Author Archives: Leo
Through the introduction of football performance analysis, football games has been analysed in many ways. Zone 14 was classified as the “golden square” in the pitch which helps teams score more goals. It was supported by evidences showing that successful teams had a better performance in zone 14. In this post, the two examples used would be France (1998-2000) and Manchester United (1998-1999).
Where is Zone 14?
By dividing the field into a six-by-three grid, there are 18 zones on the pitch. Zone 14 is the zone located in the middle of the pitch immediately outside the penalty area appears crucial for goal scoring (Taylor et al., 2002). It is shown in the following diagram.
The location of Zone 14 (Grant et al., 1998)
Why is Zone 14 so important?
It is one of the key factors to differentiate the successful and unsuccessful teams (Grant et al., 1998). Other researchers had the same result showing that successful teams attack through the centre of the field more effectively than less successful teams (Grant, 2000; Horn and Williams, 2002).
Generally, there are 4 key points that successful teams were found to play in Zone 14:
- More passes to all zones to the side and ahead of zone 14 (Horn et al., 2002)
- More forward passes from and within zone 14 (Horn et al., 2002)
- To make more passes in zone 14 compared with unsuccessful teams (Grant et al., 1998)
- To generate attempts on goal from possession regained in zone 14 (Horn et al., 2002)
The first example is France national team (1998-2000). In July 2000, France became the first nation to win the European Championship (2000) as World Champions (1998).
France National Team in Euro 2000 (BBC Sport, 2012)
It was found that 81.3% of their assists in two competitions came from the central area (Horn et al., 2000). In other words, France’s attacking play was narrow. Another finding showed that the majority of France’s attempt at goal came from assists in central attacking area just outside the penalty area (Horn et al., 2000).
The second example is Manchester United FC (1998-99), which was the first English side to win Premiership, F.A. Cup and European Champions League in the same season.
Manchester United 1999 (Sawh, 2010)
Grant and Williams (1999) did a research on this team and found that passing was the most common form of assist. Moreover, the majority of passing assists came from central attacking area.
What is Zone 14?
The above findings gave a brief idea what zone 14 is. Different researches have their own view but generally their opinions were very similar. Grant et al. (1998) argued that Zone 14 is the attacking midfielder area which is the crucial area for producing successful attack. Horn et al. (2000) and Taylor et al. (2002) both argued that Zone 14 is the key area which produces vast majority of passing assist. Grant and Williams (1999) did not mention zone 14 but they found that passing is the most common form of assist and the majority of passing assists came from central attacking area. In fact, some coaches know the importance of this zone but they refer it by using another name “The Hole”. However, from the perspective of performance analysis, the researchers had brought forward the understanding of how it works (Telegraph, 2002), which is shown in the following paragraph.
How to use Zone 14 effectively?
Effective use of Zone 14 must be combined with positive, forward passing and tight possession from the back of the field (Telegraph, 2002). The keywords are “positive, forward passing” which lead to the next question “where the ball should be passed?” According to the Horn et al. (2002), teams were more than 4 times more likely to score goals by playing directly into the penalty area than playing laterally to the wings. In other words, fewer goals would be scored through possession leaving zone 14 to the wide areas. Possession time is another reason why the ball leaving zone 14 should be passed into the penalty area directly. Horn et al. (2002) found that the ball was kept in zone 14 for 2.7 seconds in average in order to score a goal. If the possession lasts over 8 seconds, then it won’t produce an attempt on goal. That means quick attack is a key point in using zone 14. No doubt, moving the ball laterally rather than forward into the penalty area is likely to introduce more passes and longer time in possession, then the threat of zone 14 would be neutralised.
Who is Zone 14 for?
The zone 14 is effective only when exploited by a skilful player who can quickly change the direction of attack with a short pass or twisting run lasting no more than 8 seconds (Horn et al., 2002). Therefore, the players with the ability to play in zone 14 are highly technical. They should be the players that were regarded as the most exciting to watch. Grant et al. (1998) mentioned Zidane and Bergkamp as examples.
Zinedine Zidane (Rascojet, 2011)
Here is an example showing Zidane’s play in Zone 14:
Dennis Bergkamp (The FA, 2013)
Here is an example showing Bergkamp’s play in Zone 14:
Although Zone 14 is so important in attacking, it doesn’t mean that teams should not make crossing from both flanks. Crossing is a very effective way to produce goals also. In fact, Grant (2000) found that successful teams are effective at using crosses to score goals. The key point is that teams should avoid using zone 14 to attack wide areas, which is proved in previous findings. Instead of using short wide passes from zone 14, teams should switch the ball across the whole field, or move the ball forward all the way down one side to attack flanks and make crossing (Horn et al., 2002). In the example of Manchester United (1998-99), it was found that the team was able to make flank attack and have the ability to penetrate through central attacking area (Grant and Williams, 1999). In the France team (1998-2000), their attacking play was very narrow so there were not many crossing assists.
