Open play crossing is extremely difficult (20.5% accuracy vs. nearly 34% from set pieces), and most teams aren’t very good at it, In general, nobody is effective at turning crosses into goals.
The point here is that crossing is really hard. Even a player like Leighton Baines only succeeds in finding a teammate 30% of the time.
Are Headed Attempts Bad
This one is fascinating because if you do the initial analysis, it looks like this
Goals from headers 12%
Goals from shots 9%
and if you stop at the surface examination you suddenly think..
“Headers may be the way to go. They are just as accurate as ground shots, they are three times less likely to be blocked, 10% less likely to be saved and 33% more likely to be a goal. Those numbers are massive!”
Not so fast.
When controlled for location headers are considerably worse at scoring than ground shots in every single spot on the pitch.
The only thing that makes headers look so amazing is that they are all taken relatively close to the goal. Meanwhile, ground shots come from everywhere.
Are Headed Passes Bad Too
There is sense to this. The hits that players take when trying to head the ball would be instant fouls if anyone did the same when they are standing on the ground. Additionally, the quality of the aerial ball itself is so much more important than the quality of a ball played to your feet. A headed pass is a first-time pass, every time and unlike a pass along the ground, the trajectory of the ball now exists in three dimensions instead of two.
Heading is just really hard.
Maybe the problem isn’t with passing skill with the big forwards, maybe the problems lie with the approach?
Obviously it’s an important part of the game, but heading the ball simply isn’t something you want your offensive players to do a lot of if you can help it.
So are strategies that revolve around crossing and heading hugely inferior strategies?
this is what math says.
Crossing is hard.
Heading is hard.
Passing the ball as a header?
Also really hard.
So why would any manager choose to do it regularly?
This approach makes sense if it is rare and teams are unprepared for it. If the vast majority of the league plays normally, and your squad employs a physical, aerial approach, teams may be uncomfortable playing that style of football and you have an advantage. However, once a number of teams play this style, counter-strategies come into play that destroy this.
So why would any smart manager, and especially an analytically savvy one, would choose this avenue for their team.
Mixed Strategies Are Not Only Good, They Are Vital.
Conclusions : Crosses are bad. Balls in the air are bad. Headed shots are inferior to ones on the ground from the same location.
You need to be able to perform all of these at a reasonable level in order to make your opponent respect they are part of your arsenal. You need to threaten from wide to keep the defense from simply packing the box so tightly nothing ever gets through. You also really need to be able to head the ball well to have a chance at scoring goals from longer free kicks and corners. So even when they aren’t deployed as a primary avenue of attack, these things need practice, and work, and players who have the skill to turn them into threats.
However, when you bring it back to percentages, they don’t have to be the primary or even the secondary options. You need to enact them just enough that your opponents don’t know what’s coming all the time.
The interesting thing is, when applied in this fashion, the effectiveness of these lower percentage plays often goes up. Teams get so focused on shutting down the central passing and lateral movement, that they overbalance and leave the break to the byline open. Suddenly defenders are scrambling to prevent a free break on your keeper, and the cutback to the penalty spot is completely open.
Central defenders’ legs get tired from chasing speedy guys around for 75 minutes, and they no longer defend aerial crosses to the far post as well.
The short corners you keep taking pull out not just one, but two extra men from the box, and that was the guy that was supposed to mark the player on your team who just got an open header.
So all those things listed above are bad, but… you can’t just play it on the ground all the time, or your team becomes predictable and easier to stop . Mixed strategies are vital when it comes to success. This is true whether your team is trying to pass the ball into the back of the net every game, or whether your manager has procured Andy Carroll as the pack horse for their own special brand of hoof ball.