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Failed Throw-ins and Other Soccer Stupidity

May 11th, 2017 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, soccer

This has driven me to distraction for decades, going back to when I was a know-almost-nothing parent coaching my kids’ soccer teams in Highland, California.

I was hazy about numerous concepts of the game, but one I understood quite clearly … and in the decades since have seen screwed up all the time, from kiddie games to the highest levels of professionalism.

The throw-in.

And I am very, very pleased that someone is keeping track of how often throw-ins go wrong, at least in the English Premier League, because the numbers are as astonishing as I expected they would be.

Let’s back up for a moment and consider the throw-in.

It results when the ball rolls out of bounds at one of the two long sides of the soccer-field rectangle.

The team that touched the ball last — and getting this right is sometimes too much to ask of the game’s referees, but I digress — must allow the opposition to throw the ball back into the playing area.

A bit of technique is involved. Feet need to stay on the ground at the time the ball is thrown, and the throw must be done with two hands on the ball, from behind the head.

Got it? Ball starts a bit behind the head, then is flung with both hands over the head. Toward someone wearing the same shirt that you are!

I had my teams practice this all the time. “Everyone find a friend, and practice this to each other. Take turns. Feet on the ground, ball over your head, throw it …”

Some of that is a challenge for 6- or 7-year-old kids, and sometimes referees will call an infraction (ball not thrown over the head) and the ball goes to the other team, and kiddie coaches everywhere feel the condemnation of parents who are mumbling, “Can’t even get that right …”

But the trickier part … at all levels … is successfully throwing-in the ball to someone on your own side.

I don’t know how often I have thought, “if this were the NBA, guys would be yanked out of games for losing possession all the damn time.” And this is when I’m watching the Premier League.

Turns out, it isn’t my imagination: Premier League teams are giving away possession several times a game because of errant throw-ins.

As part of a bigger incompetence in the Premier League story, The Guardian has tapped into statistics compiled by a firm named Opta, and the first “stupid mistake” category hits home.

The throw-in.

Let’s quote from The Guardian story:

“The throw-in is a simple business. A player can literally throw the ball to a teammate. Even better, the opposition must be at least two meters away. At its most base level, it should be absolutely impossible to concede possession from a throw-in. Though there are cases to be made for teams hopefully throwing the ball long into the box, or hurling it optimistically into space for an onrushing attacker, there is simply no excuse for Leicester City to have thrown the ball to the opposition 297 times this season.

“That’s 8.5 times a game, or once every 10 minutes.”

Even Arsenal, the team least likely to throw away a throw-in has done it 71 times, or about twice a game. Everyone does it.

Would this not be an early and obvious target for data-driven coaching? “Here is this tremendous inefficiency on the throw-in, and we are going to make sure we do this correctly. Those extra half-dozen possessions we don’t give away on the throw-in … could be the difference in the game!”

So, why do teams not work on this? Coaches lose their cool if a guy gives away the ball in the middle of the field, yet those same coaches shrug in apparent “well-that’s-how-the-game-goes” resignation when the opposition steals the throw-in for the third or fourth or (in the case of Leicester City) the eighth or ninth time IN ONE GAME.

It is madness. Giving away a throw-in should be dreaded like any other giveaway and guys should get benched if they do it badly and praised if they do it well.

Yet it isn’t happening.

How long will Opta have to publish its stats before some highly paid coach says, “Maybe we should practice the throw-in … you know, develop a philosophy of making sure we keep possession.”

The easiest way to do this is to tell players that, “When in doubt, throw it to a teammate moving towards you and then be ready when he kicks it right back to you — because defenders never cover the thrower.”

And tell players never to throw into a crowd 20 yards off,

And hold them accountable.

(Also, hold accountable the refs and their assistants who get wrong the out-of-bounds-possession call time and time again.)

The Guardian story goes on to note possession giveaways from goalkeepers on free kicks, which also is a substantial number. Leicester City, again, the worst offenders, with keepers giving away possession 229 times — or about six times per league match.

Hoofing the ball as far as possible should be used almost never, on the goal kick. Most of the time, the keeper should let most of his teammates advance into the attacking half and then ROLL the ball to one of his defenders, who then carries it forward. Chances are far better the keeper’s team will still have the ball when it crosses into the attacking end.

Alas, I am not sure either of these possession issues will get fixed in my lifetime. Why would they, when they have been screwed up for several lifetimes now?

But at least we know someone is counting and toting and shaming.

And we are definitely looking at you, Leicester City.

 

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