The number of through balls in the Champions League fell by 50 per cent between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 seasons.
In Europe’s top five leagues, the number of through balls has fallen an average of 30 percent over the same period. In the European League, it is down 24 per cent.
The pinball is not extinct, but it is endangered.
Before examining the cause, we need to define the term. fbref . data Define a through ball as:
“A completed pass between the two back defenders has been sent into an open space.”
It’s a complex pass that must be completed, so the number of through balls is not high at all and is actually less than the total goals per match in the top divisions in Europe.
Through balls were used to assist only 8.3 per cent of all open play goals in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League. Of the 10 different ways to assist in open play, through balls ranked fifth, although this included Kai Havertz’s ultimate winning goal.
When evaluating the line charts, a subtle downtrend can be seen across the major European leagues. The biggest drop was between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 UEFA Champions League seasons.
While inter-balls are difficult to complete, they do create good opportunities, especially when compared to other types of assist. Report by American Soccer Analysis Estimated conversion rates through balls are at 32 percent, the highest of any assist type (followed by 25 percent of cuts).
What is the cause of endangered balls?
One reason is the rise of synagogue guards. The presence of goalkeepers outside the penalty area to stop the through balls by keeping them away prevents the completion of the through pass and discourages the opponent from trying it.
VAR is also likely to have an effect. Anyone who wants to play a through ball or have one end now needs perfect timing, which may discourage players from trying too frequently or risking frequent offsides.
Defensive improvements are probably the other big reason. Teams are better than ever in the vertical and horizontal compression of their out-of-possession shapes. Attacking through defense is now much more difficult than attacking around – which may partly explain the emergence of lower teams in recent seasons.
Specifically, within the Premier League, clubs seem to attack mostly through wide areas and many teams prefer full-back systems, rather than split central defense by by-ball.
Opta article in March It found that of the Premier League clubs, Arsenal (46.3 per cent) created the highest percentage of chances from the middle third. Their opportunity formation map shows a high tendency to pass into half of the spaces or create through neat and short diagonal corridors from central areas. This is not the same as through passes – football simply evolves.
So who still plays through balls?
Paris Saint-Germain and Lionel Messi – What a shock. Paris Saint-Germain (84) led the five best leagues in Europe last season in terms of measurement, and the Argentine (24) was the first person.
In this example, Messi, from his usual position outside the right, divides Saint-Etienne’s defense with an accurate diagonal pass to Kylian Mbappe, who equalizes. Note the position of Saint-Etienne’s defensive line – 30 yards from the goal.
Another example was outside Claremont, where Messi professionally received Neymar’s aerial pass…
…and finds Mbappe. This through ball is your most sensitive debt behind the defense.
The through ball has also become synonymous with Harry Kane and the Spurs counterattack. The striker scored the second most through ball in the Premier League with 19 balls.
We saw it against Brentford as Spurs reclaimed possession in depth and the ball made its way to Son Heung-min.
puts it on ken…
…which prompted Sergio Reguilon to start his career beyond that. I found him a through ball Kane…
…with Reguilon in a position to cross low until Son scores.
Kane also assisted directly with through balls, notably for injury-time winner Steven Bergwijn at Leicester.
But the selection of the through ball set for Kane came in the union. Manchester City are putting a lot of pressure on Tottenham (every player beyond Ederson plays in the Tottenham half). To break the pressure, Ben Davies punches a diagonal pass into Kane’s feet.
One of the most impressive elements of Kane’s through ball game is his ability to use and play either of his feet while in motion – he runs towards and meets the ball, spinning the pass behind him without breaking his stride.
Son was clearly and selflessly set in favor of Dejan Kulusevsky – 1-0 Tottenham.
Most of Kane’s through balls came from open play, where he has the opportunity to go deep. In contrast, Evan Toni from Brentford (13)who was the fifth player in the Premier League to accomplish balls, did most of that work from set-pieces.
Let’s take a look at the opening night of the 2021-22 season – Brentford vs Arsenal. Arteta’s side fired a goal kick and, after some air pinball, Frank Onica directed the ball to Tony. Note that Tony and Brian Mbiomo are positioned close to the Arsenal defence. This prepares them to run early to the back if the opportunity presents itself…
… which he does. Tony divides the defense by tying the ball to the top.
Mbiomo rushes towards her but she fires wide.
There was also a through pass against West Ham at home. Brentford has a throw-in in the last third from the right. Once again, Mpiomo is put on the defensive line, looking forward to a run…
…Tony makes his move cleverly late, and falls to his right for a throw into space. The through ball is again a hook pass…
…but this time the Mbiomo record.
Against Chelsea, Brentford fired the goal kick. Tony wins Flick On and heads to Mbiomo…
…Mbiomo holds it well. This is necessary to facilitate the operation of the third player of Vitaly Janelt, who is chosen by Tony with the through ball …
Brentford scored the third.
But this is not an exclusively attacker’s pass. Trent Alexander-Arnold (20) topped the 2021-22 Premier League charts for through balls. He is called the right-back, and he rarely plays on the right or behind.
At Watford, Alexander-Arnold is placed in the right half – this space is usually associated with his threat to cross. But from the depth, he divides his defense between the right-back and the outer-back, and pulls Mohamed Salah into the penalty area – the Egyptian is strangled by Ben Foster one against one.
Alexander-Arnold also helped Diogo Jota score Liverpool’s second goal in their Carabao Cup win at Arsenal. This pass is very different from the Watford pass – it is an aerial pass and a more difficult technique for the right foot. He has to avoid hitting himself and pull him to the left…
…but Alexander-Arnold is the case. The back ball drops it over Arsenal’s high defense line and Aaron Ramsdale is sent off his own net. Gotta gets there first and raises it above him.
What will the by-ball look like in the future?
Perhaps European regression is surprising in a generation that was certainly made for pinballs: A study conducted by the University of Southern Denmark It used men’s World Cup data to reveal that between 1966 and 2010, the average number of passes per minute increased by 35 percent. By 2025, they expected the average number of passes per minute to rise to over 16, compared to 10.7 in 1966 and 14.7 in 2010.
add to that, Last season saw the highest level in five years in the Premier League to regain the final third. High pressure is now more common and teams are playing at higher streaks than before. analysis of the athlete He found a rise from eight per cent to 18 per cent in the share of Premier League matches (2012 to 2021) in which a high streak was used.
European football, more than ever, must smooth through balls to take advantage of the space that teams have cleared in their halves. But football runs in cycles. As the teams and players adapt, we may see the by-ball go up again.
(Photo: Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)