A look at the origins of the 67 assists by the top 6 Premier League ‘assisters’ thus far gives another definitive insight into the popularity and effectiveness of crossing from high, wide areas.
Only Robin van Persie has produced his highest percentage (albeit joint) of assist from a high, wide crossing position. The other 5 players seem to have preferred assisting from deeper areas, sometimes with a direct ball in, but more often with a threaded ball into a dangerous central area.
Emmanuel Adebayor is the only player to have produced his highest percentage of assists from inside the opposition’s penalty area, where Samir Nasri, David Silva and van Persie again have enjoyed providing service from a deep central position.
So, is crossing an outdated strategy? Well, if you look at the formations used by the top teams in England, you could say yes. The role of the ‘winger’ in most of those 4-3-3 cases has transformed into a more rotational role, where the player starts higher up field (wide forward) but is not expected to stay in the channel for the duration, but instead should work laterally across the pitch and change roles with those near.
This doesn’t suggest that teams aren’t crossing anymore, or that those teams that do cross only play 4-4-2. But, the tactic of using a good ‘byline’ wide player and a target forward don’t appear to be implemented by many teams in the English top flight anymore.
A more flexible ‘Barcelona-type’ model seems to be the approach taken by a lot of clubs now, incorporating a more creative, deeper playing forward and the top scorer standings in the Premier League at present certainly reflect that.
What this doesn’t take into account, is whether the number of crosses on average per game in the division is any different to the older footballing periods as well as the amount of goals scored via volleys and such from wide deliveries.