Dafuge & Data: Adding Challenge Intensity in FM21

Not a fan of PPDA? Even though the base stats are in FM21 are you finding it just too much fuss to extract the numbers at the end of every match to fit into the wondrous spreadsheet? I hear you. I’ve been using PPDA for about three seasons now in my Dafuge save and I’m honestly tiring of entering the analysis view, setting up the pitch areas for attack and defense, and then crunching it all in the spreadsheet.

What about an alternative stat then? Like Challenge Intensity? It is something that does a similar job, and as a result is closely correlated with PPDA. Embrace the deja vu as we do pretty much the same thing we did before for PPDA but with Challenge Intensity in this post.

What is Challenge Intensity?

I have to admit I was oblivious to it until something in a recent RDF Tactics video caught my attention. I had it on in the background whilst my Scarborough side cruised to Europe. RDF Tactics’ videos are well worth watching, for both the FM tactical content but also the real world links. If you’re a bit of tactics nerd you’ll be happy you watched them.

In the Roma and Mourinho video, about 6 minutes in, Challenge intensity is measured. It’s a fairly simple metric that takes into account the number of challenge related defensive actions performed per minute of opposition possession.

You can find it, among other stat definitions, over at Wyscout. Their definition is probably best.

A team metric, quantifying how many defensive actions (defensive duels, loose ball duels, interceptions, tackles) a team is doing per minute of opponent ball possession.

Challenge intensity reflects how often the team is actively trying to recover the ball when the opponent is in possession (thus, it’s correlated to PPDA). The higher this number, the more intense the team is in challenges.

In top five European leagues for 2018/2019 the average challenge intensity is 6.04. The best team in Challenge intensity in top five leagues 2018/2019 is Eibar with 7.7; Parma, Nürnberg and Angers have the least (5).

So rather than breaking down defensive actions by passing actions like PPDA it is breaking down active attempts to regain the ball (duels, tackles, interceptions etc.) by the minutes of opposition possession. The more actions per minute the more intense the attempt to challenge and recover possession. Like Wyscout mentions as it involves using some defensive actions it is going to correlate to some extent with PPDA. Likewise the number of passing actions is likely to increase as minutes in possession increases (for most teams). So both sides of the equation here are linked to both sides of PPDA.

How to get Challenge Intensity in FM21?

We don’t need much to do it, and it just involves a very brief trip to the analysis section of the match report.

Opposition Possession

First we need to know what the oppositions possession percentage was. Which is nice and easy. It’s in the basic match stats, and pops up on most analysis or stats screens at some point. Once we have the percentage of possession it’s then fairly easy to work out how many minutes the opposition have had the ball for. 50% possession would be 45 minutes of possession in a 90 minute game. 40% possession would be 36 minutes, and so on.

For anyone a bit phobic of maths it’s simple to work out. Just change the percentage into a decimal (50% becomes .5, 45% would be .45, 34% would be .34 etc.) and then multiply the match length by this decimal. 90 x .4 = 36.

But wait, what if the match is long than 90 minutes? Well then just use whatever the actual length was. Now you can be quick and just assume 90, or you can be accurate and use the actual length. I’ve not actually found an easy way of seeing how many minutes, including injury time for both halves, a match was. There’s not an easy stat for it that you can add, and I can’t see it in player form either. I think there are a couple of options here. One is to just pay attention during the match and make a note of the added time. The other is to add the minutes played column to your squad view and then make a before and after comparison of a player who is on the pitch for the entire game (a keeper for example), to work out how many exact minutes were played. Or just be lazy and use 90.

Challenge Stats

Fairly straight forward here. Once you have selected team analytics, make sure the defending side is selected, and the whole pitch and match time is selected. Nothing fancy here.

From this you can then open the lists on the left and count up the challenge actions you are interested in. This is where the real world and FM start to depart from each other. We can select headers won and lost, tackles won and lost, and interceptions. But we don’t have access to some of the finer detail stats about duels.

In this view we can see duels for loose balls for example. In fact we don’t have duels as a stat we just have to assume that every header and tackle is part of a duel between two players. With a tackle it is safe to assume this I think but with headers there’s the issue that some of these may just be uncontested headers.

Irritatingly if you go to the detailed player overview for stats for the competition, and then select you can actually find a contested header table. So it’s recorded in the game just not somewhere or in a way that is useful for this. Standard FM. You could try to do a before and after a match comparison but it’ll only work if all your players are in the top 20 for the league.

