Shot Selection inside the Penalty Area

Eamonn Brophy courtesy of KFC

Eamonn Brophy courtesy of KFC

written by:  @TheGersReport

Whenever you are looking for entry points for statistical based analysis, it is often useful to think about what you see as being important to winning matches & then finding data that may support that idea.  I've done a lot of work looking at Scoring Chances this season (kicked shots from the heart of the box & headed/kicked shots from within the six yard box) because these are the kinds of shots that win matches.  

  • The Conversion Rate on unblocked Scoring Chances is 28%, on all other shots it is 8%
  • The Shooting Percentage (rate of shots on target that are goals) on Scoring Chances is 47%, on all other shots it is 20%
  • 59% of all non-penalty goals come from Scoring Chances, despite fact that they only account for 30% of the shots

It is imperative to keep Scoring Chances at the forefront of any data based recruitment of attacking players & when it comes to being on the end of these dangerous shots, I began to wonder if I could flag trends of which players were potentially missing opportunities to get shots off in dangerous locations.  

Part of this comes down to shot selection.  For example, some players have visions of grandeur & think they can score wonder goals on demand.  The two forwards who had the biggest reputations of this were Anthony Stokes & Faissal El Bakhtaoui.  Stokes took 29% of his shots outside the box (not including his free kicks), 29% of them were on target & they led to zero goals.  El Bakhtaoui's example is way more extreme.  Of his non-free kick shots, 79% of them came from outside the box (holy shit) & 45% of them were on target (which, to be fair, is a much better than Stokes' rate). 

His Conversion Rate on unblocked shots?   ----------------------->  3%. 


For you pessimists, that means 97% of the time he launched a shot from outside the box...he failed to beat the keeper. 

For the record, both Stokes & El Bakhtaoui scored on 33% of their Scoring Chances. 

I think most people would agree that they don't want their forwards relying on shots from outside the box & would rather see them creating opportunities inside the penalty area. 

But it's not that simple, because shots inside the box are NOT created equal.

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  • Kicked shots from the red shaded area have a Conversion Rate of 31% & a Shooting Percentage of 49%
  • Kicked shots, inside the box but on the edges (non-shaded), have a Conversion Rate of 11% & a Shooting Percentage of 19%
  • Headed shots from heart of the box (but not within six yard box) have a Conversion Rate of 11% & a Sh% of 39%
  • Headed shots from within the six yard box have a Conversion Rate of 27% & a Sh% of 59%

These numbers suggest that there is a real difference between taking a kicked shot from a central area & taking one on the edges.  The average Conversion Rate goes from 31% to 11% based on that shift in shot location.  Additionally, you can see you have a much better chance of scoring off of a headed shot if you get it closer to the goal, which is obvious but still...68% of headed shots are in that central area (not within the six yard box).  That's understandable...whenever a ball is sent into the six yard box it is more likely to be claimed by the keeper & gives the attacking player a more congested area  (usually) to win an aerial dual.  

Plus, how much control does an attacking player have over the location of a headed shot?  They are relying entirely on the service of the ball.  However, players have much more control over where a kicked shot will come from.

Kris Boyd

Kris Boyd

That idea inspired this post: which players are better at getting (kicked) shots from more central (& more dangerous) areas.  They are still not 100% independent of service from teammates, but they are the ones who find space in dangerous areas, make themselves available for a pass in these areas, or carry the ball into a more dangerous shooting location.

Below you'll find a visualization of all the players who had at least 20 shots (kicked) in the penalty area.  Their shot total is broken down to a per 90 average & you also see what percent of those shots came from a central area.

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Remember, this includes all players with at least 20 kicked shots inside the box.  Many of the players here are wide players, like Jordan Jones, Martin Boyle, James Forrest, etc.  Even forwards like Miles Storey spent much of their time attacking from out wide.  These players tend to be entering the box at an angle & are not exactly expected to be getting shots off from a central area.  That fact highlights how effective Scott Sinclair was this season.  Yes, his goals were down - but that's mainly due to a low Shooting Percentage on non-Scoring Chances.  He converted on 28% of his Scoring Chances & 0% of his non-Scoring Chances.  In 2016-17, his Shooting Percentage was 64%, this season it's down to 26% overall...I don't have the shot location data from 2016-17, but it's safe to assume he scored on more than 0% of his shots on target from non-Scoring Chances.  This tangental point is, Sinclair's underlying numbers all suggest he is due for a spike in his goal production next season.  

Back to the visual:

  • Look at that upper right corner. These are the players who get a lot of shots in the box & are getting the vast majority of them from central areas. Oh look, it's all Celtic players (except two of them). One is Florian Kamberi, who is on his way back to Switzerland, the other is Eamonn Brophy. At 5'9", Brophy is not the player you'd think of as being the best at getting shots off in the heart of the box - but if you subtract that Celtic contingent & Kamberi....he is.

  • Brophy averaged 1.90 shots inside the box per 90, the sixth highest rate in the league. Besides the players already referenced - only Alfredo Morelos averaged more (1.95). The difference between the two is that 63% of Brophy's kicked shots came from a central area in the box, while only 47% of Morelos' shots did.

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  • The two had basically identical goal scoring rates this season & both rode higher than average Conversion Rates from shots inside the box, but on the edges. Remember that average rate is 11%, largely due to the fact that it's so hard to beat keepers from this angled shot (average Shooting Percentage of 19%). Both Brophy & Morelos beat the keeper at unreal rates from these angled shots. Either they are beyond elite at their finishing from these angled shots.....or they will see these rates regress to the norm.

