In the 13th minute of the Ireland -v- Faroes match, RTE co-commentator Ronnie Whelan criticised Ireland after David Forde ushered his full backs forward and decided to play it long. In the 53rd minute, George Hamilton said this: “It would make an interesting comparison to see just how many of those long clearances actually lead to Ireland retaining the possession”…
We had to get to the bottom of it… we couldn’t resist putting together the stats to see whether the RTE lads were right, or whether Trappatoni’s percentage football actually yielded results. We’re growing tired of the constant moaning from any panel of pundits that analyse Irish matches. They use video snippets now and again to highlight certain failures or weaknesses in play but we wanted to go one step further and take entirely stats based approach and remove any bias.
Of the 10 long ball clearances, 6 were won by an Irish player in the air but of those 6 balls that were flicked on, just 2 resulted in Ireland retaining possession. Some people call the long ball game percentage football and with just 20% of those long balls actually resulting in Ireland keeping control of the ball, that means 80% of the time Ireland surrendered possession to the Faroes (plus slowed the game down in the process and gave them a chance to regroup).
David Forde played 20 passes in total on the night but not all of them were long balls. In fact half of them were short passes and throws to defenders. 10 out of 10 of these short passes were completed and they also resulted in Ireland having complete control of the ball (all be it in their own half). So it’s clear David Forde has the ability to pass it short when he wants to.
We’ve mapped all 20 passes in the charts above and you can see quite clearly that the long balls simply don’t work when it comes to retaining possession. Ireland did a decent job at winning the 1st ball against the Faroes (6 out of 10) but it’s the 2nd ball which is the problem. Against a better team with better defenders, you have to question whether Ireland would win so many first balls, let alone 2nd balls.
The stats certainly seem to back up the claims made by RTE commentators and the panel that playing the long ball up from the back just doesn’t work out most of the time and Ireland would be much better served playing it short and building from the back, particularly against inferior opposition like the Faroes who generally don’t press the defence and leave the full backs with plenty of time and space to receive a short pass.
You can view a spreadsheet of our analysis on Google Drive which also includes a brief description of each pass.
If you’re wondering how we put together the stats, we simply reviewed the match on RTE player, recorded the times David Forde touched the ball and then drew lines in photoshop of approximate locations of what area on the pitch a pass was made by Forde and to what area it landed.
Bonus fun fact: David Forde went without touching the ball for a period of almost 20 minutes in the first half.