This week we take a closer look at the art of the shot and identify what makes efforts on goal by the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City stand out.
Thinking outside the box
The term “an attempt on goal from outside the penalty area” can be infuriatingly vague. Clearly, a shot from close to the touchline 35 yards out is very different to one taken centrally from the edge of the box. Thankfully, though, xG stats allow us to calibrate these efforts much more finely.
As we can see, Liverpool, Barcelona, Chelsea and above all Dortmund are taking their out-of-box shots from relatively promising locations, while Southampton are often firing in from hopeless positions.
The shots maps for the latter two teams show us that Southampton are tending to both shoot from outside the box much more often and at greater distances from the goal.
As might be expected, the player who’s been taking his out-of-box shots from the most dangerous positions is part of the Dortmund squad, Paco Alcacer. The Spanish striker, whom BVB signed permanently earlier in November, just edges out the much-maligned Alvaro Morata, while Dortmund captain Marco Reus also makes the top five.
Meanwhile, the man who has been making the least auspicious efforts on goal from outside the area belongs to Dortmund’s arch enemies, Schalke. Perhaps Algerian midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is an eternal optimist, or maybe he just doesn’t really tend to engage his brain before taking shots.
After Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Lazio, AC Milan became the only side in Europe’s major leagues to have achieved a perfect balance between right- and left-footed shots. At present, the Italian club have taken precisely 97 of each.
Of the 98 teams in Europe’s top five leagues, just eight have taken more left-footed shots than right- in the league: Bayer Leverkusen, Lille, Celta Vigo, Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Newcastle United and Burnley.
And this seems to be a valuable trait in broad terms — teams with a very high proportion of left-footed shots are on average two league places higher in their respective tables than sides with a large percentage of right-footed attempts
Broadening the scope to include headers as well, at the moment the average distribution of attempts on goal across those leagues is 32 percent with the left foot, 18 percent headed and 50 percent right-footed.
Moving on to look at players who’ve taken at least 10 shots on goal this season, seven currently have a perfect balance between left- and right-footed efforts, including two from Manchester City: Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus.
When it comes to one-footedness, few can surpass Lyon forward Bertrand Traore, who has managed 27 left-footed shots in Ligue 1 this season without taking even one with his right foot. Two players have outdone him, however. Both Ruben Neves of Wolves and Udinese’s Rodrigo de Paul have made 34 attempts with their right boots but none with their left.
Having a marked preference for one foot isn’t necessarily a significant weakness for a player, though. Lionel Messi has taken 41 more shots with his left foot than his right in La Liga, a total only eclipsed by Lille’s Nicolas Pepe. And Messi’s eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo has shot with his right boot 36 more times than his left, a figure that only Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne (47) and Francois Kamano of Bordeaux (38) have topped.