One of the pleasures of doing this stuff is when you come across a new metric or piece of data - like a kid with a new toy.

And today I will share the first instalment of it with you. It's a bit of a mouthful so apologies – Efficiency of Ball Progression (EBP). As is nearly always the case, this is an idea picked up from someone else in the analysis community and adapted. This one comes from an English Premier League analysing site called Saturdays on Couch. They calculate the actual distance the ball progresses as a ratio to the number of times the player gives the ball away.

I don’t have the time or means to calculate the distance travelled but in any case, I believe pack passing to be a better metric. Why? Think of the scenario of playing against a low block as Celtic typically do. A player like Liam Scales for example could pass forward 40 – 50 yards and not take a single opponent out of the game and therefore apart from being nearer to goal, obviously, has it increased your team’s chances of scoring? Not as much as if you take opponents out of the game, in my view.

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So, my adaption of EBP is to add together pack passing and pack dribble scores (you’ve progressed the ball forwards and taken at least one opponent out of the game) as a ratio with the number of times dispossessed plus the number of passes given away. In terms of benchmark, I suspect this will only be fair comparing players in similar roles.

Therefore, in this initial article let me share the last five years of EBP metrics for the goalkeepers, full-backs and centre-backs. Later, I will do the same for midfielders and wingers.

Goalkeeper EBP

Let’s get to it.

It is a simple ratio. Joe Hart completed 4.35 forward passes (he doesn’t tend to dribble!) for every loose pass or dispossession (again rare for a ‘keeper) in season 2022-23.

We immediately find a slight limitation of the metric. That is, it appears that team style of play is a greater determinant of score than individual passing efficiency or ability. To an extent. It is no surprise that the two Hart seasons under Ange Postecoglou result in the highest ratios. Hart is down to 1.79 EBP this season where there is not the same emphasis on being both controlled in possession and attempting to break lines.

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However, Vasilis Barkas was more efficient than Scott Bain in 2020-21 and being good with his feet (if not his hands) was a known Barkas strength. Similarly, we would not be surprised to see the lowest scores in the last five years being Fraser Forster and Craig Gordon under Neil Lennon. Gordon’s rate was twice as high under Brendan Rodgers.

An important lesson then in analysing data and a recurring theme you will hear from me – is what we are seeing due to the system or personnel in terms of the main attribution for a metric? The other positions will give more opportunities for direct peer-to-peer comparisons within the same season and we will see the impacts of individual skills divorced from team style.


Now we are getting somewhere.

There is still the team style factor in that Neil Lennon’s full-backs are all at the bottom of the list as he played a more direct style. Also, he did not ask complicated things of his full-backs like inverting.

But Greg Taylor is a constant across these five seasons (not a sentence I ever expected to type). Under Lennon, his EBP was 2.52 and this season under Brendan Rodgers it is 4.92, nearly double. Slightly surprisingly he is having a more efficient passing season this over last which I did not expect.

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We can see Anthony Ralston is not quite the same standard of efficiency as Taylor, Josip Juranovic or Alistair Johnston. Indeed, Johnston is the standout by the measure amongst full-backs. I have written before about his post-injury form dip. Based on the last two games I predict he will be getting back to that high benchmark of over 7 EBP this season.

Diego Laxalt and Jeremie Frimpong were simply not good passers of the ball and I suspect would have been near the bottom under any manager. The most efficient passer under Lennon was, surprisingly, Hatem Abd Elhamed.

Finally, the centre-backs.

Centre Backs

Postecoglou’s centre backs rule the roost when ranking EBP over the last five seasons - except for Moritz Jenz, who was simply not good enough on the ball to warrant making his loan permanent.

From a squad high (centre-backs make a LOT of passes in Celtic teams) 13+ EBP from Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt last season, this Carter-Vickers and Scales are under 10 EBP. I was surprised by the Scales score as he completes a lot of passes and averages a squad-high 17+ pack passes per game. Of the centre-backs under Lennon, Kris Ajer was the most effective with his ability to take the ball forward with his feet.

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As mentioned, when analysing data across seasons, always consider the impacts of team style versus the impact of personnel. What is also clear is that in Carter-Vickers and Johnston, Celtic has two of the more efficient ball progressors of the last five years, which I think meets the eye test.

The midfield will be next.