In the unlikely event you haven’t noticed, Manchester City are scoring an extraordinary number of goals this season.
They managed another five against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night, bringing their Premier League total to 68 – two more than they managed in the entire 2012/13 campaign. Their goals-per-game ratio is currently 2.96, with Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure all in the division’s top ten goalscorers.
To score goals, you must take shots. In this respect, it’s no surprise to learn that Manchester City have attempted the most in the division this season, 414 (21 more than the next best side, Chelsea). This works out as 18 attempts per match.
What’s more interesting, however, is the position from which the shots are taken. This information is playing an increasingly large part in football analytics, with the zones of shots attempted and conceded revealing much about creative potential, and defensive sturdiness.
Revealingly, Manchester City take a higher proportion of their shots from inside the penalty area than any other side. 70% of their shots are hit from inside the 18-yard box, compared to the divisional average of 54%.
These two statistics might seem uninteresting, but it’s important to emphasise that not all sides that shoot regularly do so from threatening positions. Indeed, many sides that record impressive shot statistics are simply just hitting hopeful shots from distance.
This is what Tottenham were guilty of, particularly under Andre Villas-Boas. They record 16 shots per game, the fourth highest figure in the division, but the majority are from outside the penalty box.
Look at the position of their shots from the narrow 1-0 win over Hull under Villas-Boas, for example...
The other extreme is sides like West Ham and Stoke, who attempt the majority of shots from inside the box, because their approach is based around crossing. However, their insistence on working the ball into dangerous positions means they don’t shoot often enough, and therefore score few goals.
West Ham’s attacking performance against Chelsea this week was a fine example...
While a classic Stoke case was from their defeat to Everton in November...
Manchester City excel in both respects. When you combine the proportion of attempts from inside the box, and their number of overall shots, you find a revealing figure – City have 12.4 shots from inside the box per game. No other side manages more than 9.5 per game.
The victory over Tottenham was a perfect example. Admittedly, they played for nearly half the match with an extra man, but it’s amazing how many shots City attempted – and how many are in the box.
There’s only one long-range shot, a 25-yarder from Edin Dzeko, when he found space between the lines.
But why are Manchester City shooting so often from in the box? There are probably four primary reasons.
1. Use of space
Particularly notable against Tottenham was how well City used space. They found gaps between the lines, and they continually had men over towards the wings, not becoming congested in the centre but covering the whole width of the pitch. This stretches the opposition, ensuring City have gaps to pass through.
The Spurs game was a good example – City’s attacks covered the width of the pitch, while Spurs’ approach was more predictable:
2. Multiple sources of creativity
Many sides rely on one primary playmaker, but City often have three attacking midfielders offering a range of styles. David Silva drifts inside from the left and plays delicate through-balls, Yaya Toure storms forward from deeper positions both with and without the ball, and Jesus Navas stays wider and likes to cross. The opposition don’t have an obvious defensive solution against so many attacking options, with Samir Nasri (in the Silva role) and Navas demonstrating the contrast nicely in City’s previous win over Spurs...
3. Two penalty box strikers
For the majority of the campaign City have played with two strikers – two of Aguero, Negredo and Dzeko. They’ve dovetailed nicely – each comes towards play to become involved in passing moves, before scampering into the box to provide the finish. Crucially, they’ve combined effectively too – so many goals have been that of an old-school strike partnership, and Pellegrini has been happy to play Negredo and Dzeko together, despite their similarity on paper.
He was mentioned earlier, but it’s impossible to ignore Silva’s overall impact. He’s returned to his form of the first half of 2011/12, when he was providing brilliant assists every week. His statistics this season are outstanding – not only is he the division’s most prolific provider of passes (3.9 per game, significantly more than second-placed Luis Suarez on 2.9), he’s also the league’s most prolific passer, usually a title reserved for a much deeper midfielder. He’s constantly involved, and consistently creative.
It’s difficult to remember too many long-range scorchers from City, and a Goal of the Season triumph seems unlikely. For Pellegrini’s side, however, the goalscoring is about quantity rather than quality.