Catenaccio, gegenpressing, long balls, a tactical battle, a well-oiled machine, getting stuck in, Tuesday Night at Stoke, the high quality football in La Liga, the snoozers in Ligue 1, etc, etc, We’ve all heard the stereotypes about the type of football played in different European regions but what actually shows up in the numbers? Shooting is how goals happen and how points are achieved and that’s where the most substantive differences will be, at the business end.
For readers of StatsBomb and Colin Trainor’s work (here: https://statsbomb.com/2013/08/goal-expectation-and-efficiency/), none of this comes as a surprise. The EPL has the high-intensity game with the most shots, but is incredibly inefficient at converting those shots along with Italy. The Germans are the most efficient with France not getting many shots up.
Shot Distances (estimated measurement from middle of goal-mouth)
This can explain some of our first chart. Italy has such a low shooting percentage because they are launching speculative bombs 20% more often than German or English teams. Long shots go in for goals less than 3% of the time, a rate that is pretty much constant across top leagues. Notice Germany has the fewest long shots. This could go toward explaining why they are so efficient at taking their chances…except the wasteful EPL has a better rate of close shots than even the Bundesliga.
So lets look a little closer at those shots inside 30 feet, where 40% of open play goals are scored.
The number that jumps off the page at you is the shooting percentage for the EPL. Despite getting the most close shots, and a close shot that is significantly closer than others “close” shots, the English players simply can’t convert them. Why not?
Because of the defenders. Shots from inside of 30 feet are blocked by defenders at an insanely high rate in the EPL. A rate over 40% higher than the rest of Europe’s top leagues. This isn’t because of larger amount of headers (or from foot), and shots from both the head and the foot are blocked at extremely high rates. Why is this? I can only guess and hope that others who have more measurements can check or find out. I am guessing that teams defensive lines sit further back in England, meaning there are more shots where defenders are deep inside their own box. The old “getting stuck in” Football Cliché could use this stat as an example of defenders willing to throw their body on the line, but such a huge difference seems unlikely to come down to English defenders more aggressive mindset. Anyone out there with knowledge on this issue, please chip in.
It’s true on midrange shots (between 30 and 90 feet) as well:
The English league blocks almost 150% as many of these type of shots at Ligue 1 does. The two leagues are similar in actually scoring goals that get on target, but in France you are 1.21% more likely to score because there is a much lower chance a defender will get his body in the way. Long shots are blocked more in England as well, but the margin isn’t nearly as large (8-12% more than other leagues).
One explanation I tested was whether England was getting more shots from right down the middle, where defenders are more likely to be packed in. It turned out that was true: England sees 2-5% more of its shots under 90 feet come from an angle of 0-30 degrees (relative to the middle of the goal). However, it did not turn out to be true that significantly more shots from those angles get blocked. From close in, more severe angled shots are actually more likely to be blocked and while middle shots are more likely to be blocked when the shot is a midrange one, the effect is very slight.