Premier League time wasting worse than ever with Man City least culpable and Aston Villa worst


Time is slipping away from the Premier League with data showing a significant drop in the length of time when the ball is in play this season.

A 90-minute game contains 54 minutes and 43 seconds of action, an average taken across 110 top-flight games this season by the statisticians at Opta. 

This is a drop by 99 seconds on last season’s average and down by two minutes on the 2013-14 season.

Aston Villa’s games see the ball in play for under 50 minutes of the 90 on average this season

By contrast, Man City's games generally feature more than an hour of the ball in play

By contrast, Man City’s games generally feature more than an hour of the ball in play 

So if you are one of those fans finding yourself infuriated by the time wasted, be it getting the ball back into play at a goal kick or a throw in, or the lengthy treatment required for seemingly minor injuries then your mind is not playing tricks.

Seconds have been eroded from the game at a time when ticket prices are more expensive than ever and there are extreme variations from one club to another.

Manchester City fans can expect to see more than an hour of football at their matches. As a rule under Pep Guardiola, their team will be secure in possession, playing shorter passes with more control and less risk of the ball going out.

City’s 2-0 win against Burnley at the Etihad Stadium in October recorded the highest figure of the season, with the ball was in play for more than 65 minutes. 

Guardiola’s team has more than 70 per cent of the possession and there were only 16 fouls, only five committed by the visitors.

Man City's match with Burnley in October was saw the ball in play for more than 65 minutes

Man City’s match with Burnley in October was saw the ball in play for more than 65 minutes

Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel is among the managers who have complained about time wasting

Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel is among the managers who have complained about time wasting

Is time wasting getting worse?  

BALL IN PLAY AVERAGES FOR PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURES BY SEASON 

2021/22: 54 mins 43 secs (110 games)

2020/21: 56:22

2019/20: 55:49

2018/19: 55:31

2017/18: 56:11

2016/17: 55:51

2015/16: 56:01

2014/15: 56:22

2013/14: 56:43*

2012/13: 56:23

*10 year high

2021/22 high: Man City 2 Burnley 0 (16/10/21) 65:42

2021/22 low: West Ham 1 Brentford 2 (3/10/21) 41:33

Elsewhere in 2021-22

Championship 51:41

League One 50:27

League Two 49:44

AVERAGE BY CLUB THIS SEASON 

Man City 60:27

Brighton 57:14

Liverpool 57:11

Chelsea 56:54

Arsenal 56:16

Man United 56:05

C Palace 55:31

West Ham 55:22

Leicester 55:10

Norwich 54:52

Wolves 54:36

Spurs 54:33

Burnley 54:00

Newcastle 53:59

Watford 53:26

Everton 52:34

Leeds 52:23

Southampton 52:16

Brentford 52:01

Aston Villa 49:23

Aston Villa are at the other end of the scale, the only Premier League team with the ball in play for less than 50 minutes, leaving their fans to watch 10 minutes less football per game than Manchester City’s.

Managers of the strongest teams regularly complain about opponents wasting time. ‘There were too many interruptions and they were delaying the game,’ grumbled Thomas Tuchel after Chelsea’s win at Newcastle last month.

It is not a new strategy to disrupt the rhythm of the game against the best footballing sides, but the Premier League’s best sides are arguably better than ever when it comes to keeping the ball, with highly technical players helped by the slick surfaces and modern rule changes to favour attackers.

October's game between West Ham and Brentford saw the ball in play for only 41 minutes

October’s game between West Ham and Brentford saw the ball in play for only 41 minutes

For opponents left chasing around, trying to win it back it is vital to find some recovery time when the ball is dead. Perhaps there is a greater temptation to stretch these brief rest periods for a few seconds more. 

It would explain why some teams appear keen to waste time even in the opening minutes of games, not only when hanging on for a result.

Equally, in an era when so many teams are secure in possession and defenders are quicker and comfortable on the ball, the set-piece has become an increasingly valuable commodity. And each set-piece slows the game down.

Teams play for free-kicks and corners, and take extra care to make sure they get the delivery and the routine right.

Some, including Villa, employ a coach for set-pieces. The more detail and organisation that goes into it, the more time consuming it will be.

Premier League fans pay considerable amounts of money for tickets but get less action

Premier League fans pay considerable amounts of money for tickets but get less action

Villa and Brentford both like to use long throws, which take time. Villa, for example, wait for Matty Cash to make his way from right back to the left wing if he can throw the ball into the penalty box.

Brentford and West Ham rely on set-pieces as a source of goals and, when they met last month, the ball was in play for just 41 minutes and 33 seconds. 

It is the lowest recorded in the Premier League this season with the ball was out of play considerably more than it was in. There were 17 corners in the game and 29 fouls awarded by referee Peter Bankes.

The approach of the officials could be a factor. So, too, the venues. The open spaces of the London Stadium and other new-build grounds provide opportunities if either team is looking to run the clock down.

Elaborate set-piece routines, increasingly deployed by clubs, contribute to time wasting

Elaborate set-piece routines, increasingly deployed by clubs, contribute to time wasting

But the trend is clear. Over the last decade has seen a steady drop in the time the ball is in play with a slight increase last season, when stadiums were often empty due to lockdowns and a multi-ball system was in operation.

Every so often the law-makers at IFAB consider and then dismiss the idea of introducing a timer akin to basketball, where football becomes two halves of 30 minutes and the clock stops each time the ball goes out of play.

It is not on the agenda at the moment. It could be back soon.

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