Who is really the best? Part 2: Long ball control

Long CrossContinuing in our series of using our data to determine which players are the best in specific fields, we will now look at Long Ball Control (LBC). This post will look at players in the Premier League during last season (2012/2013) and their control of the long ball. There are a number of factors that need to be looked at. Amongst those include looking at which teams were involved in the most long ball control actions over the course of the season. When the long ball is sent forward, who is it directed at? Once the ball has been sent forward, who gets to it first – the attacker or defender? Finally, and perhaps more importantly, who has the highest positive outcome percentage. In order for us to analyze the stats effectively, we only looked at players who were involved in the controlling of a long ball on more than 100 occasions.

Unsurprisingly, the team that was involved in the long ball the most was Stoke City. They averaged 40.2 LBC actions per game last season and were well known for being a long ball team. West Ham was close behind them with an average of 32.5 LBC’s per game with Reading in third with 30.5. Norwich and Sunderland make up the rest of the top 5. Interestingly, Liverpool ranked last in this category with only 11.6 LBC’s per game. Manchester United were just above them on 12.3.

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As you would expect, Peter Crouch was involved in 42.75% of Stoke City’s LBC. This was in fact almost double that of Jonathan Walters who was only involved in 24.44%. Again, unsurprisingly, Andy Carroll was heavily involved when it came to West Ham. His Long Ball Control’s accounted for 38.42% of the team’s 1236 LBC. It is also interesting to note that Christian Benteke leads the table when it comes to the overall percentage of the player’s respective team’s LBC. He was involved in 62.29% of Aston Villa’s LBC. Olivier Giroud was second in this list with 53.93% of Arsenal’s LBC involved the Frenchman. Ricki Lambert closes out the top three with 49.95% of Southampton’s LBC.

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It goes without saying that in order to have a positive outcome from LBC, you need to get to the ball first. Again, unsurprisingly, Peter Crouch topped this category, reaching the ball first 73% of the time. Marouane Fellaini, then of Everton, got there first on 64% of the occasion. Getting there first in 61% of the time was Andy Carroll, Kenwyne Jones and Christian Benteke.

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Now it is not just about getting to the ball first; it is also about what happens after that initial contact. Should the player retain possession of the ball or pass it to a teammate, then that is classified as a positive outcome. Should the ball land up with the opposition, then it is a negative outcome. The player with the highest positive outcome percentage is not Peter Crouch but in fact Marouane Fellaini. Having reached the ball first on 230 occasions, he achieved a positive outcome 37% of the time. Crouch is second with a total of 34% and Andy Carroll is in third on 31%.

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It would seem that would be that in this category but the one flaw in relying on data like this is that it does not take into account the quality of the positive outcome. For example, let’s say Asmir Begović kicks a long ball towards Peter Crouch who is standing on the edge of the opposition 18-yard box. He manages to jump higher than his marker and gets to the ball first but can only direct the ball back to Ryan Shawcross who is standing on the edge of the Stoke City penalty area. So whilst Crouch will be credited with the LBC, getting to the ball first and having a positive outcome, his involvement, however, did not improve his team’s position on the field and it certainly did not lead to a chance on goal. Thus, using our data, we were able to determine whose actions actually improved their team’s position on the field.

Once again, Peter Crouch comes out tops in this all important category. Following his LBC, Stoke City advanced their position on the field 52% of the time. Second in this category was Crouch’s strike partner, Kenwyne Jones who helped his team in 49% of his LBC actions. Andy Carroll was third with 47% and Marouane Fellaini finished in fourth place with 46%.

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It would seem, from what we have seen that sometimes being a particularly tall player will dictate the style of play employed by the team as well as aiding in reaching a long ball ahead of the defender. What it does not ensure is that there will be positive outcome from the LBC. This still remains with the skills of the specific player and in this case Peter Crouch comes out top. Not only did he get to the ball first but his actions helped his team more than any other player in this category.

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