Football tactics and strategies are constantly evolving, with new ideas and trends emerging every season. However, in the midst of all the innovation, certain tactics and formations are slowly falling out of favor. For instance, the 4-4-2 formation, which was once the default way of setting up a team in English football, has experienced a sharp decline in recent years. In the 2009-10 season, nearly half the teams in the league used the 4-4-2 formation, but by 2023-24, only 6.5% of the starting XIs in the Premier League have been arranged in this way.
Meanwhile, managers are constantly seeking ways to improve their teams’ efficiency, particularly when it comes to set pieces like corners. Over the past decade, the use of short corners has been on the rise, with 20.6% of corners taken short so far in the 2023-24 season. Similarly, teams are taking far fewer shots from outside the box, with only 32.6% of shots taken from range this season. In addition, goalkeepers are being encouraged to be more precise with their passes, with pass completion rates steadily increasing over the past two decades.
Decline of 4-4-2 Formation
For many years, the 4-4-2 formation was the most popular way of setting up a team in English football. However, its usage has been in decline over the years. In the 2009-10 season, nearly half of the teams in the league used the 4-4-2 formation, as reported by Opta. However, this percentage gradually decreased until a sudden drop in the 2012-13 season, going down from 33% the previous season to just 12%. In the current 2023-24 season, only 6.5% of the starting line-ups in the Premier League have used the 4-4-2 formation. Burnley, Luton Town, and Crystal Palace have been responsible for the majority of these formations, with most other teams opting for a variation on a 4-2-3-1 setup.
Despite this decline, the 4-4-2 formation remains an often-used shape out-of-possession for many teams and cannot be described as obsolete. The evolution of football tactics is cyclical, and it is possible that the 4-4-2 formation may be revived in the future.
Efficiency is a key factor in modern football, and this has contributed to the rise of short corners. In the past decade, the percentage of short corners taken in the Premier League has been on the rise. In the 2012-13 season, only 11.7% of corners were taken short. However, in the current 2023-24 season, 20.6% of corners have been taken short, up from 17.7% the previous year.
While the majority of corners are still of the traditional variety, the numbers are heading towards short corners being put on the endangered list. However, there is no real correlation between short corners taken and goals scored from them. Last season, Manchester United took the most short corners with 67 but only scored once, which is the same number of goals as Everton, who took just nine.
Long Range Shooting
Teams are shooting from outside the box much less frequently than they did in the past. In the 2009-10 season, 45% of shots in the Premier League were taken from outside the penalty area. However, this figure has essentially gone down each year, and in the current 2023-24 season, only 32.6% of shots were taken from range.
The reason for this decline is that a shot from outside the box is much less likely to result in a goal. Though 45% of total shots in the 2009-10 season were taken from at least 18 yards out, only 13% of the total goals scored were. However, teams are scoring more goals from long range than they did in the past, which suggests that those long shots are being more carefully chosen.
Goalkeeper Pass Completion
Teams are encouraging their goalkeepers to be more precise with their passes. The average pass completion rate for a goalkeeper in the 2003-04 season was 42.5%. However, this rate has gradually risen over the years, and in the current 2023-24 season, 71.8% of passes find their mark. This increase in pass completion rate indicates that teams are relying more on their goalkeepers to initiate their attacks.
Rise of Short Corners
In recent years, football tactics have been evolving rapidly, with new ideas emerging and old ones being replaced. One of the trends that has gained popularity among teams is the use of short corners. This approach has been adopted by many top-flight clubs in an effort to make corner kicks more efficient.
Over the past decade, the percentage of short corners taken in the Premier League has been on the rise. In the 2012-13 season, only 11.7% of corners were short, but this has gradually increased in subsequent seasons. In the 2023-24 season so far, 20.6% of corners have been taken short, up from 17.7% the previous year.
While the majority of corners are still of the traditional variety, the numbers indicate that teams are increasingly looking for more effective ways of using corners rather than just crossing into the box. This search for efficiency has contributed to the rise of short corners.
However, it’s worth noting that only a small percentage of corners actually result in goals. Over the past 10 seasons, there have been 40,715 corners awarded in the Premier League, from which 1,409 goals have been scored. This means that only 3.5% of corners actually result in goals, or about one in 29.
While the increase in short corners has coincided with a rise in the number of goals scored from corners, it’s not clear whether one has caused the other. In the 2013-14 season, there were 123 goals from 4,094 corners, or three per cent, and last season there were 151 from 3,830, or 3.9 per cent. Of those goals, 24 were scored from short corners last season, while this season, it’s only three from 29.
Overall, the rise of short corners is part of a broader trend towards more efficient use of set pieces in football. While the numbers suggest that short corners are becoming more popular, it remains to be seen whether they will continue to be an effective tactic in the long run.
Decrease in Shots from Outside the Box
Teams are shooting from outside the box much less frequently in recent years. In the 2009-10 season, 45 per cent of shots in the Premier League were taken from outside the penalty area. That figure has essentially gone down each year to the point where last season, 33.2 per cent of shots were taken from range. This season, the number has dropped slightly to 32.6 per cent.
The reason for this decrease is that a shot from outside the box is much less likely to result in a goal. Although 45 per cent of total shots in 2009-10 were taken from at least 18 yards out, only 13 per cent of total goals scored were. Long-range shooting may be spectacular, but it is a pretty inefficient way of trying to score.
However, just because teams are taking fewer long shots does not necessarily mean fewer goals are being scored from a long way out. In fact, teams are scoring more goals from outside the box despite taking far fewer long shots than 14 years ago. This suggests that those long shots are being more carefully chosen.
In the past 10 seasons, there have been 9,714 goals scored in Premier League matches, of which 1,324 were scored from outside the box. This accounts for 13.6 per cent of the total goals scored in that period. The last two full seasons saw 143 and 145 goals scored from outside the box, 13.6 per cent and 13.3 per cent of the total goals, respectively. This season’s ratio stands at 13.2 per cent.
Teams seem to be focusing on more efficient ways of scoring goals, rather than relying on long-range shots. It is possible that teams are being more careful and selective in their choice of shots, rather than simply taking shots from outside the box as a matter of course.
Increase in Goalkeeper Pass Completion
Over the past 20 years, the average pass completion rate for goalkeepers has gradually increased. This season, 71.8% of passes made by goalkeepers have found their mark, compared to 67.1% last season and 65.8% the season before. The improvement in pass completion rate for goalkeepers is a result of teams encouraging their keepers to be more precise with their distribution.
The increase in goalkeeper pass completion rate is significant and shows a shift in the way teams approach the game. Instead of relying on the goalkeeper to simply smash the ball upfield, teams now want their goalkeeper to be more involved in the build-up play. This change in approach has led to a more possession-based style of play, with teams looking to keep the ball and build attacks from the back.
The improvement in goalkeeper pass completion rate is a positive development for teams, as it allows them to maintain possession and control the tempo of the game. It also reduces the risk of turnovers in dangerous areas of the pitch, which can lead to goals for the opposition.
Overall, the increase in goalkeeper pass completion rate is a trend that is likely to continue in the future. As teams continue to place a greater emphasis on possession-based football, the role of the goalkeeper in the build-up play will become even more important.