The Mysterious Case of Reduced Shots on Target

The Mysterious Case of Reduced Shots on Target

In football a shot is the successful culmination of the coordinated effort of eleven players on the pitch, as well the hard work of the manager and the coaches. Generally speaking, the more shots a team has, the more likely it is to be successful. More so if the shots are accurate and on target. So one would assume that football teams would strive to increase the number of shots they take and as a result also increase the number of shots on target.

With this assumption, I was quite surprised to see on Footcharts that teams in the Premier League have been shooting fewer shots on target in the last four seasons (including the current one). This is even more surprising as the last three full seasons and this current one have had some of the most attacking teams seen in the Premier League. Liverpool in their current form are as dangerous as they were during 2013-14. The story is similar with Manchester City. In 2013-14, both these teams scored more than 100 goals. Looking at numbers such as these, it seems very counterintuitive to see that shots on target, the superset for goals, were down to 8.9 in that rampaging season from 14.2 in the previous season. This lower level has continued ever since (amber line in chart).


What was even more surprising to me was that teams are still taking a similar number of shots and are also scoring a similar number of goals. This means that teams are shooting as much as they were but for some reason fewer of their shots threaten the goal. Further, of the fewer shots that threaten the goal, the number of goals going in remain the same.

Another way of looking at this trend is by looking at shots on target as a percentage of total number of shots. In the 13 seasons from 2000-2001 to 2012-2013, teams across the Premier League shot more than 50% of their total shots on target. Higher ranked teams were slightly better off than the relegated teams but even those bottom teams had more than 50% of their shots on target.

But from 2013-14 till the current season, teams across the league have had a significant drop in the percentage of shots on target. Top teams have had 35-38% of their hots on target, while bottom teams have had 27-30% of their shots on target. So, the average per game is not brought down by a particular type of team. Instead it is down across the board.


A Possible Reason

It is very improbable but it is still possible that after witnessing the highest number of shots per game and shots on target per game in 2012-13, managers across the league drilled their teams in very compact defensive units, ensuring that no easy shots are available. That teams in the Premier League are now forcing their opponents to shoot more from outside the box (more difficult) or from difficult angles.

Looking at the defensive frailties of teams such Liverpool this too seemed counterintuitive. Anyone who saw Liverpool defending in 13-14 or in 15-16 or in the current season cannot agree that defending would have improved in the Premier League. But it is possible that stats can some time refute such observations.

From, we can see the shots per game split by the zones they are taken from. I am just looking at Shots from outside the box and Shots from inside the box. If my hypothesis that teams are defending more compactly and forcing their opponents to shoot from further out is correct, then we should see more shots from outside the box, especially from 2013-14 onwards.


But as you can see, there is very little difference between the percentage of shots taken from outside the box between 2009-10 to 2012-13 and between 2013-14 and the current season. So, the casual observation that defending (at least in terms of forcing the opponent to shoot from outside the box) in Premier League has not improved drastically is correct and proven by data as well.

Other Possibilities

There are other possible reasons why this drop in the number of shots on target is occurring. It is possible that teams are forcing opponents to shoot from difficult angles. It is also possible that strikers have generally become more profligate and are shooting in a wayward fashion. But to investigate these reasons, we would need more stats and time. May be in a future post, I may be able to take a look at some of these too.

Until then we can wonder about how teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur seemingly score by the bucketload despite shooting less accurately.