Carlo Morosi provides an in-depth analysis of throw-ins, exploring whether teams from across Europe are maximising their potential impact in attacking scenarios.
There is significant importance placed on attacking set pieces in elite football. On average, 32.4% of all goals per season (over the past five Premier League seasons) are scored from set pieces. Despite this, goals from another dead ball scenario, throw-ins, account for only 0.4% of goals scored. This had led us to ask the question: Can more be done from these situations?
In Premier League matches from the past five years, 888 attempts on goal have been directly generated from throw-ins. How are certain teams maximising these opportunities?
For this analysis we have reviewed data from five major European leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Premier League and Serie A), exploring whether certain leagues or clubs have been more successful in creating scoring opportunities from throw-ins.
The 4,444 throw-ins analysed have all directly generated a chance from the resulting pattern of play (think of Raul’s finish from the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen as an example).
Creating chances from throw-ins
* p <0.01 significant difference with all the other competitions
** p <0.01 significant difference with Ligue 1 and Serie A
*** p <0.01 significant difference with Serie A
§ p <0.01 significant difference with Serie A
La Liga teams are the front runners in regards to creating chances from throw-ins, with teams generating nearly twice the number of chances compared to Premier League teams in the same period.
Serie A teams are creating fewer attempts on average than the other leagues, which makes Napoli’s success from these situations all the more interesting, but that is something we will explore in further detail later in this blog (see Table 6).
Scoring goals from throw-ins
* p <0.01 significant difference with Ligue 1, Premier League and Serie A
** p <0.01 significant difference with Ligue 1 and Serie A
Premier League teams are creating 49.1% fewer chances than teams from Spain, and are scoring 55.9% fewer goals from these situations. There is a similar scenario in the Bundesliga, where teams are creating 37.8% fewer chances, and have scored 35.6% fewer goals.
To showcase the differences between the five leagues, we can look beyond averages and view the total number of goals and attempts, shown in Table 3.
With only 347 attempts from throw-ins in Serie A compared to 1626 in La Liga, there are indications of major differences in playing styles in regards to how these dead-ball situations are approached across the two leagues.
Italian clubs may be set up in a way to effectively defend quick throw-ins, and as a result cut off a chance before it’s even been created. Teams may not commit as many players forward, therefore reducing the chances of being hit on the counter-attack.
Famed for their throw-ins since joining the Premier League in 2008, Stoke City sit comfortably at the top of Table 4. Having created over twice as many chances as second-placed Bolton, Rory Delap’s unique skill was clearly a major feature of Tony Pulis’ attacking approach during his time as Stoke manager.
*with at least 13 attempts
Attempts and goals from throw-ins: Europe
Of the five leagues analysed, Stoke have created the most chances from throw-ins over the past five seasons. Alongside Stoke, we can see that other teams also placed similar importance on throw-ins: Levante scored 15 goals from 99 attempts, while fellow La Liga side Getafe scored 13 times from their 112 attempts. Another Spanish side, Osasuna, are also notable from their 150 attempts, the second highest in the table.
Also featuring on this list is Barcelona. Despite generating only 23 attempts over the past five seasons, they have still managed to score nine goals from these situations, only six lower than Stoke, who created 162 chances over the same period. We analyse Barcelona's approach to throw-ins in further detail later in this article.
The inclusion of teams such as Barcelona, Atlético, Stoke and Levante suggest that different approaches to throw-ins can still be an effective attacking outlet, whether it is through a more direct approach or isolating players against a single opponent.
To understand in further detail how beneficial throw-ins have been for teams, we can look at team efficiency from these situations.
* Teams that have created at least 10 attempts
Table 6 suggests that it is teams who are attempting to score less frequently from throw-ins are more efficient from these situations. Stoke, Levante, Getafe and Osasuna generated the highest number of chances from throw-ins, but none feature in Table 6. Their high-volume approach differs significantly to the teams who occupy the higher positions in their respective league tables, who have created fewer opportunities but are converting them more efficiently.
We will now take a closer look at Barcelona and Napoli, two sides competing for titles who both feature in Table 6.
From these three examples, we can see that their fast-paced movement and intricate passing has helped generate these chances. They have tended to shoot from more favourable positions in these examples, which may be a consequence of the club’s wider approach to shooting from particularly dangerous areas.
Using Opta’s goal build-up graphics, we can analyse some goals scored by Barcelona in these situations.
(Open the image in a new tab to expand)
Despite the low numbers of Serie A in Tables 1,2 and 3, Napoli’s four goals from 17 attempts rank them as one of the most efficient teams in Europe in this department.
Napoli have used a different approach to Barcelona in generating their scoring opportunities. For two of these three goals, they attack their opponents with a fast and long throw-in into the space behind the defensive line. When the play starts, the striker is already running beyond the last defender, utilising the fact that they cannot be caught offside. Rafa Benitez has found an effective partnership in this situation between Faouzi Ghoulam and Gonzalo Higuaín.
Future Analysis and applications
While this article provides a starting block to analyse the effectiveness of throw-ins, future analysis could help understand the higher quality chances that throw-ins create, and whether a particular pattern of play frequently results in a chance to score, whether it’s a quick throw-in down the line or a near post flick-on.
Further analysis could explore whether certain managers adopt a specific approach to attacking throw-ins. Are managers paying particular attention to their effectiveness and how can this be countered?
As a dead ball scenario, throw-ins are situations that can be rehearsed in training. Tactics and approaches can be agreed in many situations, such as players knowing their movements and positioning when taking a quick throw.
While corners and free-kicks are now commonly considered a potential scoring opportunity, teams are also preparing for these situations from a defensive stance. Throw-ins can still offer an opportunity to generate a scoring opportunity that can surprise an unprepared opponent.