Interesting piece here from The Times on Saturday, from the ever-entertaining Fink Tank column. It seems that long balls are more effective for scoring goals than short passing. I have my doubts about this, because I don’t think it’s comparing things properly, despite their efforts to only include passes intended to make progress towards a goal, and discount short passes near the corner flag for time wasting.
In my head the problem here is that teams often do a lot of short passes and may make some progress towards the opposition goal, but then run out of space and end up hoofing it. The better teams tend to run out of space less, and so hoof it less. That explains why the better teams don’t play so many long balls, though they’ll still go for the odd Hoddle-esque forty-yarder (be fair now, credit where it’s due!). The hoof may or may not be successful, but it stands to reason that in every ten attacks that feature a hoof that’s likely only one hoof per attack, so if three goals are scored then that’s a 30 per cent success rate (goals from three hoofs in every ten). But in ten attacks of short passes there might be 20 passes per attack, with four goals scored, so that’s four goals per 200 passes, or two per cent success. Thus hoofing appears a better option. That’s my reading of it anyway.
I accept that Daniel Finkelstein may mean that attacks that feature a long ball are more likely to end in a goal than attacks that only feature short passes, but that surely can’t be true – can it?
Either way, it tends to be the more successful teams that do a smaller proportion of hoofing, with our friends Stoke at the top of the hoofing list – who’d have guessed? Arsenal are of course among the best short passers, but it’s Swansea who do the fewest long balls, which suggests that Brendan Rogers had the passing game sorted out, but not necessarily the ‘putting the ball in the net’ part of the game quite so well (or else he was rubbish at defence, I haven’t checked Swansea’s goals against column). It will be interesting to see whether Liverpool now move to the top of the short pass league with Swansea going in the other direction, and whether Liverpool move up the table as a result. Having seen them play, I’m guessing ‘no’ to the last question.
Mr Finkelstein concludes by suggesting that the top teams might become even more successful if they played more long balls. Somehow I doubt that, because I’m fairly sure that to score you need to retain possession, and hoofing it often turns possession into a bit of a lottery. I can’t see Arsène changing his methods anytime soon.
I tweeted Danny the Fink, to ask him to read this post. He did, and replied (reading from the bottom up):