Zone 14 is located outside the penalty area. It is a factor to differentiate successful and unsuccessful teams because it provides most assist. The most effective way to use zone 14 is to make a forward passing into the penalty area. Moreover, the attacking play should be quick. The possession in zone 14 should not be more than 8 seconds. The importance of flanks attack should not be ignored because a successful team should be able to make both attacking styles.
In my opinion, the best way is to attack through zone 14 first as it is more effective. If they can’t penetrate through the central attacking area, then they attack the wide areas.
BBC Sport, 2012. Euro 2000: The French Revolution [digital image] [viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/60195000/jpg/_60195604_81575581.jpg
GRANT, A. & WILLIAMS, M., 1999. Analysis of the Final 20 matches played by Manchester United in the 1998-99 season. Insight, 1(3), 42-44
GRANT, A., 2000. Ten Key Characteristics of Successful Team Performance. Insight, 3(4), 26-27
GRANT, A., T. REILLY, M. WILLIAMS & A. BORRIE, 1998b. Analysis of the Successful and Unsuccessful Teams in the 1998 World Cup. Insight, 2(1), 21-23
HORN, R. & M. WILLIAMS, 2002. A Look Ahead to World Cup 2002: What Do the Last 40 Years Tell Us? Insight, 5(2), 26-29
HORN, R., M. WILLIAMS & A. GRANT, 2000. Analysis of France in World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000. Insight, 4, 40-43
HORN, R., WILLIAMS, M., & ENSUM, J., 2002. Attacking in Central Areas: A Preliminary Analysis of Attacking Play in the 2001/2002 F.A. Premiership Season. Insight, 5(3), 31-34
Rascojet, 2011. Zidane [digital image] [viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://www.rascojet.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Zidane.jpg
Sawh, M., 2010. manchester_united_1999 [digital image] [viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://sackthemanager.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/manchester_united_1999_cham.jpg
TAYLOR, S., J. ENSUM & M. WILLIAMS, 2002. A Quantitative Analysis of Goals Scored. Insight, 5(4), 28-31
The FA, 2013. dennis-bergkamp-testimonial [digital image][viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://www.thefa.com/~/media/Images/TheFAPortal/News%20Articles/2013/dennis-bergkamp-testimonial.ashx?w=620&h=349&c=facupgallery&as=1
THE TELEGRAPH, 2002. Scientists find football’s golden square [online]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/3028353/Scientists-find-footballs-golden-square.html
In the book “Soccer Tactics and Skills”, Charles Hughes (1987) argued that the best way to score corner goal consists of 3 factors:
- Near post
- Keep it simple (Variety on a theme, not variety on sole criteria of doing something different)
By analysing 178 League 2 corner goals, it would be tested whether his argument can be applied to League 2 or not.
There is not much difference in terms of the sides of corner. 50.6% of corners were from the left side of the goal.
Type of delivery
The above chart shows that most of the corner goals were delivered by inswing (61%). 30% of them were outswing and 9% of them were ground pass which included medium or short corner. The finding fits the argument of Hughes that inswing is the best way to score corner goal.
Delivery target area
In terms of delivery target area, the result is not as dominant as the result of delivery type. Although near post was the most popular delivery target area, it was not dominant with 36%. In fact, the percentages of mid-goal area and far post were close with 32% and 26%. 5% of corners were delivered to touchline area which means they were short corners. Only 1% of corners were medium corner which were delivered to the edge of the box for long shots. By looking at this chart, Hughes’s argument about near post delivery is not very strong here because the difference between near post, mid-goal area and far post were within 10%. Near post is still a better choice but it is not a dominating factor as inswing delivery. Then the data would be compared with each other for in-depth analysis.
Which side vs. Type of delivery
The above chart shows that the preferences of delivery were different depending on which side of the corner it was. If the corner is taken at the left side of the goal, most of them were delivered by inswing. It could be explained by the fact that most of the players were right-footed. It is interesting to see which approach the team would use in the right side corner. 45 right side corner goals were delivered by inswing. That means teams chose a left-footed player to deliver the corner for the purpose of inswing delivery. However, 36 right side corner goals were delivered by outswing. This number is much more than the number of left side outswing corner (17). On the other hand, the numbers of ground pass delivery in both sides were similar. No matter which side we look at, inswing is still the most popular choice of delivery although it is more dominant in left side corner. In the right side corner, teams still prefer to do inswing delivery but there was considerable amount of outswing delivery also.
Type of delivery vs. Delivery target area
The above chart shows that inswing and near post combination scores the most corner goals (42). It fits the argument of Hughes. Another finding is that it is less likely to score corner goal at far post by outswing delivery (12 goals). The difference between inswing and outswing was less if the delivery target area is mid-goal area. The difference was 11 goals compared to the difference of near post (24 goals) and far post (23 goals). In short, for inswing delivery, it would be the best to deliver the ball to near post and far post, especially near post. For outswing delivery, it would be the best to deliver the ball to mid-goal area.
Keep it simple?
The result fits the argument of Hughes because 63% of corner goals were scored directly by the corner cross. 26% of corner goals were assisted by passing. Some teams may prefer to do flick-on headers to make assist but the data shows that it may not be a good choice because only 16% of corner goals were assisted by flick-on headers. If we consider passing assist only, flick-on header is a better choice than feet pass as shown in the chart with 6% more assists.
