We all know the modern day game is evolving/has evolved – players are getting fitter, stronger and generally more athletic, recovery/rehab is shorter and the tempo and strategic nature of the game continues to change dramatically.
However, football still remains about scoring goals. The question here is, ‘is crossing still as an effective a tool as it once was?’. Take the top team in the world for instance – Spain played in the European Championships without a recognised striker, thus completely eradicating the traditional No 9 from the game, a position vital for the finishing of quality deliveries.
Only the Czech Republic produced less crosses per game on average during the Euros that Spain, yet they still went to win the tournament and scored more goals from open play than any other team. Take Barcelona, who arguably play a similar style to Spain – they scored more open play goals in La Liga last season than any other team, yet only Villarreal produced less crosses per game in average!
The idea here was to look at which teams were crossing in open play the most in the English Premier League last season and what effect there was on their output of open play goals, thus finding out if, certainly for last season, whether the crossing teams score more goals.
Who crosses most?
Liverpool were the EPL’s most frequent crossers of the ball in last campaign, getting over 22 open play crosses per game executed on average as opposed to bottom club Blackburn with nearly half that figure (12).
When it came to accuracy, it was Norwich who lead the way getting a quarter of their 722 crosses to a team-mate, whereas Bolton were the poorest with just 17% of their 574 open play crosses on target.
Open play goals
Verification of Man City’s goal scoring prowess in the above graphic and a highlight also of Stoke’s weakness in front of goal. No surprises that the top 6 in this table all finishes in the top 6 of the Premier League last season, but the bottom 6 reflects a different trend, with only 3 of the actual bottom 6 of lasts season’s division placed in that vicinity here.
Regarding Stoke, they finished as bottom of the pile for both goals scored and goals scored from open play, but considering only 14 of their 36 EPL goals came from open play, it just goes to show how much emphasis they really did put on set pieces.
Looking at the values for shots inside the box and headers at goal from the last campaign, it is Man City that managed more shots from inside the opposition’s penalty area than anyone else and Stoke, without surprise, feature bottom again.
For headers, Liverpool are the masters and Man City this time, the least efficient, really highlighting their style of play and their ability to work the ball into the opposition penalty area via shorter passing and clever movement.
The graphic above highlights the correlation between crossing and open play goals. Each quadrant represents a significant group in that correlation, the closer the team is to the ‘label’ (red), the more significant their trend.
You can see that only 3 teams reside in the ‘high cross, high goals’ quadrant, but all of those teams featured in the top 6 at the season end. However, the other 3 teams that made up the top 6 are situated in the ‘high goals’ category, as aforementioned, but with minimal crossing , particularly in Newcastle’s case.
Seven teams reside in the ‘high cross, low goals’ sector, all of which (other than relegated Wolves & Villa, just!) who finished around the middle third of the league. Probably most significant, are the 7 teams who are placed in the ‘low cross, low goals’ quadrant. All of these teams finished in the bottom half of the table, Blackburn particularly with the worst crossing record being relegated with Bolton.
So, ‘do the crossing teams score more goals?’ Well, not quite, based on the information collected here. Teams that score goals via any medium tend to do well in the league. However, this does show that if your team is willing to put the ball in the opposition’s box more than some of the other teams in the division, it can pay dividends – the distance between the ‘low cross, high goals’ label and the clubs in that section is the highest of all quadrants. If not, a team may well find themselves languishing dangerously close to the bottom.
What must be taken into account and said, is that a team must play to its strengths. Teams like Spain, Barcelona and even Man City last season, didn’t produce a great deal of crosses yet managed to score effectively. This is because they possess the personnel to play that way.
The Blackburn’s and Fulham’s of this world (bottom 2 in EPL for crossing) do not have such players and need to ‘mix’ their play up and be prepared to play a more direct style if/when needed.