Every single coach, player, manager and team has a different philosophy and different strengths to play to. Many will question the title’s integrity as they will say, ‘well if you don’t shoot you don’t score’ and ‘you don’t score from crossing’. To a certain extent this is true but it is all about the players you have around you and being aware of the strengths individually and collectively.
Barcelona is a perfect example of whether it is better to shoot or cross. Barcelona is arguably the best team in football right now (well let’s just asume) and has assembled one of the best sides in the game. They are known for playing football the right way with their pass and move approach and their high work rate to win the ball back higher up the pitch. They are an extremely small team so why would their manager, Gerardo Martino encourage them to cross the ball from out wide when all their attacking players are less than 6’0 tall? Although Martino’s style has drastically changed to that of Pep’s Barcelona, the Catalan club’s swift pass and move style has stuck to them.
In contrast you can look at a team like Stoke City who are known for their aerial ball game because of the amount of physical and tall players they have in their side. In Peter Crouch, you have one of the tallest professional footballers at 6’8. If he is 30 yards from goal would you encourage him to have a long range go at goal or get the ball out to a wide man and dart into the box for the cross? Every team has their own philosophy and it will always be playing to their strengths.
A recent statistic taken from a few of the previous seasons from the English Premier League show that 23% of the goals were scored from crosses, either from set pieces or open play. Football can be quite a mathematical game and can always be measured down by angles. If you’ve got a free kick in a central position 30 yards from goal and you’ve got a clear line of fire then the goalkeeper will find it hard to save if you can hit a corner. However, if you’re in a wide position, the angles are narrowed down and make it a lot easier for the goalkeeper to save if you decide to shoot. This is why crossing from set pieces can be so effective.
It has been calculated that an extra 0.57 goals would be scored per game in the English Premier League game if crossing was reduced and teams took a more direct approach at goal. This is an inaccurate statistic however as it purely looks at the goals to crossing ratio. It doesn’t take into account that the cross was a good one but it was just a poor piece of finishing at the end of it.
A quick look at the 2011/2012 English Premier League season shows us that Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United both scored 18 goals from set pieces. Both have different reasons to why they were successful in scoring so many goals from crosses. Blackburn Rovers are a very big physical team; the chances are that if you put the ball in the box, they are more than likely to come out on top of a 50/50 aerial challenge. Manchester United has the ability in abundance and has world class players to put crosses in the perfect position which will give the strikers every chance of scoring.
Crossing from open play is a much harder task as there will be different factors to consider. From a set piece the defenders have to be at least 10 yards from you before the ball is kicked. In open play, there are no rules or regulations in place and you could be put under enormous pressure trying to get a cross into the box which will sufficiently alter the quality of the cross. Only 1 cross in 4.87 crosses is an accurate one and only 1 cross in 91.47 leads to a goal.
It is a very interesting statistic but you will still see many managers barking orders at their wingers to get past their defender and whip a cross in. The main reason is because if the cross is one of them 4.87 accurate ones, it will result in an opportunity being created. The cross created might not necessarily be scored from directly but unless the defenders have the ability to clear the ball to safety then the danger is never cleared. The defenders could simply clear the cross to the edge of the box for an oncoming midfielder to shoot into the net so this is why crossing from open play is encouraged by some managers.
Is shooting better than crossing? For some teams yes, for others no! Every team plays to their strengths and you can analyze all the data in football but one piece of magic will create a goal, whether it’s from a shot or a cross.