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Champions League technical report 4: How the goals were scored

In the fourth extract from the new UEFA Champions League technical report, the expert panel explain how more goals than ever are being scored from open play.

Saúl Ñíguez scored a memorable solo goal against Bayern in the semi-finals
Saúl Ñíguez scored a memorable solo goal against Bayern in the semi-finals ©AFP/Getty Images
Top ten goals of 2015/16
Top ten goals of 2015/16

Key numbers:
Goals from open play
2015/16: 266 (77% of total)
2014/15: 267 (74%)
2013/14: 268 (74%)

Goals from individual runs
2015/16: 24
2014/15: 17

Long-range goals from open play
2015/16: 25
2014/15: 36

Goals from open-play crosses
2015/16: 63
2014/15: 51

The number of goals scored in open play has remained remarkably consistent over the past three seasons: 266 in 2015/16, compared with 267 and 268 in the preceding campaigns. The goals tally from combination play was also high, at 61 (compared with 63 in 2014/15), consolidating a significant upward trend.

As recently as 2009/10, only 21 goals were attributed to this source, meaning that the success rate has almost tripled in six seasons. Bayern München and Barcelona have continued to provide inspiration by employing short, quick, one-touch combinations to create openings in seemingly impenetrable defensive blocks – very often initiated by a forward pass to a player who is tightly marked.

Luis Suárez: scores against Leverkusen
Luis Suárez: scores against Leverkusen
Top ten goals of 2015/16
Top ten goals of 2015/16

Prime examples from Luis Enrique's team were Luis Suárez's winner at home to Bayer Leverkusen or the move finished by Neymar to seal the 3-0 victory against BATE Borisov. But this approach has become steadily more widespread with, to quote random examples, Zenit beating Gent 2-1 thanks to an excellent combination rounded off by Oleg Shatov, or Bayern's penetration through the central area which allowed Lewandowski to seal a 5-0 victory against Dinamo Zagreb.

Goals derived from individuals running with the ball rose to 24, from 17 in 2014/15. The 41% increase can be traced to the number of goals stemming from counterattacks that set a player free to run at goal.

Among the best examples were Simone Zaza’s goal that clinched a 2-0 win for Juventus against Sevilla; the solo runs by Zlatan Ibrahimović that produced goals for Paris Saint-Germain at Malmö and at home to Shakhtar Donetsk; the break that allowed Alexandre Lacazette to wrap up a 2-0 win for Lyon in Valencia; the slalom by Arjen Robben that put Bayern 2-0 up in Turin; or the stunning run by Álvaro Morata that allowed Juan Cuadrado to put Juventus 2-0 ahead in the return.

Saúl Ñíguez's solo goal against Bayern
Saúl Ñíguez's solo goal against Bayern

The prime example of a goal scored after an inspired solo run from an innocuous situation was scored by Saúl Ñíguez as Atlético Madrid beat Bayern 1-0 in their semi-final first leg.

In the debit column, the most eye-catching figure relates to the lack of success of long-range shooting, which fell to 25 goals in 2015/16 – the lowest total ever registered in the UEFA Champions League. The 31% decline may well reflect on standards of goalkeeping and/or the trend towards twin screening midfielders, which arguably increases the difficulty in finding space for clear shots at goal from central areas near the penalty area.

The most striking increase relates to the number of goals that originated from crosses – up by 24%. The total signifies a return to the 2013/14 level (62, against 63 in 2015/16). However, given that the number of goals created by cut-backs also rose 21%, the statistics show that 35% of goals scored in open play had their origins in deliveries from wide areas.

Kevin De Bruyne's goal against Paris
Kevin De Bruyne's goal against Paris

This figure can legitimately be linked with the total in the forward pass category which, over the past three seasons, has settled at a much lower level (33, 37 and now 35) than in earlier years of the competition. The figure has almost halved since 2011/12 and is way below the record of 82 set in 2010/11. Recent history tends to indicate the growing difficulty when it comes to penetrating defensive blocks via the traditional through ball.

As with solo runs, a high percentage of forward pass successes can be associated with counterattacking: key examples in the later stages of the competition were provided by Kevin De Bruyne's opening goal for Manchester City in Paris; Fernando Torres scoring for Atlético in Barcelona; and the same team's tie-winning away goal by Antoine Griezmann at Bayern.

The above article appears in the new UEFA Champions League technical report for 2015/16: download now