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Assisters contribute just as much as scorers

Wise words from the Soccer Boffin

Kevin De Bruyne has been in great form for Manchester City
1 of 1

Christian Eriksen contributes as much to Tottenham as Harry Kane. Kevin De Bruyne is as influential for Manchester City as Sergio Aguero.

The player who puts the ball in the net is important, but no more than the player who gives them the ball. Assisters should be cheered as wildly as scorers.

Good teams have more deadly strikers than bad teams. Over the last five seasons Premier League champions averaged a goal every seven shots while teams relegated in last place averaged a goal every 14 shots. Strikers for the best teams were twice as clinical as strikers for the worst.

But good teams also have more shots than bad teams. Teams who finished in the top three – the automatic Champions League places – averaged 17 shots per game. Teams who finished in the bottom three – the relegation places – averaged 11 shots per game.

The top three created approximately 50 per cent more scoring opportunities than the bottom three.

And those opportunities would have been greater not only in quantity but also in quality. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said he expected Romelu Lukaku to score more regularly than for previous clubs Everton and West Bromwich. He did not need to explain why. With better teammates sending passes, Lukaku should have more shots and from more promising positions.

So good teams shoot more accurately and more often than bad teams. Which is most important? Neither. They are equally important.

I looked again at stats from each of the last five seasons for every Premier League team.

First I calculated how many goals teams would have scored if they kept their individual shooting accuracy but all had the same number of shots. Then I calculated how many goals teams would have scored if they all shot with the same accuracy but kept their individual number of shots.

In the first instance I isolated the impact of shooting accuracy. In the second instance I isolated the impact of the total number of shots. And then I compared both sets of figures with the number of goals teams scored. For each the correlation was high, and for both it was about the same. Assisters contribute as much as scorers.

As I wrote in The Definitive Guide to Betting on Football: “The difference between a good team and a bad team is simply that the good team is more effective than the bad team in everything that it does… It will have more possession… But it will also use that possession more efficiently.

“For every minute that it has the ball, it will spend longer in the opposition half. For every minute that it spends in the opposition half, it will have more shots. Of all its shots, a higher proportion will be on target. And of all its shots on target, a higher proportion will end up in the back of the net.”

Why it takes 11 seconds to score

Brian Clough said it only takes a second to score a goal. He was manager of Nottingham Forest when they won the European Cup twice, so he knew what he was saying. And we know what he meant.

But others give different answers.

According to the Uefa Champions League technical reports it takes 11 seconds to score a goal. In the Champions League during the last three seasons goals were scored at the end of moves that lasted an average of 11 seconds.

Most moves, of course, do not end with a goal, or even an attempt.

One of my oldest beliefs about football is that not much of consequence happens in matches – though I reconsider it each of the many times I bet on a low number of something and lose.

There was one attempt every seven minutes in the Champions League over the last three seasons. There was one attempt every seven minutes in the Premier League over the last five seasons.

One of the reasons spectators have to wait so long between attempts is that for a lot of that time the ball is dead.

In a typical Premier League match the ball is dead for about 40 minutes between the first and last whistle (ignoring the half-time interval). Forty minutes contain 2,400 seconds.

In that typical Premier League match there will be about 100 stoppages. So the average length of a stoppage will be 2,400 divided by 100, which is 24 seconds. That is enough time to score two goals.

Crosses bring big rewards

Crosses are the commonest source of Champions League goals. Crossing is far from the most effective way of scoring Champions League goals.

Er? I hear you say.

More goals are scored from crosses than by any other method – but there are more crosses than attempted set-ups using some of the other methods.

For example, over the last two seasons 18 per cent of Champions League goals came from crosses. Only seven per cent came from corners. More than twice as many goals were scored from crosses as from corners. But there were between three and four times as many crosses as corners.

So the success rate with crosses was lower than with corners. Only two out of every nine crosses even reached a teammate. And the number of crosses required to score a goal was greater than the number of corners required to score a goal. It took 47 corners to score but 66 crosses.

Off the woodwork - what are the chances?

How often does the ball strike the woodwork? It happened once every 45 shots in the Champions League during the last three seasons.

Put another way, the ball hit a post or crossbar about four times every seven games.

The odds against the ball hitting woodwork at least once in a randomly chosen match would have been about 13-10.


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In the Champions League during the last three seasons goals were scored at the end of moves that lasted an average of 11 seconds
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