Reviewing the 3 factors mentioned by Hughes, I would say 2 of them were dominating factors in League 2: inswing delivery and keep it simple. They were proved by evidences. 61% of corner goals were delivered by inswing. 63% of corner goals were assisted by direct corner cross. However, the data shows that although near post is the best choice of delivery target area, it is not a dominating factor with 36% of corner goals delivered to near post. The same type of analysis could be applied to the data of different leagues and the results could be different.
HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press
In part 1, I have compared Northampton’s performance with other teams in League 2. It was clear that Northampton was strong in set play, particularly throw-in. Over 50% of their goals were from set play. In their set play goals, around 40% of them came from throw-ins. I will focus on analysing those 13 throw-in goals in this piece.
No matter we consider the throw-in goals or all goals of Northampton; they both fit the general trend of time analysis in League 2 because more goals were scored in the later stage of the game. However, the key point is about the time slot of 76-90 minutes. 29.7% of goals were scored in this time slot in all goals. On the other hand, 38.5% of throw-in goals were scored in this time slot considering that the percentages in other time slots were only 15% at most. It shows that throw-in was an effective strategy for Northampton to use in the last 15 minutes of the game to score goals.
What were the assist styles?
Considering the assist styles, some teams may choose to do flick-on headers to make assist. In Northampton’s case, the best way to make assist is to make a direct throw-in passing by hands. 84% of the throw-in goals were assisted by hand passes, only 8% of them were assisted by flick-on header. It also means that at least 84% of the goals were scored by one-touch shot. The technical ability to make one-touch shot is one of the keys to score throw-in goals.
Many people may link throw-in goals to headers but it is not the case in Northampton. Even we found out that one-touch shot is important, the above chart shows that using feet to shoot is as important as header in scoring throw-in goals. Header goals were only 8% more than feet goals. If we consider the above two charts together, we realise that considerable amount of goals were scored by hand passing throw-in followed by shots made by feet. It may be a result not expected by some people.
Where were the assists made?
Since 84% of assists were from direct hand throws, only 7.7% of assists were from central area by flick-on header. It is worthy to note that 30.8% of assists were outside 18-yard from the goal line. Some teams may only use long throw tactics near penalty area but Northampton’s statistics show that it is worthy to do long throw outside the penalty area also.
Who scored the most throw-in goals?
Northampton did not rely on any particular player to score throw-in goals as the goals were widely distributed to 8 players. A Akinfenwa is the player who scored the most with 31% of throw-in goals considering he is a striker. The other 7 players scored 1 goal each. It is worthy to note that 15% (2 goals) were scored by own goals. It shows that one of the advantages in using long throw-in is to mess up the situation in penalty area so the defenders would have a higher chance to make a mistake scoring own goal.
Where they scored?
The above diagram obviously shows that the prime area for attacking long throws is the 12-yard area from the goal line. 84.6% of goals were scored in these two zones. Note that 15.4% of goals were scored outside the penalty area. My explanation is that most of the defenders would try to defend long throw-in by staying at the zones in front of the goal. It leaves space outside the penalty area for attackers to make long shot. It is worthy to note that no goal was scored in 12-18 yard area. It is because this zone is neither close enough for one-touch shot in long throws nor having enough space and time for players to make long shot.
By analysing Northampton’s strategy in throw-ins, we can identify why they are so strong in scoring throw-in goals. Firstly, they used a very direct style to attack. They didn’t prefer flick-on header as 84% of assists were came from direct hand throw-in passes. Secondly, one-touch shot is the key to score but we should be aware that using feet to score is almost as important as using header. Thirdly, Northampton did not rely on any particular player to be the target man to score throw-in goals. They had 8 players to score 11 throw-in goals (the other 2 goals were own goals). Fourthly, don’t ignore the importance of making delivery outside the penalty area (18-yard line) because 30% of their throw-in goals were delivered from zones outside the 18-yard line.
Stoke City is famous for their long throw-ins attacking strategy. It is a different kind of attack for the defenders who get used to crosses. It is also a big question for the keepers whether they should stay at the goal line or not. There are some pieces which analyse Stoke’s performance. Is there any other team having the same strategy in English football? Northampton may be the team with similar (or even better) performance in long throw-ins.
Top 5 teams in set play goals in League 2
Considering the number of set play goals, Northampton scored the most set play goals (34 goals). The following table shows the open play and set play goals of 24 League 2 teams this season and highlights the top 5 teams in set play goals. They are AFC Wimbledon, Bradford, Cheltenham, Gillingham and Northampton.
In order to analyse how important set play goals are to different teams, the percentage of set play goals were considered also. The following table shows the percentages of open play and set play goals of 24 League 2 teams this season.
