Tika-taka football is all the rage today and unlike their fellow professional athletes in baseball where chicks do dig the long ball in footballing circles chicks definitely do not dig the long ball. These hoof it and hope tactics are so unliked by some they have been describes as “19th Century football”. Sam Allardyce and other football managers throughout the football league disagree with the esteemed Jose Mourinho and the long ball does have a place in the game. With that in mind, here are the top three players in accurate long balls per match in the Premier League this season so far according to our friends over at WhoScored.com:
3. Gareth Barry, Everton, 6.7
The defensive midfielder on loan from Manchester City has started 24 league matches for Everton. He is a no frills player who is an accurate passer as seen by his 86% pass completion rate. He enjoys a long ball and the target of those passes is often the on loan Chelsea striker Roman Lukaku who is strong and athletic averaging three aerial duels won per match.
2. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool, 6.9
Brendan Rodgers has Liverpool playing some very pleasing football and Steven Gerrard is the deepest central midfielder in their 4-3-3. The target of his long balls are Sterling and Coutinho out on the wings who are then able to feed the ball to the scoring duo of Sturridge and Suarez. Showing that even in a short passing system based on ball retention a long ball mixed in every now and then is needed to keep the opponents back-line on their toes.
1. Phil Jagielka, Everton, 8.5
Jagielka joins his teammate Barry on this list. Jagielka has excelled as a defender this season but can also distribute the ball effectively with both short and long passing. He averages 53.2 passes per match with 8.5 of them being accurate long balls which is about 16% of his total passes.
There should be very little surprise that the top three players on this list are English. It is very interesting though to see that two Everton players are part of this group. New Everton manager Roberto Martinez has been lauded for bringing his attack minded style of football to Goodison Park from Wigan. Yet, Everton do not play out of the back as much as one would think.
In terms of long passes per match but they actually rank third with 70 per match which is actually the same ranking and six more long balls per match than they averaged last season under David Moyes. As mentioned above Roman Lukaku being a target man type of striker who is good at holding up the ball has a lot to do with that but one could argue that perhaps the media narrative (Martinez plays short passing attacking football) gets in the way of the actual truth seen in the statistics. To illustrate this point further guess what club is number one in long balls per match? That’s right, pat yourself on the back if you came up with
West Ham free-flowing Southampton who average 70 long balls per match.