A few years ago, while trying to convince my coach that we needed to adopt a different attacking philosophy, I broke down the MLS statistics and determined that shots on goal, not total number of shots or ball control, had the highest degree of correlation with winning. This tended to contradict the classic idea that having a strong center midfielder holding onto the ball and directing traffic was the best way to build a successful attack. In my experience, midfielders always want to hold onto the ball far too long, sacrificing the brief window of opportunity to create the quick one-on-one opportunity that is often possible at the beginning of a counterattack.
Also, too many strikers have a tendency to go for the far corners of the goal, putting it wide or putting it over in an attempt to avoid the keeper. The problem is that any miss eliminates the chance for rebound goals, which are a significant percentage of all goals scored. I saw a great example of how to do it properly the other day while watching Paris St. Germain playing Marseilles – at the start of the counterattack, the PSG midfielder immediately passed the ball through to a striker breaking past the defense just past the center of the field. The striker drilled a low hard shot at the center of the net, which the keeper managed to block as he came out to attack the ball. The rebound, however, went right to a second PSG striker trailing the action, who easily passed the ball into an empty net. Two chances are always better than one.
The top strikers seem to understand this. Henry of Arsenal, Inzaghi of Milan and van Nistleroy of Manchester United seldom blast away at the net, but are instead content to take hard, low shots that look more like passes and are usually directly on target. Not only do they tend to score more goals than most, they also create more scoring opportunities for their teammates. Why more players and coaches don’t grasp this concept, I don’t know.
I couldn’t convince my coach, which was no surprise. He thought the best way to attack was to dump the ball in the corner and cross it. Considering that our two starting strikers were both about 5’7″, this worked about as well as you would expect, which is to say, not at all. I don’t understand system-addicted coaches in any sport. If you have Randy Moss, THROW THE BALL. If you have Jamal Lewis, RUN IT. How is this a difficult concept? And is there anything more hapless than the Chicago Bulls try to run the triangle offense without Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen or a decent three-point shooter? Well, maybe Rick Pitino trying to get a bunch of lazy NBA pros to play a Kentucky-style full-court press late in the season.