There’s Trouble Outside – How Hard is it to Continually Convert from Distance?

So this is the third and final part of the series looking at the repeatability of converting chances from different areas of the pitch. This last one looks at shots from outside the box from both a team view and from that of the top strikers in the Premier League.

In our first piece looking at the central area of the box we saw a couple of team patterns (United and Chelsea being very good at continually finding the net from here) and the top strikers being able to convert at a rate significantly higher than the average player.

Our second piece looking at the wide areas of the box saw much more randomness. Teams were often decent one year then shocking the next. The top strikers were unable to convert chances at much above the average rate.

So what about open play shots from outside the box. What’s the story? Well, the team one is here:

teamsrepeatoutsideUnsurprisingly, the plot is much the same as strikes from the wide area of the box. Teams good one year, then poor the next and lots of poorer teams able to perform above the average. The average here is represented by the thick black line through the middle.

However, there’s a couple of stick out teams at the opposite ends of the spectrum. In one corner, Stoke City, taking very few potshots from distance and being utterly abysmal at them to boot. Obviously it’s a good thing they don’t take so many what with them being so bad. Do they even bother practicing in training?

In the other corner is Tottenham. They spend the entire season, EVERY season whacking long rangers at goal. They’re actually pretty good at it too and are damn consistent in finding the net.

And the top strikers over the last 3 years? Here:

PlayersrepeatoutsideAgain, the average for this sample of strikers is the thick black line through the middle. Three things stand out for us. Firstly, all the Man City players there with the highest conversion rate. We’ve already touched on how we think scoring from distance won them the league in 2012 here.

Secondly, Bale and Rooney. In 2011, Bale was a timid player in this regard. Not yet established he was pretty conservative with his shooting and didn’t score from long range. In 2012, he continued in this vein until he scored his first goal from distance. Since then he’s gone crazy, striking the ball from outside the box at three times the rate he was before. This year for the first time he started to convert them better than average but still not until well after Christmas.

Rooney has consistently loved a shot from outside the box. We compared him to Suarez recently here. They both love shooting from poor areas, just different ones. While Suarez shoots from poor angles, Rooney probably shoots too much from distance. However, Rooney can just about justify it looking at these numbers while the Uruguayan is consistently below average in converting shots in his chosen (in)discipline.

The third thing to note (and perhaps most important of all) is that these multimillion pound strikers perform at just 1% above the average footballer here. Granted, given the low conversion rates overall you could say that’s significant in terms of individual skill. In terms of effecting their teams performance in the long run, though, it very rarely matters. When it does, it needs the entire forward line of one club, at a cost of £90m plus wages, to come good at the same time. And still, the next season, they’ll be back to being average.

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