For example, being the League 2 Champion, Gillingham scored 28 set play goals but there were stronger in scoring open play goals. Therefore, set play goals only accounted for 42.4% of their total goals. The top 5 teams with the highest percentage of set play goals were AFC Wimbledon, Aldershot, Bradford, Cheltenham and Northampton. Northampton is the 2nd place in set play goal percentage. 53.1% of their goals were set play goals. Comparing both tables to each other, we can identify that 4 teams existed in the top 5 positions in both tables. They are AFC Wimbledon, Bradford, Cheltenham and Northampton. That means these 4 teams were good at scoring set play goals and set play goals were more important to them. Note that Northampton and AFC Wimbledon are the only two teams scoring more set play goals than open play goals.
Throw-ins goals in League 2
This chart shows how strong Northampton was in throw-in goals. With most of the teams having 3 throw-in goals or less, Northampton scored 13 throw-in goals this season. They scored 100% more than the 4th place Bristol Rovers having 6 throw-in goals. The great difference shows that scoring throw-in goals was a strong weapon of Northampton while most of the teams didn’t have the ability to do so.
If we consider how important throw-in goals are within set play goals, Northampton is still the team showing the highest percentage. 38.24% of their set play goals were throw-in goals. It showed how important throw-in goals were to Northampton.
In fact, Gillingham and Northampton were the only 2 teams with more than 30% of their set play goals as throw-in goals. Considering only 9 teams in the league having more than 10% of their set play goals as throw-in goals, it shows how Northampton outperformed other teams by having 38.24%.
No matter we consider the number of throw-in goals or the percentage of throw-in goals, Northampton is still the best team in the league and they obviously outperformed other teams in the league.
I don’t have the goal scoring data of Stoke City this season. However, I wonder Stoke City can achieve the two conditions of Northampton or not.
- More than 50% of goals were set play goals
- Around 40% of set play goals were throw-in goals
In part 2, the focus will be analysing the details of Northampton’s throw-in goals. It includes when they scored, how they scored, where they scored, where the assists came from, etc.
The top goal scorer in League 2 this season is Tom Pope, who is playing in Port Vale. He played every single game this season which means he had 46 league appearances. He scored 31 league goals. Port Vale had 87 league goals in total. Therefore, Pope has scored 35.6% of team goals. He is a tall striker with the height of 1.91m. He is 27 and will become 28 next season so he is at the peak of his career according to the analysis of optimum player age from Prozone.
How he scored?
In 31 goals, he scored 13 header goals, 9 goals by right foot and 9 goals by left foot. He is an all-round striker who can score goals through different ways. He is strongest at header goals (42%) and it is reasonable considering his height (1.91m). He is good at both feet as well because he scored considerable amount of goals through right and left foot.
Where he scored?
The above chart shows that Pope scored most of his goals in the 6-yard box (13 goals) and 6-12 yard area (13 goals). Considering 42% of his goals were header goals, it shows that he played like a target man inside the box and waited for the chances in the 12-yard area from the goal. Therefore, he is not good at long shot as he scored only 1 goal outside the penalty area.
When he scored?
The chart shows a characteristic of Pope. He was particularly strong at the 15-min period of both halves. He scored 8 goals in 16-30 mins and 61-75 mins periods. The phenomena was more obvious in the first half as he scored only 2 and 3 goals in the first 15 mins and last 15 mins in the first half.
Open play vs. Set play
The above two charts show the comparison of the Tom Pope and the team regarding the open play and set play goals. In Port Vale team, 74% of goals were open play goals. On the other hand, 81% of Pope’s goals were open play goals. That means Pope contributed for the team more in open play goals. He hadn’t scored any penalty this season. He had only 6 goals from set play.
Where the assists came from?
The above diagrams show that most of the assists were from the flanks (67.7%), especially the left flank (48.4%). 32.3% of assists were came from the middle zones. It shows that the delivery from the flanks were more suitable for Pope to score. It fitted the previous result showing that he is strong at header. This leads to an assumption that crossing should be the main source of the assist type which will be discussed in the following chart. The reason of 48.4% of assists in the left flank could be explained by Port Vale’s strength to attack through the left flank.
Types of Assist
The previous results show that Tom Pope is stronger at header and most of the assists were came from the flanks. The above chart supports the previous findings because it shows that crossing is the main source of the assist styles (45%). The “others” assist style included dribbling and regaining possession but these were not the main source of Pope’s goal. The second main assist style was passing (26%). It was related to the following analysis about the number of touch he used to score goals.
Number of Touch
68% of Pope’s goals were scored by one touch. It fitted the previous results showing that 45% of his goals were from crossing and 26 out of 31 goals were scored within the 12-yard area from the goal. His ability to score one-touch goals is a key to his playing style as a target man working mainly near the goal. Remember he is an all-round striker who is good at scoring goals by header, right foot and left foot. It helped him a lot to score one-touch goals.
To conclude, here are some key statistics and findings of Tom Pope’s 31 league goals this season (2012/13):
- He is an all-round striker with 42% header goals, 29% right foot goals and 29% left foot goals
- 26 out of 31 goals were scored with 12-yard area from the goal. It fits his playing style as a target man.
