Free-kicking our way to victory?

Quick trivia question: who’s the leading free-kick goal scoring team in the EPL?

Give up? Wigan.

Buried in a thread in FOF about substitutions was TonyGilroy’s observation that free kick goals are down this year. Well, he’s correct. According to the treasure trove, there have been just 19 free kick goals have been scored so far this season. Last year there were 29. Two years ago, 31.

Proportionally, free kick goals are only accounting for 2.628% of the total goals scored (723). If were to apply a similar ratio to see the season through, that number would only increase to about 27 (on average each team has played 26.3 games). Last year the final proportion was 2.754%, two years ago it was 3.291%.

Oh look, here are some pie charts to spruce things up!

Conversely, headers are going up. So far this season there have been 142 (or about 20% of the total). Using the same ratio, we’re (the EPl, not Fulham) on pace for 209. Last year there was 190 (18%). Two years ago, 156 (17%). With each team having about 12-13 games left, that number can easily surpass previous years’ tallies.

Now, delving into FL’s stats shows some shortcoming and discrepancies. First, they don’t go back beyond two seasons so it’s a little hard to show an overall decline.

Second, they count Baird’s free kick goal against Stoke but not Dembele’s goal against Wolves. Was it because someone rolled the ball for Demebele? {Ah well, if someone can recommend somewhere with more thorough archives on this particular state, I will gladly revise this post.}

Anyway, it’s probably no coincidence to see that Fulham have actually struggled mightily in scoring from free kicks since The Great Escape season (while headers have gone up each season: 3, 4, 11). Last year Fulham had 2 goals from free kicks — both from Bobby Zamora, both coincidentally in the month of February and against team’s starting with ‘B’ (Burnley and Brum). Two years ago, Fulham had zero. Three years ago Fulham had… oh, wait, FL doesn’t keep stats that far back.

Well, I definitely remember Bullard scoring at least two, and Hameur Bouazza getting one. Were there others?

Nevertheless since Jimmy’s departure, even if he wasn’t scoring a lot of from the spot, Fulham have not have any feared free-kick taker. And before Jimmy, there was Malbranque (right? Or Boa Morte? I wasn’t around then so feel free to correct).

I think the shift came as a result of Roy leaving his mark on the side. I’m sure he viewed a straight crack at goal, instead of a heading opportunity or playing to a man, as wasted possession.

But even with the overall statistical decline, is having that free kick specialist even necessary nowadays? Here’s some anecdotal stats: In the most recent World Cup, there were 5 goals from free kicks — two of those were from Japan, against Denmark. In Euro 2008, there were 2 free kick goals total. The 2009 Gold Cup has one. Only in last month’s Asian Cup were there more than a handful: 6.

Again, unfortunately I can’t find a site with this information that stretches back beyond a couple of seasons. But on the surface there does some to be a shift away from relying on the old dead ball specialist to get you a goal. So has the decline stemmed from the evolution of goalkeeping, tactics, or the balls simply being awful?

7 thoughts on “Free-kicking our way to victory?

  1. When there’s a penalty in a televised match a graphic comes up showing where the penalty taker has placed his last few penalties. This obviously would be information known to the keeper.

    It would seem probable to me that club coaches have the same information about free kick takers so that the keeper and defenders have a fairly good idea as to their capabilities and preferences thus making it easier to defend.

    There are surprisingly few players who consistently take devastatingly good free kicks. Ronaldo gets a ridiculous amount of swerve and Alex gives the ball an almighty wellie but they are rare exceptions.

    That might explain Chris Baird’s success against Stoke as there would have been no way of guessing what he intended to do. They’d have had prearranged plans for defending Murphy or Duff free kicks but Chris Baird? wtf

    1. That makes a lot of sense. If this indeed is going on, and teams are getting more confident in defending free kicks, I suspect we might see a rise in fouling too.

  2. Malbranque taking our free-kicks and corners always struck me as one of the most brain-dead tactics I’d seen on a football pitch.

    Boa wasn’t much better. We’ve always been rubbish at them, it seems to me. Although I do remember Papa Bouba Diop getting a random one vs Norwich.

    Looking forward to seeing some more of Bobby’s daisy-cutter specials!

  3. In relation to the post below about the Europa League, how amazing was Mladen Petric’s free kick against us in the home tie v Hamburg.

    Probably ranks as one of the greatest free kicks that I have seen live.

  4. Thought you might like to know.. but Brede Hangeland (surely not our one?) is giving evidence on behalf of the PFA at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee tomorrow. Perhaps worth a bit of coverage…

  5. your articles shock me lol ;) I thought penalties are the most goals from! cause the chances are more than 50% ! or maybe have bad experiences! with penalties

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