The significance placed on shooting in football can hardly be missed if you follow the game. Managers encourage their players in training to shoot if the opportunity arises, and the chorus of “shoooooot!” from the crowd during a match can be heard from down the road. Equally pertinent is the frustration should players pass up the chance or fail to manufacture one – a common gripe of supporters after their team has lost a game is that they didn’t test the other team’s goalkeeper. This is all true; in the simplest terms, if you don’t shoot you don’t score, as the opposition (usually) won’t do it for you. The number of shots a team takes usually correlates with the amount of possession, both of which are reflections of dominance. It follows, therefore, that the more shots you take, the more likely you are to score. But to what extent can this rule be applied? There are occurrences where the team with the most shots loses. And these repeat themselves too frequently over the course of a season to be explained as mere chance.
Taking a look at the statistics available for the Premier League, the ‘shots per game’ table certainly supports the “more shots = more goals” hypothesis. Manchester City top this table with an average of 17.5 shots per game, whereas Sunderland are rooted to the bottom with 10.6. Unsurprisingly, City are the league’s highest scorers with 70, and Sunderland joint lowest with 26. The bottom two, however, are striking anomalies. Burnley are in 14th place with a reasonable 11.6 shots per game, and more surprisingly QPR place 5th, above Southampton, Tottenham and Manchester United, shooting for goal an average of 14.4 times per game.
Even splitting the table into home and away performance, QPR continue to place high, climbing to 4th at home and slipping slightly to 8th away (despite their miserable points record). Burnley fall to 17th at home with 12.3 shots per game, but there is a small difference between their home and away performance, with 10.9 per game placing them 11th. Neither of these teams can be described as prolific scorers, so why do they buck this trend? Statistics such as shots on goal, passes, tackles etc. are broad actions in football which encompass a range of sub-statistics. These numbers need to be looked at in more detail in order to gain a fuller understanding of them.
Starting with QPR, their statistic should be looked at in the context of the game’s score i.e. were they winning, losing or drawing? In their 34 Premier League games this season, QPR have conceded the first goal 25 times, with 15 of those coming in the first half. They have not scored the first goal in any of their 21 league defeats. These stats are relevant when considering that QPR may not have as many shots when the game is on a knife’s edge.
In a recent 2-1 home reverse to Everton, BBC Sport reports that QPR had 13 shots (the match statistics section says 14 but if you count the attempts from the live text you get 13) to Everton’s 8. Everton scored the first goal after 18 minutes of the match, at which point QPR had not had a single attempt. They equalised in the 65th minute with their 7th shot, before conceding the decisive goal in the 77th minute. With the score at 1-1, QPR had 2 attempts. After Everton’s second goal, QPR had 4 more shots, meaning 11 of their 13 shots came when they were behind.
This pattern doesn’t restrict itself to home games. Away at Stoke, they almost matched the home team’s shot count, with 14 to Stoke’s 15, but lost the game 3-1. QPR hadn’t had a shot when Stoke opened the scoring in the 21st minute, and only registered their first attempt on goal at 2-0 down (in the 36th minute). The remaining 12 shots all came when QPR were 2-1 down, the period in which they were chasing the game the most, before Stoke scored a decisive 3rd goal in injury time. The research suggests that QPR react to going behind by playing more offensively and therefore having more shots, but struggle to compete when the game is still in the balance.
Finding a game in which QPR hadn’t conceded in the first half was difficult, but in their 2-0 defeat at Swansea, where the Swans broke the deadlock on 78 minutes, the stats indicate that they were outplayed, with 5 shots to Swansea’s 19 and 41% possession. This is despite Swansea being far lower than QPR in the average shots per game table.
Such statistics make sense; if you are losing the game and need a goal, you are naturally going to be more attacking and therefore force more shots and have more possession. Players will start playing further forward and make more forward runs, gambling on the ball falling to them in an attacking area with reduced worries of being caught on the counter. The opposition also has something to protect, so is content to not take many risks, knowing that the losing team will have to use its own initiative to force a way through.
In Everton’s case, they had no further shots after scoring the winner – why would they? They had taken the lead in an important game and QPR had just 13 minutes plus stoppage time to score. Generally speaking, it is easier to set a team up not to concede than to set a team up to score. Even though circumstances therefore dictated that QPR would have more shots, it did not significantly increase their chances of getting a second equaliser. Everton were largely on top when the game was level, and this is reflected in the match stats when broken down.
Another helpful way to analyse this would be to break down the shots per game table into 15-minute periods. In the first 15 minutes of games, QPR place joint 10th (along with 3 other sides) overall, with 1.6 shots, and slip to joint bottom in the away table with just 0.9. Conversely, in the final 30 minutes of games they rise to 2nd place in the overall table, with an average of 6.4 attempts in the 60-90th minutes, with 6.8 and 6.0 at home and away respectively.
The case with Burnley is somewhat different. Even if they are dominated by their opponents, they usually manage a respectable shots tally, even against sides in the upper reaches of the table. In their recent defeat to Southampton, they managed 15 shots on goal (Southampton had 20), which is well above their average of 11.6 per game and their away average of 10.9. Additionally, they registered 10 attempts in the 1-0 win over Manchester City (with 22 shots against) and 9 against Liverpool (20 shots against).
It certainly cannot be said for Burnley that, unlike QPR, they are a side that only manages to attack the opposition when they are chasing the game. They had already managed 3 and 4 shots against Liverpool and Southampton respectively at the time of going behind, which indicates that they aren’t afraid to have a go when the score is even.
Indeed, if you look at the shots per game table for just the first 15 minutes of games, Burnley rank 6th with a total of 1.8 and rise to 3rd in the home table with 2.4. If you break the shots per game table down into 15-minute segments, there is no great difference across the board. The number of shots increases towards the end of the game as they often find themselves behind, but it remains relatively consistent, unlike that of The Hoops, who have a far higher average in the closing stages.
Another thing the research found is that Burnley’s shot tally doesn’t simply accumulate due to their players taking speculative efforts from 30 yards. The stats show that they shoot from distance no more than most other teams. Of their 11.6 shots per game on average, 4.9 come from outside of the box – about 42%, and only 4 teams are shooting less from distance. In percentage terms, their ratio puts them about halfway up the table.
So how is the league position explained? Well, the number of shots the opposition had in the above games should be a clue. If you allow the opposition to mount attacks and break your lines for sustained periods of a game, the chances of conceding increase significantly. Burnley concede the 4th most shots per game in the division at 15.1 – 13.4 at home (3rd) and 17.1 away (4th). This is reflected in their goals against column, as their 52 goals conceded is the 4th worst defensive record in the Premier League. Only Sunderland, QPR and West Ham are shot at more times per game than Burnley, the first two of those currently joining the Clarets in the relegation zone.
Neither Burnley’s goals for nor their goals against column is good enough. Although they manage a reasonable amount of shots per game, the opposition manages more. Burnley this season haven’t been a side that typically plays a defensive game and hopes to nick a win; if they see the opportunity to attack the opposition, they will take it, hence they create a few chances. But if the opposition is superior they are always more likely to have more spells of dominance, and this is reflected in the chances other teams create against Burnley and their total goals conceded. If they were to tighten up to restrict the number of chances for the opposition, the chances they created themselves would also decrease.
There is a positive correlation between the number of shots a team has and the amount of goals they score, and in turn how they perform over the season. It is not an exact science and the capacity for anomalies does exist. There are always reasons for these anomalies and secondary stats are therefore needed to give more weight to the primary stats. In a competitive environment like professional football where differences are often made by fine margins, it is important to delve beyond the primary stats, which are influenced by various game situations and analyse both the context of the numbers and the specific figures found in a detailed breakdown.
These statistics were taken from the websites whoscored.com and BBC Sport.