- He was particularly strong at the 15-min period of both halves (i.e. 16-30 mins and 61-75 mins). 16 out of 31 goals were scored in those 30-min periods.
- He was stronger at open play (81%) than set play (19%) comparing with the stats of the Port Vale team (74% vs. 26%).
- 67.7% of the assists were from the flanks, especially left flank (48.4%)
- Crossing was the main source of the assist style (45%)
- 68% of his goals were scored by one-touch
In order to bring out the best in Tom Pope, Port Vale should provide crosses from the flanks and let Pope stay at the 12-yard area from the goal for him to score one-touch goals in the coming season.
There were 1411 League 2 goals in the 2012/13 season. This article will focus on the time at which goals were scored during match play. These are important information because it shows the characteristics of different teams. I did a time analysis once in December, 2013. That result showed that there was a systematic and significant upward trend in the number of goals scored as time progressed. This time all the goals in 2012/13 season were included and the upward trend is still the same. It further supports the previous research suggesting an increase in the frequency of goals scored as a match progresses (Jinshan et al., 1993; Reilly, 1996). The methodology is the same as I divided the 90 minutes into six 15-min periods. The following chart shows when the 1411 goals were scored in League 2 this season.
The goals scored in the last 15 minutes of the game were obviously more than other periods.
The following table shows the number of goals scored in six periods of different teams. The data were shown in a Red-Yellow-Green colour scale. That means, the higher number would be highlighted by red and the lower number would be highlighted by green for better visualisation of the data.
Gillingham, Wycombe and Bristol Rovers were the teams which started the game strongly in the first 15 minutes by scoring 14, 13 and 12 goals. Gillingham showed a special characteristic as they scored more goals in first half (39 goals) than second half (27 goals) significantly. They scored least goals in the last quarter (7 goals) which was different from the general trend of other teams which scored most goals in the last quarter. York City was another team having the same characteristic because their first half goals (31) were much more than that in second half (19).
Northampton scored most goals (19) in the last quarter but generally most of the team scored more goals in the last quarter so the difference was not significant. Port Vale showed something special as they significantly outperformed other teams in the second quarter (16-30 mins) by scoring 17 goals while most of the teams had less than 10 goals in this period.
Wycombe was a special team as well because they were particulary strong in the first 15 minutes of the halves by scoring 12 goals in 0-15 and 45-60 minutes. In other periods they scored only 6 to 7 goals.
However, if we just count the goals scored, it is not showing the whole picture of analysis because stronger teams scored more goals (e.g. Port Vale scored 87 goals and Aldershot scored 42 goals). If we want to find the characteristics of the teams, we have to convert these data into percentage which is shown by the following table.
Only 5 teams scored 20% or more goals in the first 15 minutes of the game and they were Aldershot, Bristol Rovers, Gillingham, Wycombe and York City. AFC Wimbledon, Cheltenham and Gillingham were stronger in the 15 minutes before the first half break as they had 22%, 22% and 21% of goals in that period.
Barnet was the weakest team in the first 15 minutes (6%) but they were very strong in the last quarter with 32% scored within the last 15 minutes of the game. Morecambe and Northampton were the two remaining teams which had more than 30% of goals in the last quarter. If we consider the last 30 minutes of the game, the characteristics of these teams were more significant. Barnet and Northampton had 53% and 55% of goals scored in the last 30 minutes of the game and these could be important information for their opponents.
Aldershot and Bristol Rovers shared the same characteristic as they were both strong in the first and last quarters having more than 20% of total number of goals. The team with the most evenly distributed number of goals in all six quarters was Torquay. They had around 15%-18% of goals in each quarter.
To conclude, the characteristics of the teams could be shown by having the time analysis. Some teams were stronger in the first half (e.g. Gillingham and York City). Some teams were stronger in the last 30 minutes of the game (e.g. Barnet and Northampton). These information would be useful for the opposition analysis to know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents.
Jinshan et al., 1993. Analysis of the goals in the 14th World Cup. In: J. C. a. A. S. T. Reilly, ed. Science and Football II. London: E. and F.N. Spon, pp. 203-205.
Reilly, T., 1996. Motion analysis and physiological demands. In: T. Reilly, ed. Science and Soccer. London: E. and F.N.Spon, pp. 65-81.
How important were they?
If we consider the statistics of this left flank chain in 2003/04 season, we realised how important they were in the team. Firstly, they scored 60% of team goals. It was mainly because Henry and Pires were the top two goal scorers in the team.
Figure 1 Goal Scorers in 2003/04 Arsenal team
Secondly, they made 49% of team assists. In short, in every two goals, one of them was from the left flank assisted by one of these three players.
Figure 2 Assist makers in 2003/04 Arsenal team
In short, it showed that Arsenal 2003/04 relied heavily on the left flank to attack. The left flank attacking combination was formed by Cole (left back), Pires (left midfielder) and Henry (left striker).
Ashley Cole was an attacking-minded left back. He was good at crossing also. Firstly, 75% of his assists were made in the final 18-yard area.
Figure 3 Where Cole made assists in 2003/04 season
The following video shows the assists made by Cole.
