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Tottenham are the most progressive team in the Premier League

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It's official! Tottenham Hotspur are the most progressive team in the Premier League, based on statistics provided by Opta which show that Spurs have made the smallest percentage of backwards passes of any club in England's top-flight this season.

The summer arrival of Mauricio Pochettino was always intended to bring about a change in playing style at White Hart Lane, with the Argentine head coach's forward-thinking approach attracting plenty of admirers during his previous spell on the south coast with Southampton.

Managerial influence

And, despite a slow start to his tenure in north London the South American's enterprising ideas are now starting to bear fruit, in the form of Premier League points that have pushed Spurs further up the table and back into contention to qualify for the Champions League.

They also have a League Cup final to look forward to after booking their place in a Wembley showdown with Chelsea on March 1, having successfully seen off a spirited challenge from League One opponents Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in their semi-final second leg earlier this week.

Pochettino's side remain in the running for Europa League glory as well, with a two-legged tie against Serie 'A' outfit Fiorentina the only thing stopping them from advancing to the last 16 of the tournament.

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The only competition Tottenham have dropped out of so far this term is the FA Cup, following a surprise 2-1 defeat at the hands of struggling Leicester City in the fourth round stage last weekend. However, the fact that Spurs have managed to maintain a challenge on three different fronts - both domestically and in Europe - says all you need to know about the spirit that's been instilled under the new tutelage of Pochettino.

It's even more impressive when you look at how energetic and dynamic the team's displays have been this term, despite the fact players have been forced to endure frequent trips across the continent, which has unavoidably affected not only pre-match preparations in the Premier League, but also the physical wellbeing of stars that are already suffering from fatigue.

However, Spurs are certainly showing no signs of weakness when it comes to their conscious attempt to play an ambitious style of tireless football that focuses on a combination of positive sideways and forwarded passes, as opposed to the traditionally more negative retreating build-up play from the back.

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It's true that Tottenham are leading the way with just 1,474 of their 10,942 passes going back towards their own goal, with north London rivals Arsenal the nearest challengers to that impressive statistic that equates to 13.47 per cent.

The Gunners have made a higher number of total passes with 11,724, but their 1,618 backwards balls means Arsene Wenger's men have a slightly higher conversion rate of 13.8 per cent.

Burnley and Queens Park Rangers are both surprise inclusions in joint-third spot, given their precarious position towards the bottom of the Premier League table. However, it just proves that this zealous approach can often be a high risk strategy, particularly if a manager doesn't have the required personnel to successfully implement such an enthusiastic and purposeful style of play.

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Manchester City and Liverpool are both inferior to all four of the aforementioned sides, and have similar levels of passing adventure over the course of the current campaign. Manuel Pellegrini's side have actually made the most passes of any team in the division with 13,096, but with 1,855 of those sent backwards they rank in fifth place with 14.15 per cent.

Crystal Palace separate City and Liverpool with 14.32 per cent of their 6,801 passes heading in the wrong direction. It only amounts to 974 negative transitions, but because the Eagles have made the fewest total of passes by some distance it means they are still some way off the pacesetters at the top of the table.

It will be interesting to see how this style changes under the new management of Alan Pardew, who left Newcastle United to take up a new challenge at Selhurst Park. His main focus will be keeping Palace up, and he'll already be thinking carefully about the best possible way of doing that.

Don't' be surprised to see the side from south east London reflecting figures similar to the Magpies, who find themselves firmly in mid-table with 15.5 per cent of their 9,157 passes going backwards, a total of 1,419. Which way will they go under the interim guidance of John Carver at St James' Park between now and the end of the season?

Brendan Rodgers is another coach renowned for his conservative philosophy that focuses on keeping possession to lure in opposition and create pockets of space to exploit on the counter-attack, so it might come as a surprise that only 1,579 of Liverpool's 11,000 passes have been backwards.

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The lowly position of Premier League leaders Chelsea will raise questions about the importance of these passing statistics, and whether or not they actually correlate to on-field success. However, one of the few criticisms regularly aimed at Jose Mourinho during his trophy-laden managerial career is the underwhelming style of football often played by his teams.

The Blues' figures certainly fall in line with this ongoing perception with 1,960 of their 12,012 total passes played back towards goal, meaning they rank in 18th place with the third highest portion of negative transitions at 16.32 per cent.

Lack of entertainment?

Manchester United were also one of only five teams to exceed 16 per cent which sees them sat in 16th place with 1,937 of their total 12,062 passes going the wrong way. Louis van Gaal is coming under increasing pressure from Red Devils supporters after failing to entertain with the free-flowing attack-minded football that the Old Trafford crowd are used to seeing.

Results have improved this season and Manchester United are in contention to secure a top four finish, but the fact remains that they've still not been able to rediscover the sort of confidence and vigour that was associated with the club during the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

However, the tag of the least progressive club in the Premier League has been saved for Gus Poyet's Sunderland side, who have been flirting with relegation to the Championship for much of the campaign.

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The Black Cats have an unrivalled 16.85 per cent of their passes being played backwards with 1,479 of their 8,780 total directed towards their own goal. It doesn't make pretty reading for the Uruguayan tactician whose side are just three points ahead of bottom placed Leicester City.

Perhaps that's the reason why they've won the least number of games in the entire division this season (three). Pochettino will tell you that every team must play with positive intent to move forward in the game, or else risk going the wrong way.

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Arsenal
Tottenham Hotspur

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