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Using data to identify key zones and improve attacks

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With the help of the data, we will find the best zones for shot assists in a data-validated way. By the end of the article, coaches may even find out that they should adjust their current attacking strategy.

Today we look at which zones the Bundesliga teams use to generate shots. We'll use the complete data set from the 23-24 season, which includes 306 games with around 550’000 events and around 315’000 passes.

Since goals are rare and also heavily dependent on luck, we have chosen the Shot Assists for the analysis. Shot Assists are a more stable indicator of a team's offensive output than goals scored.  

To win, a team needs goals. To score goals, a team needs shots. To produce shots, a team needs a good attacking strategy and good shot patterns.

As always, it's about making the right decisions. Decisions that minimize risk and maximize value/output. We are particularly interested in the input and output of the various attacking zones.

Where are the goals scored from?

Using Bayer Leverkusen as an example, let's first look at where the goals were scored from. Most goals are of course scored from the central zone inside the penalty area. This is also representative of all other teams. Shots from outside the penalty area are continuously decreasing. 

But the zones from which the shots for the goals were generated are other zones. Let's dive into this.

Pass success rate into the attacking zone How strongly are zones protected by the defense?

Now we want to know how strongly the corresponding attacking zones are protected by the defending team. In other words, how difficult it is to play successful passes from outside the zone into the zones. We have divided the attacking third into 10 zones. At the very front we have the wing zones, the lateral penalty area zones and the center of the penalty area. Behind them are the similar zones in front of the penalty area.

I pay particular attention to the side penalty area zones because, as a match analyst with “my” teams, I have placed particular emphasis on getting into these zones with collective attacks. In order to then produce promising shot assists from there. So far, my gut feeling has been that these lateral zones offer the best balance between risk (loss of the ball) and output (shot placement). Today I try to provide evidence for this with data.

This analysis has sufficient sample size as it is based on 80’000 passes played into these offensive zones in the 23-24 Bundesliga season.

What is the success rate of passes played from outside the zone into the zone?

Low values mean a low success rate and high opponent protection. We can see that the central penalty area is logically the most protected. Only 30% of passes into this zone are successful.

At around 80%, we have the highest success rates in the lateral zones, even before the penalty area. The more central and closer to the goal a zone is, the more difficult it is to make successful passes.

Close to the goal, it is the side areas of the box that have a promising success rate of over 50% in relation to the proximity to the goal.

Shot Assist pro Zone

Now we focus on the output. The shot assist is a very good indicator of a team's offensive output. Now let's look at how much danger comes from the zones. Or the number of Shot Assists produced from these zones.

How many Shot Assists were generated from inside the zone? 

Wie viele Shot Assists wurden von innerhalb der Zone generiert?

Most valuable zones - effort/risk/reward perspective

This is where it gets exciting. We consider each zone as a separate system with an effort (passes into the zone) and risk (pass success rate into the zone) and a output (number of shot assists out of the zone). This systemic view does not see the zone in isolation, but considers it in the context of the entire system. Effort > Risk > Return

Delimitation: The runs into the box are not included as they are not available in the data set. In order to compare the input and output of the zones fairly, we calculate the shot assist output for 10 passes into the zone.

How many Shot Assists result in average from 10 pass attempts into the zone?

Calculation example; Let's take zone 4 as an example with a value of 1.32 Shot Assists. 10 passes with 52% success = 5.2 successful passes into the zone. Risk view covered. Then we divide the value with the Successful Passes per Shot Assist.  5.2 / 3.94 = 1.318 Effort-reward view covered. This means that 1.32 Shot Assists are generated in this zone with 10 pass attempts.

We have the best effect in the assist zones outlined in green with values above 1.1 in the central zone in front of the penalty area (Z8) and the lateral penalty area zones (Z2, Z4). In the central penalty area zone, the value is only 0.42 and generates only one third more Shot Assists per 10 passes than the three zones mentioned.

The central penalty area zone has a poor risk/reward ratio when generating Shot Assists.