This shows that he had the ability to make attacking runs to the final third frequently rather than staying in the midfield. Secondly, 50% of his assists were crossing. This shows that he was able to contribute for the team by delivering the ball into the box himself.
Pires was a left midfielder who drifted into central position by using his right foot. In season 2003/04, all his open play goals were scored in the central area. However, he was not the midfielder who scores goal by long shot in central area. His strength was to make attacking runs into the penalty area to score goals. 78.6% of his goals were scored in the central penalty area, 21.4% of goals were scored in zone 14.
Figure 4 Where Pires scored open play goals in 2003/04 season
The following video shows the goals scored by Pires in 2003/04.
On the other hand, he had made most of the assists in central area (57.1%). Zone 14 was Pires’s active zone because 28.6% of his assists were made in this zone.
Figure 5 Where Pires made assists in open play goals
The following video shows the open play goals assists made by Pires.
All the evidences above showed that Pires was a left midfielder who attacked mostly in the central area.
Henry was strong at attacking space behind the defence. This could be analysed by looking at the assists styles of Henry’s goals. He was good at exploiting space behind the defence because the largest proportion of his goals (30%) was come from through ball. It fitted his style as he was a fast runner. For further details about Henry, please refer to the invincibles analysis part 3.
All these three players were top players in 2003/04. More importantly, their playing styles fitted each other so that their combination made a great contribution for the team. Firstly, Pires was strong at passing through to the space behind defence. 43% of his open play assists were through ball. It fitted Henry’s strength because he was strong at attacking space behind the defensive line by his pace to score goals. The following video shows some examples of the combination of Henry’s run and Pires’s through ball.
Secondly, from the positional perspective, Pires tended to drift into central position and it gave more space for Cole to attack and make overlaps. The following video is an example of how it worked.
Thirdly, Henry was a striker who tended to stay at left flank. He had made most assists by crossing in the left flank. His style fitted Pires’s attacking runs into the central penalty area. The following video shows how they fitted each other in terms of their positions.
Continuing the header goals analysis from part 1, the set play header goals would be focused in this post. Note that all the goals data were updated to 3/1/2013 (same as part 1). The goal scoring patterns of header goals were different between open play and set play. The following diagram shows where the header goals were scored in set play.
Figure 1: Where set play header goals were scored
If we compare this diagram with the open play version in part 1, two main differences would be found. Firstly, the prime header goals scoring area of set play was the 6-yard box. This finding was different to the open play, where 6-12 yard was the prime header goals scoring area of open play. Secondly, in set play all the header goals were scored within 12 yards from the goal line. In open play, there were still 3.3% header goals scored outside the penalty spot. It shows that scoring header goals in open play and set play needs two different tactics. In open play, the difference of percentage of goals between 6-yard box and 6-12 yard was not too big, only 5.4% difference. However, in set play the difference became 31.4%. In other words, in set play the player should focus on delivering the ball into the 6-yard box. Otherwise, the chance of scoring header goals would be greatly reduced but it was not the case in open play.
Corner Header Goals
Many people may closely link corner goals to header goals because they assume header goals should be the dominating goal types of corner goals. However, statistics shows that it was the case in League 2.
This chart shows that header goals were the main source of corner goals but it was not a dominating factor. If the coach only focuses on scoring by header in corner set play training, he is ignoring the importance of scoring by feet. It was because 52 corner goals were scored by feet. For example, scoring by rebound or picking up the second ball. In this post, we will focus on how those 59 header corner goals were scored.
This chart shows that more corner goals were come from left side (44%) than right side (34%). The reason behind it was closely related to the types of delivery which would be discussed. This chart also shows that 78% (44%+34%) of corner header goals were directly assisted from corner delivery. The remaining 22% were come from short corner, header flick on or scoring in second phase of attack in corners. This finding shows the importance of getting the first touch in scoring corner header goals. The most effective way to score was the direct delivery.
In terms of delivery, inswinging cross was the best way of delivery. 41 corner header goals were scored by inswinging cross but only 17 corner header goals were scored by outswinging cross. Moreover, it was not a good idea to use any other delivery method (e.g. short pass or pass to the edge of the box) because only 1 goal was scored by other methods. Since most of the corner header goals were delivered by inswinging cross, it explained that more corner header goals were come from left side considering most players are right-footed.
The area in front of the goal was divided into three different aim zones: near post, mid-goal area and far post. This chart shows that near post was the best place to be delivered to score corner header goals because 36% of goals were scored in near post. On the other hand, the percentages of mid-goal area and far post were similar (29% and 30%). The above two findings show that the inswinging corners delivered to the near post was the most effective way. It fits the argument of Hughes (1990) arguing that the theme that pays the highest dividend in corners is an inswinging corner to the near post in the book “The Winning Formula”.
Moreover, more than 90% of corner header goals were scored in the first phase. In other words, if the ball is cleared by defenders, the chance of scoring header goals would be greatly reduced even the ball is delivered into the penalty box again. By summing up the findings about corner goals, the best way of scoring corner header goals was to deliver inswinging corner from the left side to the near post and scored it in the first phase (first touch).
