WC Round 1: The key of the penalty box

The World Cup has finished the first round of the group stage, and I’m excited about the offensive minded concepts and the fact we are talking about the offensive players and goals.

If the fantastic story and development of football shall continue, we have to provide the spectators, the sponsors, the TV-stations a brilliant show where we show all the exciting parts of football, and the World Cup has done this so far.

As a coach, a World Cup is also a chance for me to analyze concepts, style of play, patterns and ways of approaching an opponent. It’s always interesting to watch, note and learn how some of the best coaches in the world are making their decisions.

To gain as much knowledge as possible – I’m also making my own statistics and analysis of the tournament in different areas where I can challenge my knowledge and maybe change or even improve the way I wish my teams to attack and defend.

The penalty box analysis
I’m always interested in knowing where and how goals are scored. One classic discussion in coaching forums is how many chances a team needs before they score a goal. It’s called a ‘conversion rate’ - from chances to goals.

In round 1 of the World Cup, I have analyzed all the games, the shots at goal inside the box, the shots outside the box, and the goals both inside and outside.
The stats were surprisingly for me as the amount of shots taken inside the penalty box and outside the penalty are almost exactly the same. So teams have in average just as many shots inside as outside the penalty box during a game.

The really interesting part is the conversation rate. How many shots actually lead to goals? The difference from inside to outside is now huge. Inside the penalty box the conversation rate is 4,5 - meaning you need 4,5 shots inside the box before a team averagely will score a goal.
Outside the box - the number is way different. 32,2 - meaning you need to shoot over 32 times to get a goal in average. A huge difference from 4,5 to 32,2.

So what do these numbers tell us?

For me as a coach, I see two aspects:

1) The offensive part; we need to make our chances bigger and get into the penalty area to score goals. It’s almost impossible for us to score outside the box, so we need to make a clear strategy getting all the way into the box finding the right positions. Don’t spend too much time outside, but be efficient on how to get inside the box (using the depth, width, cross, cutback, combination play, solo action, etc.) and which positions you want to use trying to score.

2) The defensive part; we need to learn our defenders to protect the box better. Not running away from the box, but closing down the central area allowing the opponents almost to shoot from the distance. This is for example what Italian defenders are brilliant at – they don’t try to win the ball, but protects the goal and blocks the shots.

So in your philosophy and methodology, you need to convert this data to the daily training, so your exercises reflect what you wish to see on the pitch. Teach your defenders to stay in a central position, protecting the box area defending the goal rather than trying to win the ball when we are in this phase of the game.

And your offensive players need to understand the value of getting into the box before taking a finish. For me there is only one benefit of shooting from the distance – to make the opponents push up and create space in the depth. This is crucial information for your players and can be learned using stats, videos and of course on the pitch in the right exercises of the tactical training.