Happy New Year, folks. Last time out we answered the question of who were the best finishers in front of goal (the green zone in the graphic below). Today we move wider and further out where the numbers tell us it’s generally very difficult to score. Here’s how many shots it takes on average to score from each part of the pitch:
Which strikers are selective in the shots they take? Which ones hit it from anywhere when they show no skill whatsoever in finding the net from tight angles or from distance? Which strikers are good from here when the average player clearly is not?
We’ll start with the amber zone – the wide area of the box where it takes the average footballer in the Premier League 18 shots to find the net (remember the sample we’re using for this entire study is at least 3 full seasons and well over 30,000 shots).
The funnel plots below will all include one thick black line denoting the league average conversion rate, and two curved lines above and below it. The curved lines are standard deviations from the mean. Any player or team outside the second curved line are statistically significant – either damned lucky (good or bad) or just damn good or bad. We prefer to think it’s the latter.
Here’s the plot for teams:
First off we note that no teams fall outside the outer curved lines. One or two teams come close in the odd season but in other seasons they’re dotted about elsewhere. In short, on a team level, converting chances from here is not a sustainable skill. Having said that, most of the big shooters from here are ‘big sides’ – the exception being WBA. Volume of shots compared to your opponents (TSR) is an important thing over time. How WBA fit into this, we’re not quite sure. Answers on a postcard.
The graphic also encapsulates Stoke City under Tony Pulis. Their sheer avoidance of taking shots from ‘poor’ areas is striking. We can see the shift for West Ham under Sam Allardyce too. Nearly up there with the big boys before he came, and a sharp reduction afterwards. So what about individuals?
Again we see Robin van Persie out in front of the pack. He is simply the best penalty box finisher in the Premier League over the last three years by quite some distance. Theo Walcott is the next best that we’ve studied.
Luis Suarez is out on his own in terms of taking shots from wide areas. He’s not even good at them. We love Michu’s numbers. Here’s a player that simply does not want to shoot from bad areas. Chicharito and Nikica Jelavic too. Maybe this is why Allardyce is reportedly interested in the Croat? Having said this, we’ve looked at Jelavic’s struggles with a game plan based on lots of crosses before.
So what of shots from distance?
Again we see Stokes reticence to shoot from ‘bad’ areas and West Ham’s shift under Allardyce. Probably with good reason as again we see a lack of repeatability from season to season on a team level. Manchester City were something special when they pipped United to the title in 2012 with a ridiculously high conversion rate over a large number of shots. It certainly helped them beat United on goal difference as they scored 19 goals from outside the box in open play – 12 more than the average team would have.
We can see the City players driving it in this plot:
Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are two players out beyond that second curve. Edin Dzeko too has a good record from distance. Suarez looks like the king here. However, if you looked at this plot a month ago, Suarez would be resting on that thick black line of averageness. For the previous 2 years 11 months he was no better than your Premier League Joe Bloggs.
Gareth Bale’s rise in this area has also been meteoric. A year ago he would have been one of the worst converters from distance in the league. Only Wayne Rooney has been relatively consistent over the course of a lot of distance shots. However, he’ll have to continue at the same pace over the next two or three seasons to convince us that he has a special talent with shots from here. We don’t have access to data from previous years so it’s well within the realms of possibility that he does have that talent.
Happily, Walcott has broken his duck from distance since we collected the data for him. Such an ocassion is worthy of a low quality Youtube clip:
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