Free Kick Header Goals
Comparing with the corner goals, the header goals in free kick is less important which was shown in the following chart.
The most common goal type of free kick was to score by right foot. There were 32 header goals scored in free kick which was less than goals scored by right foot by 4.
The best delivery zone of free kick header goals was found by considering where the assists came from.
Figure 2: Where free kick header goals were assisted
Firstly, the zones just outside the penalty box were the better areas for delivery because 62.5% of free kick header goals were delivered from these three zones. Secondly, right flank was better than left flank because 50% of free kick header goals were delivered from right flank. By combining both findings, it can be concluded that the best delivery zones for free kick header goals were the zones outside the penalty box in two flanks, especially the right flank (21.9% in left and 37.5% in right).
In terms of types of delivery, inswinging delivery was still the best way, which is the same finding from corner header goals. However, it should be noted that the difference between inswinging (18 goals) and outswinging (11 goals) was much smaller in free kick than in corner. In other words, higher percentage of header goals was scored by outswinging delivery in free kick than in corner.
Mid-goal area was the dominating factor in the delivery destination of free kick header goals. This finding was different from that in corner. In corner, near post was the best area to be delivered but mid-goal area was the best area in free kick. Moreover, the difference was greater in this chart as there was 29% difference between mid-goal area (59%) and far post (30%), while the difference was only 6% in corner. That mean the advantage of delivering to mid-goal area in free kick was more obvious than delivering to near post in corner.
By summing up the findings about free kick, the best way of scoring free kick header goals was making an inswinging delivery to the mid-goal area from the zone outside the penalty area in right flank.
Scoring header goals in set play need a different tactic than in open play as the prime goal scoring area was different. Even in the set play goals, header goals had different importance to different set plays. Header goals were the most important in corner but less important in free kick. Moreover, the most effective way of scoring header goals in corner and free kick were different. Therefore, coaches should separate the training of corner and free kick since the tactical needs were different.
HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: Collins
How important are the header goals in League 2? Most of the goals are scored by right foot, left foot or head but they are not evenly distributed. Updated to 3/1/2013, there were 948 goals in League 2. 44% of them were scored by right foot, 25% by left foot, 21% by header and 10% of goals were scored by other parts of the body or by penalty. In short, around 1 out of 5 goals were scored by header. It fits the argument of Hughes (1990) saying that about 1 goal in every 5 overall was scored with a header in the book “The Winning Formula”.
On the other hand, I explained the importance of first goal before so let’s look at the impact of header goal in League 2 first goals. There were 317 first goals and 17% of them were scored by header. That means it was less likely to score first goal by header while the impact of right foot was increased to 50%. It shows that attacking in header may not be a good choice to score first goal in League 2.
If we focus on the 200 header goals which is shown in the following chart, 54% of header goals were came from set play while 46% of them came from open play.
The above chart shows that header goals were scored more in set play (54%) than in open play (46%). Corner is the main source of header goals in set play, having 29% of total header goals. The importance of header goals is more obvious if the data is normalised by considering the total number of open play and set play goals.
There were 619 open play goals in League 2. The number of open play goals was more than that of set play goals. Even 46% of header goals were from open play, it only took 15% of total open play goals. It shows that the impact of header goals was not obvious because 84% of open play goals were scored by feet, particularly more than half (55%) were scored by right foot. It shows that if a team want to score open play goals, they should focus working more on their feet rather than header.
On the other hand, there were 244 set play goals (exclude penalty) in League 2. 54% of header goals were came from set play and it took 44% of set play goals. It highlights the importance of header goals in set play comparing with the situation in open play goals shown in previous chart. It gives a clue for the teams which are stronger at header. They should focus more on attacking in set play because it will give 29% more chance to score by header. However, it is worthy to note that even header goals were more important in set plays; it still took less than half of set play goals. In other words, more than half of the set play goals were scored by feet. It is very important for the practice of set play in training as they may only focus on attacking by headers. However, statistics show that the goals scored by feet in set plays were more than that by headers.
In this post, only open play header goals would be analysed. The analysis of set play header goals would be discussed next week because there are 3 types of set play (corner, free kick and throw-in) to be analysed.
Open Play Header Goals
Crossing was the main source of open play header goals because 85% of them were assisted by cross.
The remaining 15% were assisted by passing or shots. It indicated that there is a close relationship between crossing and header goals.
Some people may argue that the prime goal scoring area of header goal in open play is the 6-yard box because it is closer to the goal. However, it is not the case in League 2.
Figure 1: Where open play header goals were scored
The above diagram shows that more than half (51.1%) of the open play header goals were scored in the 6-12 yard area while 45.7% of them were scored in 6-yard box. It is similar to the argument of Hughes (1990). He argued that the “prime target area” extends out 8 yards, from 2 yards inside the 6-yard box to the penalty spot, and across 20 yards, the width of the 6-yard box. In this analysis, it shows that the prime scoring area of header goals is the 12-yard area from the goal to the penalty spot. For any header shots made behind the penalty spot, the probability of scoring decreased dramatically because only 3.3% of open play header goals were scored behind the penalty spot.
