Being kept blank again at the weekend saw us having scored just one goal in our last three Premier League matches. What’s more, we’ve only notched four times in our last five games overall and two of those came when Dnipro were down to ten men. So, just where have all the goals gone?
When Tim Sherwood took the reins, we saw a spate of goals, as we stuck three past Southampton, Stoke and Swansea. After AVB’s side had struggled to find the back of the net, the new manager saw his team score fourteen in his first seven games in charge.
The Swansea game was a peak, as our next match saw us lose 5-1 to Manchester City and the flow of goals has dried up with just 12 in the 9 games since. This is a slight decline, but worryingly 7 of those 12 have come away at Newcastle and home to Dnipro.
When Tim Sherwood started out, he had his side set up to cross the ball and opted for a twin striker approach and this has dictated the flow of goals.
After AVB’s departure and Tim Sherwood took over there were stories that he was tasked with making the team more attacking and to play with two strikers. How much truth there was to these rumours and that these directions had come from the board are unknown, but Sherwood set about it with a twin striker approach.
His method to feed his forward duo was through crossing, which became apparent in his first game in charge. In the Capital One Cup tie with West Ham, where we went with two traditional wingers in Lennon and Townsend, they fed Defoe and Adebayor with 40 balls in to the box.
In Sherwood’s first Premier League match in charge at the Lane, West Brom had to contend with 41 balls in to the box. Even in the FA Cup third round loss at the Emirates, we put 26 crosses in to the Arsenal area.
Up until the 3-1 win at Swansea, Sherwood had us averaging 25 crosses per match and 15 shots as a result, scoring 2 goals per game.
In the matches since our win at the Liberty, we’ve been attempting just 18 crosses per game and taking 11 shots. That’s a decrease of 7 crosses and 4 shots per match, which has seen our goals plummet from 2 to 1.3 per game.
So what’s changed?
Since the Swansea match, Sherwood has become less focussed on crossing and has started to tinker with the team.
We’ve seen a lot more single striker set-ups, as Roberto Soldado has spent more time on the bench. Sherwood has also experimented with inverted wingers, even central midfielders setting up wide such as Dembele or right backs like Walker. This has taken away from creating crossing opportunities and also shots.
Twin and single strikers
The biggest change to Sherwood’s system has been the twin and single striker approach.
Up until the Swansea game, the new manager had gone with two front men in seven of the nine matches. Since the victory at the Liberty, he has used twin strikers just three times in those eight matches, as he is drifting away from the system.
Overall though, during Sherwood’s entire time in charge, the difference in the number of crosses and shots in each set up is quite remarkable.
In the twin striker approach, we’ve crossed the ball 27 times per match on average and taken 16 shots in those games. This has seen us score 15 goals at a shot conversion rate of 10%.
With a single striker, we’ve crossed the ball just 15 times per match and taken 9.5 shots, scoring 10 goals at a conversion rate of just 7.8%.
This is a drop of 12 crosses per game and 6.5 shots, with a fall of 5 goals and 2.2% decline in shot conversion rate.
What’s more, the balance of scorers is a lot more evident with twin striker approach.
In the 9 matches we’ve played with twin strikers, Emmanuel Adebayor has scored 5 of the 15 goals. Eriksen has added 3, Soldado 2, Defoe 1, Lennon 1 and Paulinho 1, with 2 own goals.
In the 8 matches where we’ve gone with a single striker, Adebayor has scored 6 of the 10 goals. Four players have added one each – Paulinho, Chadli, Capoue and Eriksen.
Where have all the goals gone?
Tim Sherwood had a real desire to cross the ball and play with two strikers at the start of his time in charge. Whether this was a directive from the board or if he just wanted to go back to basics that everyone would understand is unsure.
What has been more concrete is his switch away from this approach as time has wore on. The trip to Swansea was a real tipping point and this was his eighth game of seventeen in charge so far.
The goals have decreased since then, as has the crossing, with Sherwood becoming increasingly reliant on a single striker approach. What has compounded this even more is his experimenting with inverted wingers and moving central players such as Dembele out wide.
This is not to advocate a twin striker approach all the time, as it’s far too open a system to go to places like Stamford Bridge. However, during his early matches, Sherwood would opt for this setup against teams we should overpower and his assertiveness paid dividends.
Our recent trip to Norwich, where we lined up with a single striker and were extremely average and very un-aggressive, signified his recent change in approach. It wasn’t until he introduced a second striker that our performance picked up and we started to create chances.
The recent dearth of goals seems to have coincided with Sherwood’s tinkering and experimenting with players and positions. Maybe its time for him to go the back to the basics that served him so well when he took over?