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The importance of passing to the modern game of football | El Centrocampista
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El Centrocampista

Pass Masters – The importance of assists in Spanish football

Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas celebrate a goal against Granada during their Spanish First Division soccer league match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

PHOTO: ARXIU FCB

One statistic that has caught my attention this season is the number of shots that come directly from a pass. In fact it is a feature of the game that speaks volumes about an individual team, especially when you consider 73% of shots in La Liga come from an assist.

It seems obvious to claim passing is a key part of football, however, it may be surprising to learn just how important that area of the game is. For example almost 66% of La Liga goals so far have come after a successful key pass or assist. That is 210 out of the 323 goals scored so far – proving passing is one of the key factors of modern football.

However, and interestingly, three of the five teams with the lowest percentage of goals assisted – Sevilla (38,46%), Real Madrid (48,15%) and Levante (53,85%) all sit in the top half of the table. While three of the five teams with the highest percentage of assisted goals – Getafe (91,67%), Mallorca (83,33%) and Athletic (75%) are all languishing in the lower end of the table. It must be taken into account, however, that the low number of goals scored by both Getafe and Mallorca go some way to explain both their position in the table and their high percentage.

There is no surprise that the top four teams in the table are also the four teams with the most assists – Barcelona 29, Atlético 14, Madrid 13 and Betis 13. There is an obvious correlation between goals scored and points. However, these teams perform quite  different when we look at passes that lead to a shot.

For example, Madrid lead La Liga in passes that lead to a shot with 151,  however, this conversion of assists per key pass is a fairly unimpressive 8,6% – the seventh lowest mark in the league. Atlético on the other hand, have made the second highest number of passes that have finished with a shot, and they have managed to convert 11% of those passes in assists – the fifth best mark in the league.

Betis have the third lowest number of passes that lead to a shot with 83. However, they have converted those passes into assists, 15,7% of the time – the second highest mark in Spain. At the top, Barcelona’s amazing season see them hold the fifth best total key passes – also managing  an assists 24,2% of the time, which is the best in La Liga.

Interestingly, the conversion of key passes into assists seems more significant in the other end of the table. Three of the the five worst teams in La Liga also have three of the worst conversion ratios. Only Sevilla (4,1%) have a worse percentage of assists per key passes than Granada (5,7%), Osasuna (6,8%) and Espanyol (7,1%).

Sevilla is an interesting team to keep an eye on, as they also lead the league in the percentage of shots that came from a pass with 79%. If they can raise their 4,1% conversion rate closer to the league average of 9,8%, goals will surely increase at the Sánchez Pizjuan. Atlético’s great start to the season, meanwhile, can partly be explained by their tendency of finding each other with passes, as 78,4% of their shots came from an assists – the second best in Spain.

Up in the Basque Country, Real Sociedad have been one of the most disappointing teams so far this term. While many see La Real as a good bunch of individuals, it is true to say they have yet learnt to play as a team. Considering that they have the lowest percentage of shots coming from a pass with 62,1%, the experts seem to be right. It is worth stating that their percentage is six points lower than Granada’s percentage of 68% – the second lowest in La Liga.

At the top of the table, Barcelona’s statistics in this department deserves their own individual mention. Tito Vilanova’s team are having their best season ever and it is not hard to understand why. The Catalans have picked up 29 assists from their 36 goals scored  (80,56), with four of the other seven goals coming either from a penalty, own goal or free kick. In other words, Barça have failed to pick up an assist on just three occasions. They record on average, one assist every 4,1 key passes, this is not only the best mark in the league but from the rest of La Liga, only Betis with an assists every 6,4 key passes and Valladolid with one every 7,6 don’t have an average that is twice as big as la blaugrana. Barcelona also take 76,9% of their shots after a pass, which is the sixth best mark in the league.

Ultimately, there are clearly other factors to take into consideration in order to determinate the real relevance of key passes (or passes that lead to a shot) such as the quality of the shot or the distance and position of the taker, however, is a clear fact that creating shots directly from passing and thus converting your passes into assists, are keys to success in modern football.




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