Long Ball Football Alive And Kicking

Are Burnley the new kings of long ball football?

Anybody who witnessed the closing stages of Sunday’s encounter at the Emirates could not have failed to notice Sean Dyche urging his Burnley players to hit it long at every opportunity, in an attempt to make his side’s numerical advantage count, following the earlier dismissal of Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka.

The Clarets, who have picked up just 1 point from 10 away games, were eventually undone by a 97th minute penalty, as Alexis Sánchez produced an exquisite finish to register his first ever Premier League goal from the spot but it did raise the question of just how direct is the football being played by the Lancashire club?

Oulala have examined which outfield players are averaging the most long balls per game and even though you might have expected Burnley players to figure prominently on the list, none of their players feature in the top 10.

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Statistics should always been taken in context though. The list is actually made up of 8 players from the top 6 clubs in the Premier League table, the same 6 sides that boast the highest possession statistics. Jordan Henderson and Paul Pogba are averaging more passes per game than any other players so it is inevitable that some of these will be categorised as long balls. These players also possess far superior technique as well, meaning that any balls hit long are more likely to be accurate long passes rather than long punts into a general area.

Perhaps a more telling reflection is the number of long balls a team attempts in relation to the total number of passes they make and this is where Burnley really come into their own, with a staggering 24% of the passes they make being classed as long balls.

However, despite their toils away from Turf Moor and the fact that they have the second worst possession figures in the league, Sean Dyche’s side sit a comfortable 10 points above the drop zone.

Leicester City also showed just how successful direct football can be when they clinched the title last season. The Foxes recorded a figure close to 20%, the fourth highest in the division, as they used their counter-attacking pace to devastating effect.

Will Big Sam revert to long ball football to stave off relegation?

Back in February 2015, Sam Allardyce, who was in charge of West Ham United at the time, certainly ruffled Louis van Gaal’s feathers, when he tagged the Old Trafford outfit as ‘long ball United‘, prompting his Dutch counterpart to go to the astonishing lengths of producing a dossier to discredit the claims.

Big Sam moved on to Sunderland in the following season and quickly found himself embroiled in a relegation scrap, after the Black Cats picked up just 12 points from their first 19 matches. However, even though Sunderland survived, thanks to a terrific finish to the season, it’s worth pointing out that only one side, West Bromwich Albion, recorded a figure that was greater than Big Sam’s side, for the proportion of long balls played.

It will therefore be fascinating to see what tactics the disgraced ex-England manager will opt to use, now that he is facing yet another survival battle at Crystal Palace, especially with the formidable presence of Christian Benteke spearheading the Eagles’ attack.

Despite what he may say, Big Sam is famed for being the king of long ball football – will he rely upon it to ensure that Palace retain their top flight status for another season or is a bit more finesse the order of the day?