Exploring the importance of transition

Exploring the importance of transition

68% of all possession starts across the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022 came from transition.  This is consistent with all English leagues across both the senior male and female domains, with the Premier League providing the only exception with a slightly higher 70% possession starts coming from transition.  This blog explores what transition is, some of the factors that impact transition, and some practical advice for integrating transition within your practices.

For this research we have defined transition as:

The turnover of possession in open play where one teams gains control of the ball following either a spell of opposition possession or a period where neither team were in control of the ball (in contest).

what is transition

With 68% of possession starts coming from transition, teams were having an average of 98 attacking transitions per game.  However, although the percentages remain the same across the leagues, the frequency of transition increases as you move down the leagues.  This is because not only are there more transitions, but the ball also leaves the field of play more often, meaning more goal kicks, throw ins, and free kicks.  This leads to teams having less control with more turnovers in possession and less time spent in possession of the ball.  In League Two teams have an average of 16 more attacking transitions per game (114) than teams from the World Cup and 12 more than the Premier League (102). 

*data provided from StatsPerform for the 2021-22 season

Although the Men’s World Cup seen an average of 98 attacking transitions per team, per game, we have seen a huge variation with the highest number (130) coming from Tunisia in their one nil defeat to Australia in the group stages, and the lowest from England (72) in their scoreless draw against the USA in the group stages.  

There are many possible reasons for this variation from teams playing with a higher tempo and therefore taking more risks in possession, which invariably leads to more turnovers.  Or it can also be linked more directly to a team’s style of play.  For example, Germany were highly aggressive in counter-pressing to win the ball back quickly, and then going more direct to goal when they have the ball, and this is reflective in them having an average of 108 attacking transitions per 90 mins.  England on the other hand looked to control games through possession-based football and took less risks with forward passes, and as a result provided fewer opportunities for transition to occur (83 per 90 mins). 

The skillset of your players can also play a part in what transition looks like.  Declan Rice for example is a player with excellent anticipation skills who can intercept passes and pick up loose balls before securing possession for his team by playing away from pressure to find a team-mate with a pass.  In contrast to this is France’s Aurelian Tchouameni who has a great ability to move the ball into a position that allows him to play fast defence splitting passes on gaining possession, resulting in a total of six key passes and assists throughout the tournament, the highest for a defensive midfield player.

Incorporating transition into your practices

Transition can happen naturally within both games and practices but having more of an awareness of how and where on the pitch you want to encourage transition to happen can help support the learning outcomes you have set for your practice.  For example, if you are working on finishing, you will want to set your practice up in a way that allows for transition to occur in more attacking areas to increase the number of opportunities your players get to shoot at goal. 

To ensure your players are practicing transition in a game realistic environment it is important that your practices are directional.  This provides players with a target for where they are trying to get to when they win possession from a transition, and also heightens their decision making of recognising when they are able to move or pass directly towards the target area, or whether they need to secure possession first.

Coaching Considerations

Does the data shown in this blog reflect the environment you are currently coaching in?

Does the frequency of transition impact your practice design, and if so, how?

How does your team’s playing philosophy either impact, or is impacted by transition?

Curious how this transition might look in the defensive third of the pitch?  Check out the blog below: