Saturday 20 July 2013

Crosses As A Retrieval Tactic.

As a continuation of the posts based around how a side's attacking tendencies change depending upon the current state of the match, here's a short post on crossing frequency. As in previous posts, game state is measured by referencing the initial expectation of the side going into the match against the reality of the ebb and flow of the contest. Therefore, an inferior side that loses by the only score in the final moments will have been more than happy with the state of the contest for the majority of the 90 minutes, if somewhat disgruntled by the final cruel twist. Roughly opposite the emotions and satisfaction experienced by their victorious opponents.

Geoff Cameron acquaints himself with the art of crossing.
Open field crossing is often seen as a desperate, last refuge of the less skilled sides, who lack the required technique to unlock defenses. The reluctance of such teams as Barcelona to throw the ball into the mixer, even in times of greatest need is perhaps indicative of a lack of the correct type of players to exploit an often aerial route, but also a belief that continuing with a ground based, passing approach provides superior longterm rewards.

To see if the Premiership from 2011/12 shared that strategic outlook or succumbed to the temptation of quick, easy, but low grade opportunities, I plotted their expectation corrected game state over individual home matches during 2011/12 against their crossing frequency.

A game state value of around 1 indicates that the match panned out close to pre game expectations. Blackburn may have won as narrow favourites, but they didn't romp away with the victory. The nearer we get to zero the worse the reality matched early morning hopes and the more likely Blackburn were to move to a more offensive approach. The home defeat by Newcastle, for instance, where the visitors took an unchallenged lead after 12 minutes and Blackburn fired in an above average 20 crosses in a bid to retrieve the scoreline. The line of best fit predicts just over a quarter of that total in games they dominated, denoted by a game state score of around 2.

If Blackburn's reliance on crosses as a means to reverse their fortunes is hardly as surprise, the extent to which it was practiced by home sides over the 2011/12 season may be. Despite a broad cross section of managerial and playing talent, virtually every side increasing called upon the cross as a key ingredient when they found themselves under performing in matches.

The David Moyes led Everton demonstrated an even tighter correlation of cross frequency and game state, shunning the tactic when comfortable, but following Blackburn's lead when struggling. His current side Manchester United also followed suit, although with less fanaticism. Only Bolton, Wigan (managed by Moyes' successor at Everton) and possibly predictably Arsenal, showed no real tendency to cross more when performing disappointingly. A strong positive increase in the proportion of final third passes for the Gunners in games where they consistently experienced poor game states hints at their preferred mode of retrieval.

The general case in 2011/12 saw a side increase their open play crossing by around 60% as they went from games they comfortably won to games that they struggled badly to turn around, although as Blackburn and Everton demonstrate, there were team variations within the strong trend.

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