Crossing in the Premier League is a dying art

If you’ve been thinking about the Premier League this season, you know a lot.

You have seen Erling Haaland end what is considered to be the best league in the world. You’ve seen Mikel Arteta prove the lack of entertainment management. You know Liverpool shot themselves in the foot. You saw Thomas Tuchel fired less than two years after winning the Champions League. You saw Manchester United do their first job, in over a year, in creating some sort of identity.

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You’ve seen the city of Leicester almost explode. You saw AFC Bournemouth lose a game 9-0 and then go six games without a win. You know the end of the Bruno Lage Era. You know a lot of people are calling for the end of the Jesse Marsch Era (even if it’s better than average). You know how the “Steven Gerrard Will Succeed Jurgen Klopp” fairytale ends. You saw Nottingham Forest register the entire population of the Caribbean nation, beat Liverpool and finish in second place.

One of the few things you don’t know about: Crossing. While the usual practice of spreading the ball and hitting it into the box for a man has been in rapid decline for a decade, the 2022-23 season could be the end of the journey. as we know. .

The death of the cross

In 2008-09, Manchester United and Chelsea met in the Champions League final. Liverpool lead the league on goal difference and are yet to win. And Arsenal, captained by 21-year-old Cesc Fabregas, played the ball at pace and finished comfortably in fourth place.

This is the Era of the Great Four. Tottenham Hotspur played Gareth Bale as a full-back, finishing eighth from 45 goals scored and 45. Manchester City, meanwhile, dropped to 10th, struggling to find in stability in the first year after the takeover of Abu Dhabi. In fact, only one of the teams in the bottom half of the league in 2008-09 is in the league today: Newcastle United, who were relegated with Alan Shearer – yes, Alan Shearer – e leading from the side. It has also been released, possibly showing what happened in the UEFA Nations League: Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough.

The list of managers elsewhere in the league evokes a kind of pure and detailed nostalgia: Phil Brown, Tony Pulis, Martin O’Neill, Roy Hodgson, Gary Megson, Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Tony Mowbray. You read all those names, close your eyes and enjoy the memory of that yellow Nike ball hit in the penalty area from wide positions, those times.

In the 2008-09 Premier League season, the first time Stats Perform has provided it, the average team passed the ball in open play 17.5 times per game. If you tune in on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll likely see at least 35 crosses attempted between the two teams in a 90-minute game. In fact, 21.9% of all back-3 passes were crosses during that time. To say “every five shots in the last third is a cross” is to sell how many balls are sent into the box.

Fast forward to this season, and it’s almost impossible to see: Premier League teams average 11.5 open-play crosses per game, and 14.7% of their final third passes are crosses – the These are the lowest marks since 2008-09.

As you can see from this chart, it’s down significantly from the peak days of 2008-09. Save for a short break during the flu, the way you play work change a lot, the current is clear:

The same goes when you look at the percentage of last-three passes that are crosses; in fact, the decline is even greater until the virus hits. The figure fell to 14.8% for the 2018-19 season before rising over the past three seasons to reach a new low this year:

In the 2008-09 season, Bolton Wanderers led the league with 33% of their back three passes being crosses. This season, it is interesting, West Ham United are the leaders, managed by David Moyes, who is the only manager since 2008-09 in the league today. However, West Ham, with 19.9% ​​of their final third crosses, was only the 15th-happiest team in the Premier League at that time.

Back in 2008-09, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were England’s supposed cultural rivals, starting to go fast and short on what was supposed to be an easy and direct route to goal. However, compared to many of today’s Premier League teams, they look as if they are dead set on turning every game into a battle. In 2008-09, Arsenal made 16.6% of their final shots in the third – more than 11 teams at the moment. The Gunners’ training is now going on the ball with just 10% of their last three passes, while Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United are even more shy, with a league-low 9.5%.

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Among players with at least 500 minutes played, no single player from this season ranked in the top 10 for open-play crosses per 90 minutes in 2008-09. Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 5.74 per 90 was ranked 11th, while only seven others were ranked in the top 50. De Bruyne, Tottenham’s Ivan Perisic, West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Pedro Neto are the others.

Among the players with the fewest minutes of their club played, the leader in the 2008-09 season was James Milner of Aston Villa with 6.65 crosses per 90. This season, he is trying to James Milner of Liverpool only 3.34.

What’s going on?

It feels like years ago, but in December 2020, Arteta seems to be doing everything he can to justify his actions as Arsenal manager. After the 2-1 loss to Wolves, he continued:

“I think it’s the first time in the Premier League that we’ve put 33 crosses in,” he said. “I tell you if we keep doing that, we will score more goals.

Sarah Rudd disagrees. The VP of Software and Analytics at Arsenal, when Arteta talked about mathematics and pure mathematics, he pointed out that passing is a small thing that can be misused in the new game when I spoke to him about my book, Net Gains: Inside the Beautiful Game’s Analytics. Revolution.

“It’s little things, like a place [coaches are] teaching a full back to go out and block the cross at all costs,” he said. “Then you’re like, ‘Get them out of there. If they want to come from there, that’s fine.'”

Why would you allow a player to cross a ball from there? Well, in the same way, you can let the soccer player shoot from inside the third line; is not appropriate. A 2014 study found that the Premier League and Bundesliga teams are strong ugly relationship with goals; that is, the more you walk the ball, the smaller your shot will be. Other, more recent, crosses have seen, on average, lead to goals between 1% and 3% of the time. Even if you look at goals that come after the cross but not directly from them, the goal percentage does not increase significantly.

The average shot from outside the penalty area was converted 5.1% of the time in the Premier League last season, and that doesn’t count rebounds or other goals. that came after the shot but it didn’t come directly from him. So, if you replace the standard cross with a “bad shot,” you are greatly increasing your chances of scoring.

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Arteta’s current team – and Rudd’s former team – have been heavily underrepresented. In 2019-20, they had 14.2 open play crosses per 90 minutes and 14.9% of their final thirds were crosses. The following year, those numbers dropped to 11.2% and 12.5%. And this season, they have decreased to 9.7% and 10%. Now, their score-per-game has gone in the opposite direction: from 1.6 to 1.8 to 2.5.

Of course, not every cross is wrong; you’ve seen De Bruyne or Alexander-Arnold kicking a football. The game shifts more and more from empty crosses, poor crosses from wide area against set defenders, focusing on cuts and low crosses from close to the byline , or the first balls behind a high back line. As the game has become global and local leagues have fed and strengthened each other, most of the current wings are playing on the “wrong” side, which means they should cut in and leave traditional areas.

In addition to this, companies are increasingly relying on the right and/or traditional No. Therefore, there are few players who can really move the ball and few players have great skill at the end of the game. and.

However, this visit was better. It’s still early in the season, but 22.5% of open-game crosses have been completed this season – a full two percentage points ahead of the previous high, from 2008-09. If everyone didn’t rely too often on crosses in the final third, then the only players allowed to pass the ball without being checked by their manager were those especially. Maybe, without knowing the goal, they just go for the ball when they see an easy lane and an open teammate. And maybe, one day, if the trend continues in the same way the smaller the cross, the more difficult the attacking game will be, and the smaller defenders will be faster to stop him, We see someone bring back the 2009 ball to make it possible. use all players who do not know how to defend crosses.

“Football is very different from baseball [and other sports]”There’s always been these innovations and revolutions led by academics,” Rudd said. “So much of that is really changing.


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