Is crossing still an effectively used strategy in the Premier League?

“The game has changed!” How many times have you heard, particularly from the ex-pros, this statement? There’s no doubt that some ways and forms of modern day elite football has changed. You only have to look into the life of a professional footballer nowadays, in comparison with a player from 25 years or so ago (their athleticism, their diet, their sports science support, their recovery techniques etc) and that itself should imply a significant difference in the performance of today’s players.

However, it isn’t just the ‘individual’ nature of the game that has changed. Look at the strategical side of things. With the influx of foreign players and managers, what was a very rigid structured, English natured, 4-4-2-loving nation, has now changed into something a lot more flexible and creative.

The days of the ‘winger’ and the ‘No.9’ in particular are not gone, but have in a lot of cases been altered. The very commonly adopted 4-3-3 formation is a prime example, with natural width expected to come mainly from the wide forward players and full backs, and the middle of the front 3 touted as more of a linking player than a direct target.

Because of the innovative tactics and strategies being used by some of today’s managers and coaches, are some of the more traditional footballing strategies going out of the window – like crossing?

Now, it’s not being stated here that no teams cross anymore. The question is; is it a priority for teams and something they still repetitively work on as a main attacking principle on the training field? Or is crossing now an outdated strategy?

This season, teams like Stoke and Norwich have relied on getting the ball in the box to their front men via a more direct ball and by crossing. The players in their armoury, like Holt, Morrison, Crouch and Co. are suited for this type of game but a think round the other clubs doesn’t bring many other old fashioned No.9 types to fruition.

The Premier League has seen the likes of Shearer, Ferdinand, Ferguson, Wright, van Nistlerooy and such, all plying their trade as out and out ‘strikers’, thriving on the direct or crossed ball and scoring an array of headed goals. Nowadays, the lead forward or the ‘no.9’ appears to have taken a different mould. How many of those players are there today, playing as a club’s main striker and flourishing on aerial service like crossing?

With NUFC currently having a short Premier League break, NUFC_Stats looked into the numbers for all top flights sides in search for an answer…

Top scorers currently

Current PL top scorers

The first observation from the top 6 goals scorers currently, is the dominance in right-footed players. Only Robin van Persie has scored more than 3 goals with his left foot, obviously his strongest side. In relation to this article though, is the amount of headers scored. Over the past 10 Premier League season’s, the top scorer has never scored more than 5 headed goals and this season seems to be following a similar trend. Out of 120 goals by these 6 so far this season, only 16 goals have been scored via a header.

Out of the 6 players, how many of them are in the mould of the old fashioned ‘target man’. Demba Ba, used by Newcastle now on the left of a forward 3 and Yakubu at a push?! It seems the best goal-scorers in the league nowadays are the more mobile and creative forwards, the ones occupying the ‘number 10’ role if anything.

Service & scoring

PL goal scoring and service stats

A look at the numbers for some of the more direct methods of scoring this season reveals some very interesting statistics. It is Liverpool who cross the ball the most per game on average in the top flight currently. Quite an odd one considering they don’t play with a ‘real’ right-sided midfielder and that Stewart Downing isn’t a consistent starter.

Having said that, with Andy Carroll up top who does play that no.9 target role, you can appreciate why Liverpool play that way. The problem for Liverpool and that method, is that they have the worst chance conversion rate across the whole division at present.

A look at crossing from the teams that are performing at the top of the division this season shows that there isn’t rally a correlation between being there and producing crosses. Both Man Utd and Chelsea produce significantly more than the average number of crosses per game, but so too do Wolves and Everton.

Playing long balls and scoring from set plays follow a similar suit. Tottenham and Man Utd both advance on the average, where as Man City and Arsenal have the two lowest values.

Top assisters currently

Top 6 PL assisters currently

A look at the origins of the 67 assists by the top 6 Premier League ‘assisters’ thus far gives another definitive insight into the popularity and effectiveness of crossing from high, wide areas.

Only Robin van Persie has produced his highest percentage (albeit joint) of assist from a high, wide crossing position. The other 5 players seem to have preferred assisting from deeper areas, sometimes with a direct ball in, but more often with a threaded ball into a dangerous central area.

Emmanuel Adebayor is the only player to have produced his highest percentage of assists from inside the opposition’s penalty area, where Samir Nasri, David Silva and van Persie again have enjoyed providing service from a deep central position.

So, is crossing an outdated strategy? Well, if you look at the formations used by the top teams in England, you could say yes. The role of the ‘winger’ in most of those 4-3-3 cases has transformed into a more rotational role, where the player starts higher up field (wide forward) but is not expected to stay in the channel for the duration, but instead should work laterally across the pitch and change roles with those near.

This doesn’t suggest that teams aren’t crossing anymore, or that those teams that do cross only play 4-4-2. But, the tactic of using a good ‘byline’ wide player and a target forward don’t appear to be implemented by many teams in the English top flight anymore.