Figure 2: where open play header goals were assisted
From previous finding, crossing was the main source of assist to open play header goals. Therefore, it is not surprised to see that most of the assists were come from both flanks. Horizontally, there is not much difference between the right and left side which took 41.3% and 45.7% of assists. On the other hand, there were differences by analysing vertically. The assists made from the 18-yard area from the goal (65.2%) were much more than that from the zones outside the penalty area (31.5%). It is worthy to note that if the ball is delivered outside the final third of the pitch, it is much less likely to score by header because only 3.3% of assists were came from outside the final third of the pitch. If the delivery is come from the right side, the best delivery would be crossing from wide or deep because they took 12% and 13% of assist. The pattern would be different in the left side. Crossing near the goal line was better.
By combining the 3 points mentioned above, the best formula to score open play header goals in League 2 was found. It should be assisted by crossing. The ball should be delivered into the 12-yard area from the goal. The delivery area should be the final 18-yard area from the goal at both flanks. On the other hand, header goals were more important in set play than in open play. However, the importance of header goals should not be over-emphasised because over half of the set play goals were scored by feet.
The set play header goals would be analysed next week.
HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: Collins
A football game is all about attacking and defending. Therefore, keeping a clean sheet is as important as scoring goals. A team scoring a goal doesn’t guarantee any point but keeping a clean sheet guarantee at least one point and potentially getting three points. In this post, the defensive performance of League 2 teams would be discussed by analysing the clean sheets of League 2. Updated to January 28, there were 338 matches had been played, that means there were 676 team performances. Of these 676 team performances, 189 ended up with a clean sheet (28%). The teams produced 7.88 clean sheets on average. In these 7.88 clean sheets, 5.38 clean sheets led to wins and 2.50 clean sheets led to draws. On the other hand, clean sheets produced about 2.35 points per team and match on average.
The frequency of clean sheets is shown in the following chart.
As shown in the chart, there is a huge range in abilities to keep clean sheets (from 2 to 13). Fleetwood and Cheltenham performed much better than other team, producing 13 and 12 clean sheets. Part of their ability to generate points has been their ability to produce good defence. In the top 4 clean sheet producers (10 teams), only Accrington, Morecambe and Aldershot are in the bottom half of the table. It indicates two results. Firstly, good at keeping clean sheets can lead to good league positions. Secondly, it suggests that defence is not the main issue of the above 3 teams. In order to improve their league positions, they should focus on improving their attacking. Moreover, the bottom 2 clean sheet producers are Bristol Rover, Plymouth and Wimbledon. They are the bottom 3 teams in the League 2 table as well which indicates the importance of keeping clean sheet. On the other hand, it shows how strong Port Vale’s goal scoring was. Port Vale only produced 7 clean sheets which are below average. However, they are at the top of the table which means the high number of goal scored can overcome the weakness of their defence.
Clean sheets were of different value for different teams. This is shown in the following chart.
Clean sheets had enormous value (3 points) for Exeter and Wimbledon. For every single match they held clean sheet, they won the game and got 3 points. Note that Wimbledon is at the bottom of the league table. That means the biggest problem of Wimbledon right now is the defence, not attack. On the other hand, Plymouth had the worst performance in the above chart. It shows that even Plymouth had kept clean sheet, they only managed to 1.5 points on average. Considering both charts, it means that Plymouth is having problems in both attack and defence. In the top 5 teams in this chart, 4 of them are in the top 6 of the league table. In other words, it’s not only keeping clean sheets that’s important, but also how the team managed to get points from clean sheets.
By combining both charts together, the teams can be analysed from another perspective which is shown in the following diagram.
In this chart, the two axes are the two average numbers (2.35 points gained and 7.88 frequencies of clean sheets). The objective of using two average numbers as the axes is to divide 24 teams into four quadrants showing different abilities. Firstly, Bristol Rovers, Plymouth, Torquay and Rochdale are at the bottom left corner. The characteristic of the teams in this quadrant is that they are both weak at producing clean sheets and getting points from clean sheets. The opposite quadrant is the top right quadrant which means the teams were good at producing clean sheets and got points from clean sheets as well. Gillingham was the best performer in this quadrant which means Gillingham had a good balance of attack and defence. On the other hand, the top two performers of keeping clean sheets were in the bottom right quadrant, they should focus on improving their attacking because it was the main issue hindering both teams from getting points from clean sheets. The same argument could be applied to Aldershot and Morecambe as well since they are at the bottom half of the league table. Port Vale didn’t show why they can be the top of league table in this chart because they were weak in producing clean sheets. However, their efficiency is better than Gillingham by getting more points per clean sheet game.
To conclude, keeping clean sheets is a strong indicator of a team’s defending ability. However, it’s not only keeping clean sheets that’s important, but also how the team managed to get points from clean sheets. Therefore, by dividing 24 teams into four quadrants showing different characteristics, we can understand why some teams are doing better than others and which aspects (attacking or defending) should be the main focus point for team improvement.