each league and the different characteristics a team ought to have in order to be competitive, the champions of two major European leagues, La Liga and Serie A, are analyzed.

The analysis period is 8 years long, without taking into account the current season, meaning data collected was between seasons 2010/2011 and 2011/2012. The correlation was performed under Pearson’s r.  The Pearson correlation coefficient is a measure of the linear correlatiom between two variables. Owing to the Cauchy-Scharz inequality it has a value between +1 and −1, where 1 is total positive linear correlation, 0 is no linear correlation, and −1 is total negative linear correlation.


To begin with, the reference category that is decided for the performance of the current analysis is the points that every year’s champions had collected. In this way, it is easily concluded which of the factors under examination have an impact, positive or negative, on the best team of the season, as well as it provides us with a promising trend of what specific characteristics and style of play a team should adapt in order to compete for the domestic titles.

In Serie A Juventus has won 7 titles during this 8-year old period, establishing its own supremacy in Italy. In Spain things are a bit different with the title fluctuating between Real Madrid and Barcelona, with Atletico having also won La Liga in 2013/2014.

Offensively, the possession in Serie A ranged between 54.4% and 58.1 % while the maximum number of shots was taken by Juventus in 2011/2012, where they finished with 84 points as champions. Also, apart from season 2010/2011, Italian champions seemed to take advantage of scoring from set pieces. Specifically, during seasons 2013/2014 and 2017/2018 Juventus managed to score 1 goal per 2 fixtures from a set piece.

Set pieces are salient in La Liga, too. Real Madrid, for instance, scored more than 0.4 goals per match from static phases. Moreover, while shots vary in the same range as in Serie A, possession rates are higher in La Liga, reaching even 67.4% in 2010 from Barcelona’s tiki-taka.

Defensively, tackles tried in both leagues are characterized by similar values, while fouls per game are relatively higher in Italy. On the other hand, the offside trap is widely employed in La Liga, while in Italy it has a decreasing trend over the under examination years.

Correlation analysis showed variance in which of the above statistical categories is expected to hold a major part of a club’s final position in the league. In Serie A, set pieces are regarded as match winners, and the more a team scores from set balls, the better the chances of winning the championship in the end. In contrast, Spanish clubs seem to perform better when they do not rely on set pieces and usually the champion team has low average values on this category.

In Spain possession and shots are considered a must when competing for the championship, while Italian clubs seem to have more chances of crowning themselves as champions when they have lower possessions (at least in the range of 0.54-0.58) and be more effective in offense with fewer but more accurate shots.

In terms of defense, Italian clubs are invited to adapt a more cautious playing style, with robust man-to-man defenses that do not slide frequently for the ball, while La Liga’s teams seem to be benefited by the use of the offside trap. The champions of these two leagues have also one common principle; fouls made during a match hardly contribute to its outcome.


  • The effect of a certain number of statistical categories is analyzed regarding the performance of football clubs in Spain and Italy. Analysis showed that different criteria are important for the above mentioned clubs in order to be competitive.
  • La Liga teams mainly rely on possession and number of shots, while defensively offside traps are usually employed. Goals from set pieces are not a prerequisite in order to win the title.
  • Italian clubs on the other side, heavily rely on set pieces, while they adopt a more cautious style of play when not having the ball. Counter-attacks with lower possession rates and accurate finishing seems to fit best in this mentality.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (2018). Football Statistics | Football Live Scores | [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2018].

Guide to Football. (2018). Playing Styles | Guide to Football. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2018].

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