  • Also, notice that both players saw lower than average Conversion Rates from kicked shot from the central part of the box. The average rate is 31% (& is 33% for this collection of players), Morelos & particularly, Brophy finished at a much lower rate. It seems simplistic to say, but a lot of that probably came down to luck. Their Shot Accuracy (the rate of unblocked shots that are on target) were both slightly below the average for this group of players, but nothing that would raise any real red flags. Morelos' Shot Accuracy from this location was 58%, Brophy's was 57% & the average for this collection of players was 62%. Red flags would be raised for players like Kyle Lafferty who only managed to get his shot on target 38% of the time from this central area.

  • So should we be worried about Morelos? Ummmm....maybe. The data suggests some bad luck creeped into his game & part of that, like Matt Rhein pointed out, may just come down to a player running low on fumes after playing non-stop football for 17 straight months (his last break was in December of 2016). But, his habit of relying on shots on the edges in the box may be something that needs to be coached out of him given how unsustainable his scoring rate is from there.

I asked our Modern Fitba heat map generator, Dougie Wright, to come up with some heat maps to show what some of this looked like.  The goal of these visuals to give a sense of where a player generates the highest amount of their shots in the box.  The more dense the color of the map, the higher density of shots from this location.


Eamonn Brophy

The highest density of his shots inside the box comes from a central area, most likely from his favored right foot.


Alfredo Morelos

The highest density of his shots come from the left edge, inside the box. But, at the same time given his high volume of shots, he has other areas in the box that were relatively consistent shot locations.


Florian Kamberi

72% of his shots came from a central area & that is reflected here. He had shots on the edges, but not at a high enough volume to create some heat on these visuals. Kamberi averaged 0.58 goals per 90 minutes & when your shots live here...well, that's how that happens.

I wonder if the fact that Morelos spent most of his time as a lone striker, impacted his ability to not go to the edges of the box to get shooting opportunities.  Both Brophy & Kamberi played most of their minutes supporting another striker (Boyd & Maclaren)...did that enhance their abilty to get into more dangerous shot locations?

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  • Some other interesting names from that visual: Alex Schalk is someone I spotlighted back in March, & like Brophy, is an undersized forward (also 5'9") who has a knack for getting in amongst those giant, lumbering center backs to create quality chances. Schalk played for a bad Ross County team that struggled to create Scoring Chances, so even though his shot volume is low...I'm intrigued by the fact that 60% of his shots inside the box came from a central area.

  • You may be wondering about that trio up in the left corner of the visual. Kris Boyd, Connor Sammon, & Stevie May have very high rates of their kicked shots coming from the central area in the box...but also had a low shot volume. When it comes to Boyd, it's largely due to the fact that he was more of an aerial target in the penalty area. Of his total unblocked shots in the box, 52% were headers (compared that to Brophy whose headed shots only accounted for 13%). Conor Sammon just kind of sucks & played for a really bad team. For Stevie May, he really struggled to generate shots for an Aberdeen side that wasn't very good at setting up their forwards with quality chances all season long. Adam Rooney led the team in Scoring Chances, but most of those came from set pieces. Which despite, the dig below, kind of highlighted his value in limited minutes as a weapon on those set pieces...without them Aberdeen's attack kind of faltered.

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  • It should be noted that Aberdeen led the league in set piece goals.

So, how do we use this kind of data in the recruitment process?  Stats provide entry points to further analysis to get a more complete picture of what a player may bring to a team. 

It makes you wonder why two 5'9" forwards are generating a high rate of their shots from within the box from the more dangerous, central area?  Would this kind of info help a manager give more opportunities to similar undersized forwards, or even target them on the transfer market?  Is there something about their size & quickness that is helping them get into better scoring areas?

courtesy of Alan Harvey

courtesy of Alan Harvey

It makes you hone in on a player like Simon Murray, who had an underwhelming goals per 90 rate of 0.28 (that's a Goals Above Average of -0.06), but is getting the right kind of shot, at a pretty good rate.  

It also highlights the fact that, while Celtic have a superior squad when it comes to both depth & talent, their style of play demands a deeper examination.  They had five players average more than 1.5 kicked shots from inside the box per 90, while getting more than 50% of them from a central area.  Only two other players in the entire league matched those rates.

Some notes...

  • Stats used in this post come from my season long tracking of Scottish Premiership data. Next season, Modern Fitba will work off a unified set of stats. I have tracked 99% of the matches from the 2017-18 season, so the data is partially incomplete (but it's literally only 1%).

  • All shot data for this post only includes unblocked shots. I think you can learn a whole lot more about players when you know the actual end result of a shot & blocked shots can skew what we learn about a player's results.

  • Learn more about why I believe Scoring Chances should be at the forefront of any recruitment of attacking players.

  • Also, if you want to learn about why players like Scott Sinclair & Stuart Armstrong suddenly "forgot" how to score goals...

  • I mentioned Goals Above Average when talking about Simon Murray. I first introduced this last summer when looking at Rangers signing of Alfredo Morelos. It helps provide context to goal scoring rates across different leagues & divisions.

  • Remember the data used in this post is predominately looking at kicked shots in the box.

  • I really do think there may be a competitive edge developing from teams who are willing to give undersized forwards a chance to play in support of a second striker. I want to find out who else may be out there...