A more flexible ‘Barcelona-type’ model seems to be the approach taken by a lot of clubs now, incorporating a more creative, deeper playing forward and the top scorer standings in the Premier League at present certainly reflect that.

What this doesn’t take into account, is whether the number of crosses on average per game in the division is any different to the older footballing periods as well as the amount of goals scored via volleys and such from wide deliveries.

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57 thoughts on “Is crossing still an effectively used strategy in the Premier League?

  1. Yeah I can’t remember the last time I saw a winger run ala Gillespie and ping in a cross from the corner flag area, not that he always crossed from there but there does seem to more “deep” crossing from teams even like Stoke and Norwich.

    Most wingers these days, if they make it to the byline seem to want to run up it into the penalty area before cutting it back to a player or across goal. Manure do it often enough….

    as for why? Dunno, teams having monsters at the back like Vidic, Kompany, Hangeland, Huth at the same time as the shorter more mobile strikers coming in to fashion?


  2. So what, breaking at pace with sharp passing and colleagues making runs to create space for there team mates is far more entertaining and better to watch, look at our wingers or winger this season, Gutierrez, he has been mostly an auxilary left back, we have still played some decent football, move with the times lads and lasses, neat 1 2 interchanges are more entertaining


  3. I think looking at full backs these days they are faster and more agile than they used to be. Basically wingers but can defend so do a mixture of both. This makes it harder for wingers to beat the FB as he can match him for speed and agility. The general fitness is much higher now so wingers taking advantage of tired FB’s no longer happens as much as it did.

    The game is also more tactical and a flexible flowing system find space and holes in teams which play 442. Remember Fulham away? 1st half playing more of a 433 and then went to 442 and our holes opend up!


  4. It would be interesting to see some stats on Newcastle comparing our 433 vs 442. Long balls, crosses, chance conversion etc…. I think the stats would be more ‘attractive’. Maybe not though?


  5. I think that there can be no arguement we play far more attractive football and look a far more offensive unit playing our new 4-3-3 system.
    But that it because our wide men were asked to do alot of defending in the 4-4-2 set up as the stats showed and very few crosses were made.
    I do still believe that have players in your squad such as Matt Jarvis at Wolves who can get the ball into the box is a good weapon to have as not every team set up the same and European games were they are over 2 legs may be worth having options like an accomplished 4-4-2 set up for difficult away games.


  6. Plus its only really with the drop in form of Drogba in the last two years that Chelsea have stopped crossing….they’ve essentially played 4-3-3 for ages now and Drogba used to score plenty of headers….or at least he seemed too, I’ve not got any stats 😉


  7. Good read statto, I think there is a few main reasons in that the defenders tend to cut them out, and not many play as you say with a No9 type player that would mostly feed of the crosses.
    I do think the type of play we play now is more exciting anyway.


  8. Off topic – read about Cisse making a home visit to a pair of young brothers who sent him a welcome to Newcastle card when he first came. He took them a load of signed gear, had a kick around with them and let them sit in his Aston Martin. I think it was an article in the Mirror. Firstly, what a top top bloke for doing that, and secondly, well done to the paper for printing the story and showing Newcastle in a positive light for a change.


  9. Sorry for posting off topic.

    Is anyone going to Wigan next saturday.
    Is there a fancy dress theme?


  10. Hmm. Watching Barca now, and considering many of the top teams atm, it could be argued that it’s more important for the full backs to be decent crossers than the wingers, certainly I could probably name more full backs that cross a lot or get to the byline.
    What do you reckon?


  11. I think it’s a number of things to be honest. Without doubt the whole “beating a man and whipping in a cross” has become unfashionable. Look at what teams do it these days. Norwich? Stoke?

    Says a lot doesn’t it?

    Then again, as Stuart says, if you have someone like Andy Carroll or Peter Crouch or Grant Holt in your side then it makes sense to do it.

    Then there is the full back argument, which then leans into the winger argument. Jonas Gutierrez is a fine example of a modern wide player as he can support in attack and help out in defence. The full-backs are often more attacking these days so the winger and full-backs have essentially the same job, they work in tandem.

    The bottom line though, as I said earlier, is that it’s all about playing to personnel. If you have the players then crossing can be great, but if not it’s just a waste of possession.

    On a plus note, Mother and Baby could be coming home tomorrow 🙂


  12. Oh yeah congrats toonsy!

    Yeah like watching Barca, and thinking about teams like Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, it’s the full backs that do a lot of the crossing from the wing, whilst the wingers cut in a lot. Only exception I can really think of is Valencia.


  13. Howay man Barca – Drogba is really getting on my nerves with his acting and diving – he needs booking


  14. Drogba is Drogba. In the same way Barca have pissed the possession, it was also obvious that he’d be diving around like a smackhead looking for pennies down a drain!

