Who are the most lethal free kick takers this season?

Firstly, many thanks for joining me for the third and final part of my free kick series (if you missed it, click here to go to part one). In this post I’m going to look across all of the data from a league, team and player perspective. I’m particularly interested to investigate the most lethal free kick takers across all of StrataBet’s competitions this season. I’ll also draw upon my right versus left foot findings to tie together all of the findings.

Given that we’ve had an additional round of games since the time of my last post, I’ve once again extended my search to cover direct free kicks, both scored and not scored, between the 10th of June and 17th of October 2016. This has increased the number of games in my sample to 1771, as well as giving me a total goals count of 152. (I appreciate this is still a small sample overall, but the intention is to revisit this during the season to see how things change).

I first wanted to find out which competition has the greatest free kick conversion rate, out of the 22 we cover in fine detail here at Stratagem. Some of you may find the result surprising, as the Swiss Super League came out on top, with 10 goals from total of 52 attempts, giving a standout conversion rate of 19%. Perhaps less surprisingly the UEFA Champions League was second with a conversion rate of 13% (7 goals from 52 shots), followed by the Norwegian Tippeligaen with 13% (14 goals from 110 shots). Here’s the full order:

freekicks_topleague

I was surprised to find that the “big” leagues, most notably the English Premier League, German Bundesliga 1 and Spanish Primera Division had such a low conversion rate. This could warrant further exploration in a future piece, but for now I was particularly interested to see if there was a particular team that was driving this result.

To ensure that we are dealing with realistic conversion rates per team, I decided to set a minimum number of 10 free kicks taken per team as my cut-off point.

Interestingly, the team with the best free kick conversion rate was United States MLS outfit Colorado Rapids, who have scored 2 goals from 12 attempts for a conversion rate of 17%. Next up is Swedish Allsvenskan side Hammarby, who have converted 2 of their 14 attempts to give them a tidy 14% conversion. The best English side come in at 4th on the list, being none other than my colleague Rich Huggan’s beloved Newcastle United, who in fact have a better conversion rate than the great Barcelona (14% and 13% respectively!). See the graphic below for the full order:

freekicks_topteam

So how about the players themselves? To make sure our sample contains a reasonable amount of free kicks, I set the cut-off of shots taken at 7. Top of the pile is Uruguayan Nicolás Lodeiro, who plays for MLS club Seattle Sounders. He has 2 goals from 8 shots, giving him a conversion rate of 25%. Gareth Bale and Shkëlzen Gashi follow him closely, with 2 goals from 9 shots that gives them both a conversion rate of 22%. It’s important to note here that Gashi’s team is Colorado Rapids, who you should recall top the list of team free kick conversion rates. Here’s the full list of players:

freekicks_topplayers

Now I’d just like to touch on the left versus right footed free kick issue again. The graphic below shows left footed goals (blue o’s) and attempts (blue x’s) as well as right footed goals (yellow o’s) and attempts (yellow x’s). It is relatively clear to see the inverse relation between side of pitch and foot discussed in my previous blogHowever, it’s more notable to highlight that amongst this group of lethal free kick takers, the left footed players have a generally better conversion rate than the right footed players, as you can see from this:

freekicks_topplayers_rightvsleftfoot

So what have we learnt? The smaller leagues seem to have a better conversion rate than the bigger leagues, whilst Shkëlzen Gashi’s strong conversion rate may be pulling Colorado Rapids up the team conversion table. Gareth Bale’s performance at Euro 2016 has certainly helped his ranking, as he overtakes his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo in the player conversion rate table. Finally, of these lethal players it seems that left footed ones still have the better conversion rates.

Do you have any ideas why big teams have such low free kick conversion rates, particularly given that the world’s best players play in them? Could it be that the goalkeepers are better? Or perhaps that defensive walls are set up better to protect the goal? Could it even be something pressure related due to the size of the games played and the media attention on every aspect? Let me know your thoughts by tweeting and commenting…

Until next time!

Sagar Jilka (@DrSagarJilka)

P.S. I have to give a special shout out to the teams who have taken more than 10 free kicks and not scored… notably Borussia Dortmund and one from my hometown (Birmingham City), amongst others.

P.P.S. I also have to give a shout out to the players who have taken more than 6 shots and not scored yet… notably Zlatan Ibrahimović, who hasn’t converted any of his 7 attempts so far since June.

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