Long Ball Football | By The Numbers

Long Ball Football | By The Numbers

Being talked of as a long ball side is never
a positive. While some teams might use the tactic
positively, playing to their strengths, there is a sense that long ball football is often
reductive, dull, and ineffective at the highest level.
Long ball football often results in losing possession,
as short, simple passes make it far easier to retain the ball and longer passes give
greater time to intercept or are aerial, allowing
defenders the chance to compete. This season, only two teams have so far had
60% average possession or more: Manchester City and Spurs. In the bottom half of the
table after six games, only two sides have 50% or
more average possession: Southampton, who look like a top half side without a striker,
and Bournemouth, who look like they think they’re
a top half side but don’t have the personnel. Similarly, passing success percentages show
that every side below sixth, excluding Southampton, has a successful pass completion
percentage of less than 80%; the Saints are 80.5% and, it should be noted, Bournemouth
again are 79.5% – their style is certainly progressive, it just isn’t working yet.
If we keep the teams in their table order and look at passes, it’s clear that, generally,
better teams complete more passes. It’s exactly
what you would expect to see, as sides dominate the ball by moving it around, probing for
weaknesses, and are less likely to surrender the
initiative to their opposition. Indeed, the graph of league position versus
total passes per game looks like this: There’s a clear downward trend: as league
position decreases, so does total passes per game, with spikes for Southampton and, towards
the bottom of the graph, Bournemouth and Everton.​
But what about long ball passes? Again, keeping the list of teams in table order, we can see
that the percentage of total passes per game that are categorised as long balls varies,
from Manchester City’s 6.9% to the highest, Burnley
with 22.4% and West Brom with 22.5%. This is not exactly a surprise, given the sides
concerned. What is also noticeable is that again,
Southampton and Bournemouth aside, once you’re out of the top six, the percentage of long
balls played goes up significantly. The average for the top six sides is 10.2%
of passes being long balls. The average for the rest
is 17.9%. Remove Southampton and Bournemouth and that average increases to 18.7%.
But, and here’s where it gets really interesting, the fewer long balls a team plays, the more
accurately they tend to do it. That’s right – teams who don’t play a long ball style
pass the ball long better than those who actively do.
The most accurate side for long ball football is
Manchester City, who have played only 46.1 long balls per game. But of those, 64.6% are
accurate, 10% better than the next most successful team by percentage, Spurs. Indeed, only
three sides play fewer than 60 long balls per game, Manchester United, Manchester City,
and Arsenal, and those three all do so with 50% or higher success, far better than most
teams. This is probably because those teams choose
the long ball option more carefully because it’s
counter to their normal style, or they have better all-round passers who can do all things
well. It’s also worth noting that only Spurs and
West Ham play more than 60 long balls per game
with a greater than 50% accuracy. West Ham, in fact, are the only real anomaly here. They
play more long balls than any side, but they also do it more accurately than all but three
teams. So, if there’s a genuine long ball side
in the league, then, it’s West Ham, followed by Burnley.
But West Ham do it well or, at least, successfully. Most other teams should reduce the
number of long balls they play – if they did, they might pass long in more appropriate
situations and not lose the ball as often.

67 thoughts on “Long Ball Football | By The Numbers

  1. Couldn't it be said that those teams which have lower long ball numbers but higher success rates do so because of their higher quality (as they tend to be the top teams), not because they attempt them less?

  2. I think the problem is that long balls on stat sites can also be a nice diagonal pass from the centerback to wingback. Not the typical long ball to the strikers we associate with the term.

  3. I think teams don't necessarily play long balls because this is a great attacking option, but rather as a defensive option. If teams start making a lot of short passes without having the quality to do so effectively they end up losing the ball a lot in dangerous areas in the build up aka at the back and in midfield. Even against weak sides this is suicidal. Though I haven't watched the games, I imagine this is what Crystal Palace under Frank de Boer looked like. So instead they just play long, because if they lose the ball the opposition still has about 60 meters and 10 men to go through.

  4. For the top teams long balls are also part of mixing up their game to stray away from the possibility of becoming too predictable.
    Other than defensive clearances of course. For a team like Spurs for instance, Toby Alderweireld has the accurate, long crossfield ball in his locker and uses it as an option to differ from a conventional Spurs attack.

  5. This guy's voice is growing on me. First, I thought he was done with life, but now I see, that with that music, his voice is almost perfect for this.

  6. Ahh, yup. That explains why West Ham are 6th and Burnley are in a relegation scrap; because West Ham do it "well". Wait… Burnley are 6th!? Guess this stats actually tell us nothing then.

  7. I don't find it surprising that teams that use less long balls are more accurate, firstly because the teams that don't use long balls tend to have better players who will be better at passing , long or short, secondly opposition teams won't be set up tactically to intercept long balls because they normally don't use long balls and third there is a smaller sample size so it's easier to have far higher percentages

    Edit: just watched the next 30 seconds and he addresses some on those points, this is why you watch the video before commenting

  8. I'm not entirely sure your rationale stacks up. The teams who play fewer long balls aren't necessarily better at long balls. The likelihood is that if your predominant style of football is short passing, the only long balls that will be played are when they are the percentage option.

  9. Just a question how are the stats calculated for long balls? With Spurs I feel they might have an inflated figure as Trippier pushes up in his wingback role and gets picked out by ball playing centre backs this is being compared to a West Brom hit it up to Rondon and hope for the best. I feel that these two scenarios should not be comparable as they are different styles of playing.

  10. Very interesting video, thank you, but I'm not sure about the conclusion. I think for weaker sides, long ball serves as a way of reducing pressure on the defense. Short passes in defense while having a low defense line means a higher chance of losing possessions in dangerous positions, leading to goal scoring opportunities for the opponent. Long ball means if they loose possessions, it would be in the opponent's half and more time to organize a defense.

  11. I think there should be 2 definitions in the video: when is a ball defined as "long"? and when is a pass defined as "successful"? Mostly passes are considered successful if they end up with a teammate, but with long balls it's mostly about getting higher up the pitch. It doesn't matter if the ball is lost there. Playing a long ball gives the defense a temporarily relief or creates the opportunity to pin down the opponent at it's own half.

  12. Lol thats how Most of Teams in Malaysian League Plays or southeast asia teams,, I dont mind if they ping it like xavi, gerrard or scholes,, lol,, so frustrating to watch,

  13. I remember when you only had 10,000 ! I was up late night Christmas day '16 & you uploaded a thank you / q&a video for reaching 10,000 subscribers ! Brilliant!

  14. One key thing missing from this and that’s any mention of the target man and having players like Andy Carroll explain why West Ham have good stats in the long ball regard. I imagine Burnley’s stats will improve the more Woods plays.

  15. this does not take into account the expected goal that these passes generate. So I don't agree with ending with a conclusion in the end of the video. However the numbers are interesting

  16. I think weaker clubs like to use LB strategy more often because they can't make goal chances by short passing as bigger clubs can easily tackle/intercept the ball

  17. it's the only way you can hurt man city now because of the bad coordination between otamendi stones and fernandinho but it's not a way to carry an entire season ..it's more of a tool amongst others that a style of playing

  18. The fact remains though that nothing on a football pitch looks more breathtakingly beautiful than a team-cutting long ball that creates a goal. My best ever assist was a lob through ball and it feels delightful even now.

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