    Still, he’s gone in the summer 🙂


  15. Congrats Toonsy, make it a wild one tonight eh 😛

    Deb-Agreed. Don’t get me wrong, watching “el classico” can be a damn borefest will all the diving and play acting, but Drogba tonight has been woeful. Even the Barca players are embarrassed by him. 🙄


  16. Newkie – Aye, party at mine 😆

    Not concerned about Chelsea scraping a win the neet. They’ll get hoofed at Nou Camp 🙂


  17. Toonsy 😀

    Yeah hopefully Barca will slaughter them, but its always a worry. If Chelsea just defend for their lives and maybe nick one like they did today, Barca need to score three 👿


  18. Deb – They are fine. It’s a proper mad feeling 🙂

    Just hope they get the go ahead to come home tomorrow so I don’t miss the footie on Saturday 😉


  19. LOL you just wait – make sure you have sky plus so you can record the action you will need it ….


  20. Richie…& Chelsea put 10 men behind the ball & let barca have possession just like us against Swansea. No doubt that is down to de matteo’s genius just like pardews


  21. Toonsy glad to hear they might get home tomorrow, funny enough we were up to see my Nephews wee lad tonight 😀 im just glad my lass is to old for cubs now because I think we both got a bit broody 😆


  22. Hi Rich not yet. I sent an email to Niall so hopefully will hear back. My husband was a Palace fan (he’s from Souf Landon) and when he was a lad that was the first game he ever saw Newcastle play. One of his best mates dad’s was a geordie and he said they used to take the mickey out of each other all the time about the dad supporting this crap geordie team. Needless to say we met and he’s been converted to the Toon ever since although how I don’t know after me introducing him to the Toon in th early 80’s 😯


  23. Toonsy – Congrats mate

    Enjoy the last few full nights sleep you get now though buddy 😯
    Bet you can’t put the little man down, hope he’s got his toon babygrow already 😉


  24. Deb…if Niall doesn’t know then the “Back Page” in Newcastle probably will, they may even have a prog from it.


  25. Yeah thanks Rich will try them next if he can’t help.
    Big Dave – daughter back at Newcastle Uni after being home for Easter Hols. She loves it up there and I’m dead jealous. She’s in Halls in Castle Leazes just round the corner from the ground. Not quite sure where i went wrong in my parenting skills as despite my best efforts she is much more a rugby than footie fan. She will come with me to the match and will watch on telly and knows whats going on, but Rugby is her true love. Just been sorting out her student house for next year – these landlords are right robbing barstewards. How’s your daughter doing?


  26. Deb your right about the Landlords I dread to think how much my Daughter paid for sub standard housing 👿 or rather we paid 😕
    As for the Daughter she got a managers job with a womens clothing chain and she loves it, but still wants to teach but just no teaching jobs over here.


  27. Cisse would have had a hat-trick tonight. That’s what they get for having second-rate forwards like Sanchez, Messi, Pedro 😉


  28. Chelsea were lucky as took but I’d def take that if it was the toon, can’t see barca not scoring at home but you never know – still reckon we’ll beat em in a couple of weeks – they are pretty much shite


  29. anyway my solution ti the stadium naming rights is to name it for nowt for a charity – theres loads of good causes to choose from and they would get kudos for it
    sports direct arena sucks like my granny with her teeth out


  30. Looks like I’m chatting to myself – bit like when i put my foot down with the wife and kids at home….toonsy you have a lot to learn 🙂


  31. Told you all chelsea is the only english team in UCL capable of defending well against barcelona.

    I see them in final. 😉

    But they cant win the final. 😳


  32. AoD….can’t see them in the final, but agree if they do they won’t win, Los Blancos will win it :mrgreen:


  33. The more cup commitments Chelsea have can only be good for us league position wise, didnt see the game last night but they have one of the older squads in the league so hopefully they will be strapped when we go down there and give them some payback for their ” Mike Dean ” assisted win at our place.


  34. Robert….they basically did what we did to Swansea :mrgreen:
    Drogba was diving around like a fecker, but the whole Barca team would have been doing that if they’d been 1 nowt up 👿


  35. Ice…Real Madrid’s ganna win 😉 …although they’re usually shite in head to heads v Barca, usually depends on who can dive and roll around the best 👿


  36. Is actually basically on what type of players and what style of play u intend to play against barcelona.

    Just see arsenal,man utd trying to play stylish football,and outpassing barcelona,end result always lost. 🙄

    There is no need to talk barcelona,just see how athletic bilbao literally outplay man utd the whole two legs. 😆

    Chelsea has that kind of grit,determination and strong tacklers in mid to defend and attack barcelona. 😈

    I do hope they go final and not barcelona simply because i hated barcelona antics ways of earning fouls and play acting. Drogba was pissing themself by doing the same thing they always does. :mrgreen:

    But Yes,Real Madrid if do go final will find chelsea easy to beat,simply because Real Madrid is just Pure class goal scorer there.And that chelsea doesn’t want to defend in final. 😉


  37. RICHIE unless ime wrong it makes it a bit harder for barca dont they play them the week-end before chelsea game?


  38. mean play Madrid in the league?….that’s this weekend 😕
    That said, I wouldn’t rule Bayern out of it just yet.


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