INSPIRATION | CONFIDENCE | SUCCESS

Finishing Touches

During the UK’s first lockdown, in the spring of 2020, myself and the FA’s game insights analysts, Matthew Ramsbotham and Simon Houston, conducted a study on goals scored in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL).

The data, from the curtailed 2019-20 season, was collected to provide objective insight into current trends at the top level of the women’s game in England.

This inspired discussion among coaches on the realism and relevance of their finishing practices.

The purpose of this article is to share this game insight further and provoke thought from coaches on how the data can be interpreted in their own context.

Due to the 2019-20 WSL season being cut short, we managed to review 87 matches, in which 259 goals were scored – 72% of these were from open play, and this article will refer to the data on those in particular.

One warning before reading on – data can be heavily influenced by dominant teams. For example, winners Chelsea (47) and second- placed Manchester City (39) account for 33 per cent of the 259 goals analysed.

And when studying the figures in this article, always keep in mind how they can be related back to your players and their current level of competition.

 

THEME 1 — DEMANDS OF THE GAME: ‘FINISHING CONTEXT’

The study started by unpicking the significance of goals on the final score.

We discovered there was a 73% win rate when scoring first – and, of these first goals, 82% occurred in the first half. Unpicking this further, 46% of those first goals were scored in the first 15 minutes of matches.

Looking at only open-play goals, 85% came from inside the 18-yard box, with 15% from outside the area. This resulted in varying amounts of pressure exerted on to the goalscorer prior to the shot being taken.

We discovered that 50% of goals were scored under ‘direct’ pressure (a defending player within one metre of the shot and therefore close enough to challenge, dispossess or influence the shooting player).

A further 32% were scored under ‘indirect’ pressure (defending player not close enough to challenge or dispossess but able to block or close down the space or shot) and 18% of goals were scored under ‘no pressure’ or ‘unopposed’.

With most shots that result in goals taken under some kind of pressure (82%), as coaches it is important for us to understand why and when we would add such pressure to practice and the benefits of sometimes taking it away.

As well as pressure exerted onto the attacker, we also thought it was important to unpick some other out-of-possession influences on the goalscorer at the time of the shot being released.

One of these was something we refer to as ‘shot packing’. This is the number of defending players, not including the goalkeeper, between the ball and the goal at the time of the shot.

 

The image, above, shows 51% of goals were scored with one or more defending players in the way.

The other was how many defenders and attackers are in the penalty area when goals are scored from there. We found there were, on average, four defenders and 2.5 attackers in the box when a goal is scored from open play, an average defensive overload of 1.5 players.

How might you represent pressure, shot packing and overloads within your practices?

 

THEME 2 — CREATING OPPORTUNITIES: ‘KEY ACTIONS AND ASSISTS’

We know from our understanding of styles of play, systems and strategies that each team will vary how they go about creating goalscoring opportunities.

We were curious to see not only how specific teams in the WSL went about it, but what the most common way of creating chances was across the division.

A small area of the pitch in particular – the six-yard box and the invisible ‘second’ six- yard box beyond it – accounted for 58% of the goals scored.

Furthermore, 82% of open-play goals featured an assist and therefore relied on team-mates having a shared understanding of the target areas of the pitch, with 16% occurring directly from regains and not needing support from others.

Coaches may want to ask themselves:

  • Do we have a ‘shared understanding’ across our team of the areas in which we would like to exploit?
  • How often do we practice solo finishing practices (no assist, individual run to finish) and how might the psychological requirements differ to that of an assisted goal?

The study then focused on the key actions that led to teams getting the ball into both the assist location and finish location.

We noted up to 10 of these key actions, which we defined as actions within the build-up, which had a significant impact on the goal being scored.

We categorised the key action types into the following areas:

Regain: winning possession back from a defence to attack transition

Individual run: three touches or more in succession that progressed play up the pitch

Pass through: a pass between two opponents in the back line, below head height

Cross (5 types): whipped, stood up, driven, passed across, cut back

Others (3): pass beyond, pass into and 1-2 combination. These were not as significant.

You will see the figures in the graphic on common key actions (left) does not add up to 100%. This is because goals can feature one key action multiple times, or a number of different key actions.

Some key questions from this that you might want to consider are:

  • How does your team create goal scoring opportunities? What is your most common assist and from what location?
  • How do your finishing practices incorporate assists from the variation of locations?
  • What key actions prior to the finish do your finishing practices usually allow for?

 

THEME 3 — FINISHING TECHNIQUE: ‘TOUCH, TYPE, TARGET’

Our third area of focus was the specific measurable technical elements at the time of the shot and/or goal.

After discovering the overall headline goal figures – 57% from the right foot, 26% from the left and 16% from headers – we wanted to break this down further into the number of touches prior, the type of finish and on what area of the pitch, and the zone in which the ball enters the goal.

It was important to triangulate these findings to ensure that factors were not looked at in isolation and could provide some clear finishing principles that might support coaches to find solutions.

TOUCHES: First-time finishes accounted for 55% of the goals analysed. This also seemed to correlate to a specific area of the pitch in which first-time finishes seemed to be successful. Coaching question: How might your practices allow for repetition of techniques from realistic pitch locations, also considering the external factors from theme 1?

 

FINISH TYPE: Studying the 187 open-play goals, and touches taken prior to shooting, we aimed to correlate this with the type of finish.

A strike with the laces was the most common (35%), ahead of the instep (31%). Most of the others came from volleys (14%) and headers (12%), with the remaining 8% from chipped or whipped shots, or a touch off an unusual body part, such as the chest.

If you start to overlap the graphic (left) with that of the one above, on where first-time finishes occur, you can start to see some correlation between touch, location and technique chosen.

One observation is that the instep technique does not occur outside the 18-yard box. This could be down to the lack of power generated by utilising the this technique, therefore suiting situations where less power and more precision is needed.

Coaches may ponder how they can use this data to support out- of-possession work around the box, and in particular increasing their goalkeepers’ awareness of finish types and trends.

 

TARGET (GOAL ZONE): Thirdly, we looked at where in the goal the ball enters.

Bottom left (25%) and bottom right (20%) accounted for 45% of goals scored.

Overlaying the type and location of the finish, you can then start to pose questions around what physical requirements are needed for a player to, say, finish first-time, into the bottom left corner, using a strike technique from inside the box.

There are then further questions – is bottom-left the striker’s near post or far post? How fast is the assisting ball travelling, and from what direction? What is the striker’s current body orientation in relation to the goal and the ball?

Data provides a fantastic understanding of what successful finishes have looked like across a season, but it only takes you so far. Therefore, the above questions may need further interrogation from you and your players to turn technique into a skill.

Improving a player’s capabilities can help enhance the possibilities available when finishing, but it is also important to understand the development of such skills is progressive and cumulative, and needs to be refined in line with each individual’s capabilities, and the growing complexity of the game.

Finally, you might consider how to use the data in this piece to support players in expanding their finishing capabilities. Also, ask what the demands of the game currently look like for your players within the ‘finishing the attack’ phase and how you might continue to add to your players’ strengths and support their areas of development.

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