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Things we’ve done well this season: crossing

Written by Sean Guest on 29th November 2022

In the first of a series, Sean Guest looks at tactical elements we’ve mastered in our first 15 games.

It probably won’t come as any great surprise to learn that Fulham are among the Premier League leaders in crosses so far this season.

After all, when Marco Silva became manager he made a concerted effort to convince Aleksandar Mitrović to stay in the fold. According to Peter Rutzler of The Athletic, Silva “phoned the 27-year-old before arriving at Motspur Park, outlining his style of play and how integral he believed he could be.”

Unlike Scott Parker, Silva built his team around the Serbian striker, combining his abilities as a target man with the pace and creativity of two wide men and two overlapping fullbacks as part of a 4-3-3 formation.

In the Championship it worked to great effect, resulting in a record-breaking season for Mitrović and a chant about him, Harry Wilson and Neeskens Kebano that’s set to be a fan favourite for years to come. Not a great deal has changed this season either, as Fulham have continued to put balls into the box at a high clip, contributing to Mitro’s nine goals from 12 games in the first half of this campaign.

In fact, Fulham have produced the fifth most crosses of all Premier League teams to date this season, racking up a grand total of 290 over the course of their first 15 games. This puts them up there with Champions League hopefuls Liverpool (326), Spurs (316), Man City (307) and Newcastle (288), as well as West Ham (310), who round out the top six, according to the Official Stats Centre.

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Low returns?

Interestingly, analytics platform Soccerment published a piece of research in 2017 which revealed that, back then, only one of every 64 crosses (defined as ‘an attempted/accurate pass from a wide position to a central attacking area’, not including corners/free kicks) directly translated to a goal.

While the research may be old, it took data from 98 teams across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, finding that the teams considered averaged 18.6 crosses per match resulting in an average cross accuracy of 23.5%. It also calculated that only 56% of all completed crosses actually led to an attempt on goal, while just 11.9% of key passes from crosses became a goal, meaning that the overall probability of scoring a goal from a cross that year was a measly 1.6%.

This season, Fulham have averaged 19.3 crosses per game, resulting in 5.3 accurate crosses (a cross that finds its intended target) and a cross success rate of 27.6% per game, which is fifth best in the Premier League according to data gathered by FOTMOB.

Over the course of our first 15 games, we’ve scored 24 times, which equates to approximately one goal for every 12 crosses produced. By my reckoning, eight of our goals have actually come from crosses, which means, in real terms, we’re actually scoring one goal from every 36.25 crosses delivered.

Significant contributors

According to Squawka, the key contributors are Andreas Pereira (92), Antonee Robinson (41), Bobby De Cordova-Reid (29), Harrison Reed (20) and Kebano (20), who have supplied the bulk of our crosses. Of these players, Pereira has the greatest crossing accuracy percentage (38.04), although he’s only produced five successful crosses from open play thus far. Robinson and De Cordova-Reid have supplied fewer crosses with less accuracy (24.39% and 27.59% respectively) and yet both have been responsible for more successful crosses (10 and eight respectively), illustrating just what a crapshoot crossing can be.

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To further contextualise this, that group has created just four goals from crosses (one assist apiece for Pereira, Reid, Reed and Kebano while Robinson is yet to register one), despite producing a total of 202 between them – that’s a goals-per-cross ratio of one goal per 50.5 crosses from our most productive crossers of the ball.

It’s also worth noting that Kenny Tete and Wilson – two of last year’s most effective creators of goal scoring opportunities – have recorded just 25 crosses between them this season due to injury, resulting in only one assist (Tete’s against Liverpool on the opening day).

Key to success?

While the numbers above put the overall effectiveness of crossing into perspective, it is worth reiterating that four of the league’s current top six – Liverpool, Spurs, Man City and Newcastle – appear in the top six for crosses. The other two, Arsenal and Man Utd, buck the trend, however, sitting outside it in 15th and 18th respectively, proving that you don’t necessarily need to adopt a cross-heavy approach to succeed in the Premier League if you’re set up to score goals in other ways.

Fulham’s approach is, however, further validated by the fact that right beside those two teams, in 16th and 19th place respectively, sit Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth, our promotion mates from last season. Like us, neither side can realistically compete with the likes of Arsenal and Man Utd in terms of creativity or quality and yet both attempted considerably fewer crosses than we did during the first half – Forest logged 222, while Bournemouth managed just 186. While there may not be a direct correlation, it is worth pointing out that Forest scored just 11 goals in that span while Bournemouth scored 18 (compared to our 24), leaving them 14th and 19th respectively in the league table going into the break.

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While this isn’t solely due to a lack of crossing, it does suggest that there is value to be found in Fulham’s cross-heavy approach, which has been the source of a third of our goals scored to date, particularly when Mitrović is on the pitch.

Hopefully Silva will continue to exploit this value in the second half of the season, while attempting to improve the quality of our crossing. And who knows, if Wilson and Tete come back from the World Cup break fit and firing, there may even be room for improvement in this particular area of our game.

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