The art of scoring direct from free-kicks appears to be a vanishing one — despite the introduction of vanishing spray.
When it comes to hitting the back of the net direct from free-kicks, Premier League players are on course for one of their most barren seasons in over a decade.
The purpose of the spray, which was successfully used at last summer’s World Cup before being adopted by the English top flight for this season, is to try and ensure opponents do not encroach within 10 yards of a free-kick taker.
With defensive walls — in theory — no longer able to sneak closer or rush the taker, the spray might have been expected to produce an increase in goals being scored directly from free-kicks.
However, strikes such as Sebastian Larsson’s brilliant effort against Tottenham at the weekend are actually becoming rarer in the top flight, official Premier League data has revealed.
Larsson’s inch-perfect shot for Sunderland at White Hart Lane was only the 15th goal scored from a direct free-kick in 220 top-flight matches played so far this season.
At that current rate, the final tally is set to be around 26 at the end of the campaign — well down on the 39 scored last season when Yaya Toure, Juan Mata and Leighton Baines were especially deadly, and a figure which would represent the second lowest in the 13-and-a-half-seasons since official records began in 2001/02.
In defence of the free-kick specialists, though, their shots-to-goals conversion rate of 6.10% this term — while down on last season’s nine-year high of 8.02% — is still one of the best since 2001.
So, while the number of goals being scored may be on the wane, the number of direct free-kicks being attempted also appears to be on the decline.
So far 246 shots direct from free-kicks have been attempted in the Premier League this season, an average of 1.12 per match.
That is by far the lowest amount in our sample, with the highest coming in the 2008-09 season when the average per game was 1.72, with 31 goals scored during the campaign from 652 tries.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that season was also Cristiano Ronaldo’s final one in England.
The former Manchester United man is famed for his dead-ball prowess and willingness to try his luck from most ranges and angles, and it should be no surprise to see him near the top of the list for free-kick attempts in the Premier League since the start of the 2001/02 campaign.
The current Real Madrid star and reigning Ballon d’Or winner had 164 shots from free-kicks in top-flight matches and scored 10 times during his time at United, for a conversion rate of 6.1%.
That makes him the 11th most clinical player on our list, with current United playmaker Mata top of the table with a 17.9% success rate, having netted five goals from 28 attempts.
Larsson is second, scoring 11 times from 90 tries for a 12.2% average, while Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (six goals at 9.7%), David Beckham (five goals at 9.3%) and Nolberto Solano (seven goals at 9.0%) complete the top five.
During the same period, Thierry Henry scored the most direct free-kicks with 12 — his conversion rate was 8.3% — while Frank Lampard had the most attempts of players who had scored five or more free-kicks, with the midfielder trying his luck 175 times for seven goals (4.0%).
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