Bundesliga: The best free kickers in data analysis
For years, Borussia Dortmund was one of the most harmless teams in the Bundesliga for direct free kicks. The modest record at the beginning of the season 2017/18: 63 shots, but only two goals. When Nuri Sahin and Gonzalo Castro missed their goals on matchday three and matchday four, BVB changed its strategy: direct free kicks were temporarily removed from the repertoire. Even from actually dangerous situations was set in the rest of the season rather on credits or flanks.
That the success rate for direct free kicks varies greatly, is not unusual, as an analysis of all shooting attempts of the past four Bundesliga seasons shows (details on the data source and evaluation can be found in the method box below). Bayern Munich, for example, remained without direct free-kick goal in 2015/16 and 2018/19 and met only once in 2017/18. In the season 2016/17, however, the Bayern get five direct free-kick goals.
How tight it is with free kicks, the SV Darmstadt 98 had to experience suffering. In a record-breaking six of their 45 attempts, the lilies hit posts or laths. The blackest series of recent years but has Eintracht Frankfurt. After nearly four years and more than 40 failed attempts in the play, it was Filip Kostic who put an end to the negative series in the match against Hoffenheim at the beginning of March.
An even lower hit rate than Frankfurt have in the recent Bundesliga history only Nuremberg and Stuttgart. The Nuremberg remained in the past season without scoring direct free kicks, Stuttgart's record from the past three Premier League seasons stands at a goal in 64 attempts. At the upper end of the ranking are Hertha BSC, Hamburger SV and Ingolstadt.
The best shooters in the league
For the good hit rates of these clubs are a few free-kick specialists responsible: Marvin Plattenhardt (five hits) and Ondrej Duda (two) with Hertha BSC, Michael Gregoritsch (three) and Aaron Hunt (two) at Hamburger SV and Markus Suttner (four) at Ingolstadt ,
The statistic of all players who have scored at least ten direct free kicks or scored at least two goals in the past four seasons is shown in the following table:
The best free kickers in the Bundesliga
|Surname||Gates||hit rate||tries||Post / bar|
Basis: All direct free kicks of the Bundesliga seasons 2015/16 to 2018/19. Only shooters with at least ten attempts or at least two hits. Data: OPTA.
The top scorers in the league are either Marvin Plattenhardt (five goals) or Levin Öztunali and Paco Alcácer (50 per cent hit with fewer shots), depending on the scoring method. Alcacer has recently confirmed their strike rate from last season with free-kick goals in the preparatory match against FC Zurich and in the first round of the cup against KFC Uerdingen. His arrival in Dortmund ended the period in which BVB had preferred to shoot free kicks directly on goal.
Even specialists are subject to variations in shape
If you look at the temporal distribution in which specialists score their goals, many players show conspicuous heaps: Markus Suttner, Michael Gregoritsch, David Alaba and Jonathan Schmid all scored all free-kick goals in a single season.
In fact, the positive effect of a free-kick goal on the following shot attempts can also be measured. A shooter's converted free-kick ratio is over 70 percent higher if he has scored at least one free-kick goal in the 90 days before. This positive experience has an effect - it may well be worthwhile for teams to give the next shot attempts to a recently successful shooter.
Conversely, even good shooters can have a phase in which suddenly no free kick sits. A particularly clear example is the former Bremen Zlatko Junuzovic. He is, although he left the league a year ago, in the investigation period of the Bundesliga players with the most failed attempts without a hit. Looking only at the past four seasons, Junuzovic would have been the worst free kicker in the Bundesliga.
However, you just have to look back one more season to get a completely different picture: Between November 2014 and May 2015, Junuzovic scored an impressive five direct free-kick goals for Werder Bremen. In this phase, he was at least one of the best free kickers in the league.
Sniper, Schnibbler, Schlenzer or Zwirbler?
A free kick is a free kick is a free kick? Certainly not. Each shooter has very individual preferences in terms of position, shooting technique, speed and speed. While Naldo scored his free-kick goals mostly with brute, straight shots from a distance, Markus Suttner was more successful from close range and with a lot of speed. These are the shot profiles of selected free kick specialists:
Middle and close = danger
And yet they are there, the optimum free kick position. It applies: middle and close, that provides for danger. Direct free kicks, which were created in front of the goal and kicked from a distance of 16.50 to 20.60 meters, have a hit rate of almost 18 percent - and thus the highest. Even from distances of almost 25 meters, the hit rate is still over ten percent, when the free kick was executed from a central position.
From larger distances, the hit rate drops off quite quickly. This also applies if the free kick is fired from a decentralized position. The shooting technique and precision are all the more important: Free kicks on the short corner have a higher hit rate than those on the far corner. As was to be expected, it is also advantageous if the right foot is fired from the left side and vice versa, so the ball is drawn towards the goal.
Data source and methodology
Where does the data come from?
The data comes from Opta, the official live data supplier of the German Football League. Each Bundesliga match is minutely logged by Opta. Data are collected in 74 different categories (goal shots, tackles, throw-in, passes, player changes) with numerous additional variables (pass length, target position, field region, etc.).
Which data was included in the evaluation?
In the evaluation, only shots resulting from direct free kicks were included. Indirect free kicks, as well as shots in which the ball was dropped for the shooter, can be found consequently Not in the evaluation.
What period of time does the data include?
All evaluations related to the Bundesliga date from the seasons 2015/16 to 2018/19. The dataset includes 1443 shooting attempts from 1224 encounters. For the evaluation of the shooting position further data from the 2. Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal, national team games and European competitions were included. Overall, the evaluation here based on 7170 shots from 5052 encounters.
Conclusion: not everything is predictable
Those who are the league's best free-kickers depend a lot on what time period they look at. Plattenhardt has been consistent for years, Alcácer has had an impressive number since arriving at BVB, altering his club's free-kick strategy.
However, the analysis of the data also shows how much coincidence is still in free kicks - and that in times of modern, well-organized and planned football. Small things like a few centimeters can make the difference between success and failure. And even the best and most reliable shooters have periods in which they are right to hit the ball with every free kick and phases in which they should not do so.