December 21, 2017

Football Data Analysis: Burnley Centre Back Headers – Thursday 21st December

It’s simply just their style of play

It’s always worthwhile taking note of how football managers use statistics, taking apart their statements, and then seeing whether they stack up to reality.

“If we’re playing direct football, by the way,” Sean Dyche said in an interview to The Times last Saturday, “how come my two centre-halves have headed more balls than anyone else in the division?”

“The stats do throw up some twists in perception,” he added, “but I’m not interested in perception.”

It should be said that, even before looking at the stats, it doesn’t quite make logical sense. Dyche’s centre-backs heading a lot of balls doesn’t mean that, in possession, his side isn’t an exponent of direct football.

But it is interesting.

After 15 games*, Burnley had conceded the second most crosses in the league (if ‘conceded’ is the right word, as it tends to imply a value judgement, and conceding lots of crosses is not necessarily a bad thing).

However, nine sides had conceded more headed shots than them. This, presumably, is where a lot of Burnley’s centre-back headers come from. Burnley have the third lowest percentage of shots conceded that are headers in the league.

Though Burnley concedes a hell of a lot of shots, almost half of them are from outside the box with a rate only beaten by West Brom (although it has to be said, this still leaves them conceding the most shots in the box as well).

Anyway, there is a point to Dyche highlighting the fact that his centre-back head the ball a lot. 4.4% of the passes that Burnley’s opponent make crosses, the 6th highest rate in the league.

Is there anything specific that Burnley’s centre-backs do well or differently to other players around the league?

Well, for a start, an extraordinary amount of their clearances are headers – 68% for Ben Mee and 63% for James Tarkowski, both in the top 10 highest rates for players to have made more than 50 clearances in the league this season.

This more than likely says something about their role as central pieces in a Burnley bunker. They’re not quite unique in this, but their share of their team’s headed clearances is huge – a touch over 60% of all the ones Burnley make.

Huddersfield is the closest to this, Christopher Schindler and Zanka splitting the headed clearances pretty evenly to make up a 57% share of the Terriers’ headed clearances. At another promoted club, Shane Duffy is a bizarre form of concussion-tempting deity, making a smidge more than 40% of Brighton’s headed clearances.

Duffy’s partner is Lewis Dunk, a player known for being comfortable on the ball and who may be less comfortable in the air (than Duffy, at least, Brighton possibly going for a slightly poor man’s Vidic and Ferdinand combination).

So Burnley centre-backs head more, because of Burnley’s style of play. Teams, somewhat, go ‘direct’ against them, in terms of crosses, but also generate a lot of decent shots against them as well.

As for Dyche’s inference that his side does not play direct? You’d find more truth on April Fool’s Day.

Burnley have the highest percentage of passes that are designated by Opta as ‘long balls’ in the league (over 15%) and the third highest percentage of their passes that are crosses (over 5%).

The stats do throw up some interesting things, don’t they Sean?

*All data in this article is after 15 games of the Premier League season.

By @EveryTeam_Mark

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