Over the years, we’ve seen some spectacular hits, thrilling shots and stunning goals from distance. Think of Seedorf, or Cruyff, or of course Beckham scoring ‘that’ goal against Wimbledon. We all know about these goals, and I’m sure you can recall a few more beauties, but the point is, are long-range shots just a flash in the pan moment of luck and some dexterity, or are they an art, a skill to be honed and used as a potent weapon?
For a manager, or a team, it’s always great to have a fair amount of options on hand. Long-range shots provide the manager with a dangerous alternative. A player like Ray Parlour added a lot to his team with the constant threat he posed from range.
Shooting from range can also be employed effectively against teams playing with a deeper line as it takes their defenders longer to come out and close down, and of course, on the off-chance that the keeper is off his line.
However long shots do have a downside, namely their efficiency. How many long shots actually hit the net, or even work the keeper for that matter? Apart from not bringing a substantial advantage to the attacking team, they may also be viewed as a break in play, or a waste of an opportunity to do something better on the ball. How frustrating is it to watch a harmless shot fly into the crowd when there was a better option?
The table above shows statistics for goals from outside the box up until February 2012, during the 2011-12 BPL season.
As we see, the most efficient team is Manchester City, who went on to become champions, but their efficiency was only a measly 8%. So the conundrum for the managers is to decide whether the team consciously takes long shots, or not? As the table indicates, long shots may just provide the cutting edge that many teams need, and often lack, but the limiting factor here is how wasteful they can be. This is why a player who can maximize the efficiency of his long shooting can prove to be an invaluable asset for his team, and often the difference between victory and defeat. Also the co-relation between shot efficiency and league position is 0.334, though not much can perhaps be attributed to this statistic due to the vast difference in playing styles of teams (Swansea for example are lower in the long shot efficiency because of the tiki-taka style they favour playing)
Compared to a few years ago the number of long-range shots being taken, and the number of long-range shots being scored, has dipped to a great extent.
This change may be attributed to (a) change in playing styles, (b) managerial tendencies or (c) reduced player skills.
Change in Playing Styles
This is perhaps the single most important cause for the decline in the quality and quantity of long-range shots. The rise of tiki-taka, along with that of Barcelona and Spain has been a great influence upon many teams. This revolution has changed the face of football for good as we a number of teams trying to implement this strategy. The principles of tiki-taka ask for continued possession of the ball, thus dictating that players do not shoot at sight, or from range, but rather pass the ball to the next viable option, thus starving the opposition of the ball. In the past we saw many players who were skilled sharp shooters ( Ronaldinho, Luis Figo etc.) shoot from distance when the opportunity arose. Compare and contrast this philosophy with that of the current Barcelona, who no doubt score their fair share of goals from distance, but obviously not as many as their predecessors.
This point is a continuation, or perhaps causative of the last one. The advent of tiki-taka can be attributed to the great Johan Cruyff, and is a philosophy that was carried out with great success by Josep Guardiola at Barcelona. Not only Barcelona, but also other teams have turned to a policy of reducing the number of long shots they take. Swansea under Brendan Rodgers adopted a similar approach. Arsenal, under the guidance of the great Arsene Wenger, have always been critcised for not shooting enough from distance. A manager’s reluctance to allow his players to shoot from distance is understandable to a certain extent when we consider the inherent and empirical deficiency in long range shooting, but we’d expect a little more shrift from them when you analyse the difference that long shots can make to league position.
Reduced Player skills
A highly unlikely scenario, but worth inspecting all the same. Players that we see today are very good, but the likes of Ronaldinho, Seedorf, and Zidane were not very far behind. Perhaps the players do not attempt as many long-range shots because they haven’t been trained as well with long shots due to training that’s focused intensively on passing the ball and movement on and off it.
In the age of tiki-taka, long shots may be a little out of vogue, but they aren’t going out the window, as evidenced by their effectiveness in making that crucial difference that separates the wheat from the chaff. Managers might do well to dedicate some time and effort to long shots as they can prove to be a lethal weapon in any teams armoury. As a neutral fan, long-range goals make for great viewing, and one can’t get enough of them.