And even more frustratingly FM21 does record aerial challenges as a stat category, but just in the squad view options, not the match analysis. So if you wish you could add this into your squad view and do a before and after comparison each match for the players involved to get a more accurate count of the aerial duels involved.

But ignore the ranting. We just record all tackles won and lost, all headers won and lost, all interceptions, and because I think blocks are a sort of challenge action I’ve included them as well.

Final Challenge Intensity Calculation

So we have our percentage possession, match length, and total number of challenge actions (all tackles, headers, interceptions and blocks). Now all we have to do is divide the number of challenge actions by the number of minutes of possession the opposition had to get our Challenge Intensity value.

In the real world this value tends to be between 4 and 8, with the higher the number the more challenge actions happening per minute of opposition in possession. The more defensive attempts to get the ball or disrupt play essentially. An aggressive and high pressing team would have a higher number than a team that sat back with a lower block, in theory.

I’ve just run it a few times in FM21. With my Scarborough side against Rangers in the Euro Cup and Aston Villa in the league. I got 2.2 and 1.8 respectively. Tiny values. But I think this reflects two things. 1) My team is set to regroup with a standard line, and 2) There are stats like duels for loose balls or 50/50’s that we can’t record accurately and include.

Does it mean anything in FM21?

I’ve not seen if it correlates with any particular outcomes like I did with PPDA, but as the two are correlated I would expect a similar but weaker relationship. A key thing to remember is that just like PPDA Challenge Intensity is not a measure of how well you are playing. Simply it is a measure of how many actions are being taken per minute of opposition possession. There are tons of factors that impact this.

For example if you have told your team to regroup, if you have a low line, and if you tend to play on the counter and concede position then you will end up with a very low score. This is what is happened with my Scarborough side. We are violent counter attacking long ball merchants. But a low value isn’t bad. We are still winning games, and conceding very little. Because we are organised, have good shape and basically give up possession that the opposition don’t do a great deal with. They can do as many step overs as they want on the wing, the moment they get too close or central we pounce, kick them, and then launch the ball forward.

But it is a good measure of how intense you are being in defense, just like PPDA is for pressing. If you are wanting to play an aggressive game that gets in the face of the opposition and harass them on the ball then you want and would expect this value for Challenge Intensity to be high. Think of it more as a stat to check how you are implementing your style rather than a check of how well you are playing.

Is Challenge Intensity in PPDA accurate?

See above but the short answer is no. Longer answer is that whilst it isn’t producing values that are similar to the real world that’s probably because we can’t measure all the things we need to in FM21. There are some types of duel as defined by Wyscout that either FM21 doesn’t record, or doesn’t record in a way that is useful.

For example there is a possession won and possession lost stat. But they are catch all’s for pretty much any situation in which a player wins possession of a loose ball, or loses possession. It doesn’t give the context of whether it is 50/50 ball one for example, or if it was won in a  tackle. So we can’t use it.

The good news is that it’s still useful it’s just not comparable to the real world. If we accept that the values in FM21 are consistent but lower than real life then it’s okay.

Could it be added to future Football Managers?

The formula is simple. The one I’ve used just takes what is already in the game like we did in the early post for PPDA. I can’t imagine it would be hard to set up a command or formula that extracted the key information just did some basic division. That said, I’m not a programmer.

Getting it added in a way that is more accurate would be a little harder but again it should just come down to being slightly more fine grained or detailed about some of the stats. Basically include loose ball duels, and just include those contested aerial dues rather than every header under the sun, and you are there.


I’ve loved doing the Dafuge and Data series. And I have a few more updates yet for it. FM21 isn’t done yet and I’ve not won the title or champions league so the challenge hasn’t been finished. But I have been thinking about what to do for the next Football Manager. I have a few ideas. Maybe Herr Lipp will come back, maybe I’ll take the shithousing to a new level and play a journeyman inspired by Niccolo Machiavelli.

One thing I was thinking of doing though, stats and FM22 dependent, was going through the different measures that places like Wyscout use and seeing if I can replicate them in a meaningful and useful way in FM22. I’d be playing a normal save and just posting when I’d managed to wrestle some data out of Football Manager. This plan is completely dependent on the stats being less frustrating next time round though.