The best shot assist zones with the best ratio are the central zone in front of the penalty area and the two lateral penalty area zones.

Analysis Premier League & Super League

As a cross-comparison, let's take a look at the values of the individual zones in the Premier League and Super League.

The values in the green assist zones are almost identical. I have analyzed other leagues and the picture is the same there. That's a good sign.

Attacking strategy to enter best Assist zones

Even if you take into account that you have to pass through the preceding zones to get to the best assist zones, the values of the green assist zones remain by far the best. It is advisable to get there via weaker protected zones. In our attacking process we distinguish between combination zone, assist zone and finishing zone.

Attacking process with zones
Attacking process with zones

What do the findings mean in practice?

  • Most goals are scored from the central penalty area. But the best zones for assists are the lateral penalty area zones and the central zone in front of the penalty area. Also known as Zone 14. We define these zones as the best assist zones

  • The conquest of these assist zones should be given more weight in attack, as these zones guarantee a higher offensive output and ultimately more shots on goal

  • Teams often focus too early and too firmly on getting into the central finishing zone quickly and directly from anywhere. Presumably because most goals are scored from there. One example are the “prayer crosses” from far out, high into the penalty area. The first priority should be to get into the assist zones first with combinations. This will make it easier and more frequent to score.

  • The centrally positioned attackers should not take on an unidimensional, passive role until they reach the central goal, but should actively participate in the conquest of the assist zones with runs. They should actively attack these zones with runs and promote passes. The gap in the finishing position that is opened up will be filled automatically

  • Attack option: It is worth overloading the sides to create an outnumber in order to be able to attack and conquer assist zones more easily and with more players. The best way to do this is with a vertical underlap

If you are evenly distributed everywhere on the pitch, you are everywhere and nowhere.

  • Attack option: By centering the fullback on the weak side when shifting side, the assist zones can be attacked more quickly and directly, without the opponent having enough time to shift their entire defensive block. As a match analyst, I used this attacking concept successfully with “my” teams for over 10 years. 

  • Attack option: Once you have brought the ball in the assist zones, dangerous cutback passes can also be used to score goals.


Rangnick Signature Attack The following is a prototype attack by Austria from the EM2024 game against Turkey.

This attack is exactly in this form in my playbook.

Grillitsch (10) plays to Fullback Posch (5) at the line. Sabitzer (9) underlaps to open up space and drag opponent. Without this run, the attack would not be possible. Posch now moves diagonally inwards with the ball. This is the trigger/signal for Seiwald to cut into the assist zone behind his defender. A dangerous cutback follows. 100% Rangnick Signature


Here are some principles that support implementation:



Concentrate less on scoring at beginning but more on building the path to the goal.

First think about conquering the assist zones and then about finishing the goal. The attackers should offer themselves more in the assist zones. 

Create an overload on the ball side and center on the weak side when shiftig side in order to make it easier to play in the assist zones.


Game structure is key

A solid, resilient and innovative playing structure is the key to a successful team. Especially in widespread industrial football, it is fresh and good ideas that make the difference. When everything is the same, it's the difference that counts.

Performance consistency and results are more dependent on the team's playing structure than the players' form on the day. The structure supports and strengthens the individuals. In a weak team, the individuals have to compensate the structure. A good matchanalyst can recognize and assess the quality of the game structure in only 15 minutes.

Defense prevents goals Offense wins games Structure wins championships ~ footballytics

At the beginning, I wrote that as a match analyst I nstinctively prepare “my” team to use combinations to get into the lateral strareroom zones. Today I was able to provide evidence that these zones actually deliver the best effort/risk/reward ratio in offense.

In addition to the scouting & match analysis mandates with clubs and agencies, it is also my personal goal to expand my network. To get to know exciting people and work on fresh and innovative topics.

Did you like the quality of our article? Then reward us with your “credits” and like and share this post within your social network. Thank you very much.


improve the game - chnage the game with footballytics

We combine the competencies football tactics, scouting and data analytics and advise and support clubs in interpreting and using data to make better decisions in scouting and match analysis. about football & data analytics

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