Should footballers lay off anything outside the strike zone?

One of Differentgame’s favourite passages in the book Moneyball is when Feiny, the guy who cuts videotape for Oakland and A’s hitter, John Mabry, have their ongoing discussion about why Mabry doesn’t get more games in an Oakland A uniform. Feiny tells Mabry to lay off the bad pitches.

“You see that coming at you and it looks like you can hit it three miles” replies Mabry.

“You think you can hit it out,” interjects David Justice, “but you can’t hit it at all.”

“Which is why you don’t swing at it,” says Feiny.

Billy Beane wanted to instill patience in his players. To lay off pitches they couldn’t do anything with and wait for the right pitch to come along. Whilst browsing the new(ish) and excellent Squawka site recently, we noticed that a massive amount of goals in the EPL this season appeared to come from very central areas inside the box.

Discounting own goals, 293 goals have been scored so far this season. Here’s where they’ve been scored from:

Again, using the Squawka site we were able to look at where teams were actually taking their shots from and then calculate how many shots from those places it has taken on average to score a goal. Here’s the results:

Obviously, not all shots are equal. It has taken just 6 shots on average this season to score a goal from the central column in the penalty box (actually it’s fewer but we’ve rounded the numbers up/down). It’s been three times harder to net from areas in the box wider than the 6 yard-box.

It’s a small sample size so far but we’ll continue to record as the season progresses and work backwards in the meantime to boot. A quick look at the MCFC analytics data tells us it took 27 shots on average from outside the box to score last season in the EPL (compared to 35 so far this season). There’s a decent argument already forming that it’s worth laying off shooting from distance if you want to stay in control of outcomes.

It may not appear to be rocket science that getting closer to goal is likely to lead to a more successful shot. It’s basic common sense, non? You’d think so, but the vast majority of clubs are taking 40% or more of their shots from outside the box. Relentlessly doing so puts the odds massively in favour of the defending team.

Once the sample size is much bigger we’ll publish an  expected goals model based on the shots each club is taking. However, we can say at this stage that the five clubs that have taken the most shots from the bright green central column of the penalty area in the graphics above, are the five clubs who’ve scored the most goals so far: Man Utd, Fulham, Chelsea, Everton and Man City. The club that has taken the least shots from that area is Sunderland. Enough said for now.

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3 Responses to Should footballers lay off anything outside the strike zone?

  1. Pingback: The FFM Column: Why do Everton score so few goals from corners? |

  2. bart says:

    good stuff … just read this (a touch late, but hey) … I agree with the idea that patience is a virtue … here’s a reason I’d shoot from the red zone though …

    e.g. My team is considered above average and we are playing at home. Our opponent is below average and have taken a defensive stance against us. I want to break the solid defence that they have built, so somehow I have to draw their back line out a bit in order to create just a couple of extra meters behind them … this will make it easier to whip in crosses as the area between goalie and last man becomes “hazy” forcing them to make a decision on who goes for the ball, this makes the chance of a mistake bigger on their part … i.e. the goalie comes off his line to grab the cross away from the attacker or the defender deals with it and the attacker.
    How do I draw the back line out? I might use my best shooting midfielder/defenceman to take the occasional shot from outside of the box, the key is to get the shots on target forcing the goalie to make a save, I would assume that the more time a shooter is given, the easier it is to get the shot on target … in order to shorten that shooting time someone will have to come out … be it a central midfielder or a defenceman … if it is the midfielder, they are creating space between the lines for me to pass into, to remove that space the whole back line will have to move up (to keep any offside ability open).
    The key to this is not to actually score a goal from outside of the box … but to get the ball on target for things like a corner, rebound etc. (better scoring situations!) I want to goalie to make a mistake …
    Furthermore, if I take your post into consideration that most goals from outside the box are scored when goalies more forward it even strengthens my will to move that back line up somehow as the goalie will continue to sit back (in case I shoot) thus the space becomes bigger and thus is where the wide game comes in. The goalie moving up to cancel the wide play is advantageous with regards to shots from outside the box that I now have to take under more pressure from a D that has moved up!

    So … what am I asking? … 🙂 … is there a correlation between shooting from a distance and the tactics that the opposition may take?

    My goal as a coach would be to create space for my team and to force the opposition to make choices (thus mistakes) … one way to do that is to shoot from outside the box, so I wouldn’t say “don’t shoot from outside the box” to all my players … I’d give my free-kick-taking midfielder and hard shooting defenceman a “yes” and all others a “no”, I wouldn’t care if only 1 in 50 shots go in, I’d care about the shots being on target and seeing if they create space. 🙂 Of course, to do this you have to have the right players.


  3. Pingback: A Short (?) History of Expected Goals Models | differentgame

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