Modern Attacking Play

Score. Celebrate. Repeat.

“It’s not just about scoring, it’s about else you can bring

to the team, bringing others into play and getting assists”

Harry Kane

Not all passes are equal. Just as we looked at shots in previous sections, using information from thousands of different passes across many leagues around the world, we can separate certain passes which result in goals being scored more often. Once done, we will have isolated the most impactful types of passes in football, and can begin to investigate which players and teams play them more than others.

 

 

We have a huge database of hundreds of thousands of shots across the world. Because of this, we have lots of shots from the same places on the pitch. In this example, we are going to use shots from Harry Kane to demonstrate how this works.

Take a look at the picture provided. In our database, we have 6 shots recorded from Harry Kane from this exact same location on the pitch about 8 yards out  from goal, in line with the edge of the 6 yard box.

Take a look at the picture provided. In our database, we have 6 shots recorded from Harry Kane from this exact same location on the pitch about 8 yards out  from goal, in line with the edge of the 6 yard box.

 

Next, we have the video of all 6 of these attempts at goal. The 6 shots include:

  • 1 volley from a long ball forward
  • 2 ‘regular’ shots from a pass
  • 1 shot from a long dribble
  • 2 shots from a through ball, including one goal

Why is this important?

Over the course of 6 shots, it’s very possible that Harry Kane scores more or less goals than what would normally be expected. Goalkeeping mistakes, deflections from defenders or even just a shot hitting the post, instead of going in, could mean he scored 3 or 4 from 6 shots instead of the one goal.

If you took Harry Kane and an average amateur striker, there’s a small chance that when taking the same 6 shots the amateur striker would score more goals.

But, if you gave both players 100 shots instead of 6, the chances of the amateur player scoring more than Harry Kane are much lower. The same principal applies to all players.

From these 6 shots, Harry Kane scores one goal, but does this mean that from 60 of these shots Harry Kane would definitely score 10 goals?

Now imagine these 6 shots times one thousand

  • We now have one thousand shots from this position from a long ball forward
  • We have two thousand shots from a ‘regular pass’
  • We have one thousand shots from a dribble
  • We have two thousand shots from a through ball

From this position, if regular passes are scored 20% of the time, and shots from a long ball forward are scored 10% of the time, we then know that long balls forward are about half as dangerous as a regular pass.

If shots from a through ball are scored 50% of the time, we then know that through balls are much more likely to produce goals than regular passes.

By using a huge number of shots at goal, we have figured out how dangerous certain types of shots and passes are.

Through balls

We used the example above on purpose. Through balls are ‘a pass which splits two defenders, for a teammate to run forward onto’ and are of the most dangerous passes in football. Through balls are more dangerous because they almost always mean there are no defenders in between the striker and the goalkeeper when a shot is taken.

Using the exact same method described above, through balls have been discovered as one of the most valuable passes in the game, and result in goals about 2.5 times more often than regular passes.

This means if we took 100 shots from regular passes, and scored 10 goals, and then we took 100 shots from the exact same positions on the field from through balls, we would be likely to score around 25 goals.

 

In the Premier League, no centre forward plays more through balls than Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s wide forwards (usually Salah & Mane) benefit a great deal from Firmino’s build up play, which is why he is such a key piece of one of the Premier League’s best attacks, even though he scores less goals than other forwards.

Overall, Kevin De Bruyne, regarded as one of the league’s best creative passers, plays more through balls than anybody else.

Take a look at the video provided of De Bruyne and Firmino, so you can better understand what a through ball looks like.

 

 

When looking at teams instead of players, it becomes even more clear that good attacking play usually means more through balls. Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool play more than anybody else. Many of the relegated and bottom-end teams play the least through balls.

 

Not just for creating chances for others, think about what this means to strikers. If shots from through balls are scored more often than other types of chances, we should probably be looking to receive them as much as possible. When we look at the list of players in the Premier League in recent years who have received the most through balls, it’s not surprising that most of the top scorers such as Aubagumang, Aguero, Kane & Gabriel Jesus receive the most.

No striker has been on the end of more through balls than Jamie Vardy. In fact, from 2017-2019, he received 12 more through balls than any other player, scoring 7 goals from 23 shots.

What can we take away from this section?

Through balls are one of the most dangerous passes passes in football, and the best attacking teams play more than anybody else.

Many of the league’s top scorers receive the most through balls

Even though he’s not a top goal scorer, Roberto Firmino adds a huge amount to Liverpool’s attack with his creative play, leading the league in through balls from strikers.