Long throw-ins: scouting to find marginal gains

Alex Stewart looks at how TransferLab’s box throw-in metric can add value to the scouting process for players with a special ability

Football is constantly seeking marginal gains, opportunities to put 1% extra thought or effort or application into an area to achieve an advantage equal to the sum of all these little improvements.

It’s been clear for a while that set-pieces are one such area, but while corners and free-kicks receive a lot of attention, throw-ins are one set piece that have seen comparatively little in the way of specialised coaching or analysis.

Obviously, there are outliers, and things are changing. There is a growing trend of throw-in coaches such as Thomas Grønnemark, who has worked with Liverpool, Ajax, and Brentford, among others. Grønnemark, who is Danish, has clearly been enjoying his MNT’s efforts at the European Championship!

Planning clever routines is one thing (and a very good one at that), but you also need players who can execute. One such kind of player is one who can achieve the kind of length required for a throw-in to reach the box. Perhaps the most famous example in the English men’s game is Rory Delap, a Republic of Ireland international who played for Derby County, Southampton, and Stoke City among others, and was a javelin thrower in his youth.

Delap’s long throw-ins became legendary (probably overshadowing his all-round effectiveness as a player), with teams even adapting to make it harder for him by moving the pitchside hoardings closer to the field to prevent his run-ups, or seeking to deny him access to towels to dry off the ball for added grip. Apparently, Delap’s throw-ins could range 30–40 metres, averaging 38 m, and could reach speeds of 37 mph.

Delap, doing his thing for Stoke City

Delap’s skill was achieving distance and loop with enough pace to cause defences issues. But who are the Delaps of top tier football currently?

Analytic FC’s flagship scouting platform TransferLab easily allows us to create custom metrics. One such metric we added is “Box Throw-ins”. These are throw-ins that, quite literally, reach the area. Because TransferLab’s Goal Difference Added algorithm allows us to assess the quality of such actions, rather than just their frequency, we can easily look at who adds the most to their team’s expected GDA output from box throw-ins.

So, using TransferLab, we identified the three players from men’s football’s top 200 clubs (Tiers 1 and 2 on the platform) who contribute the most to their team’s expected goals from throw-ins into the penalty area.

Senna Miangue is a left back or left-sided centre back who plays for Cercle Brugge in Belgium’s Pro League. He tops our list, adding the most to his team’s GDA with his box throw-ins (which he completes at 2.86 per 90).

A regular in the 2021/22 season after joining from Eupen, Miangue has largley been a substitute in the last two seasons, but his long throw remains a formidable weapon. Miangue actually often throws into the deep left channel outside the area to a player coming across who can then take a touch, try to force a corner, or get a cross in. But he also lumps it into the box too, getting real height, loop, and distance. This draws defenders into the challenge, and is a nightmare for goalkeepers forced to decide whether to come or stay.

Miangue’s throw-ins can be of defensive benefit too, as can be seen here as he clears his lines.

Having a player like Miangue adds something to Cercle Brugge’s arsenal, even if he’s only a substitute: he’s often on towards the end of games when the team can use his long throws to generate last ditch pressure on the opposition.

Next on our list is Cádiz’s centre back Luis Hernández. Hernández is a 35-year-old veteran who spent his youth career with Real Madrid before stints at Sporting Gijón, Málaga, and Maccabi Tel Aviv (where, although not at the same time, Rory Delap worked as assistant head coach to Robbie Keane until recently). Again largely a sub this season, Hernández is still capable of executing with his long throws (4.57 per 90), although it was not enough to prevent Cádiz’s relegation from LaLiga. Note how Hernández uses a little flick to generate additional power when going for a flatter throw.

He can basically hit the six-yard box from the sideline, which can be devastating, although here Valencia just about manage to clear.

And long throw-ins can go so deep (because you cannot be offside from a throw-in) that Hernández can actually hit effectively the goal line and generate a header back infield for a follow-up.

Last in our top three is Bochum’s right winger Christopher Antwi-Adjei. Playing over 1000 minutes in each of the last three seasons for Bochum, Antwi-Adjei was also a key part of Paderborn’s remarkable rise to the Bundesliga from the 3. Liga. His approach tends to be less flat and more loopy (and done at 4.26 box throw-ins per 90), but so deep that it forces defenders to head balls without much energy to them in dangerous areas. Here, only a superb last ditch block prevents a shot hitting the target.

Bochum’s throw-ins seem slightly more designed, and here the ability to force the defenders deep means that there is space at the top of the box for the headed pass back. Antwi-Adjei’s ability clearly forces this response from the defence, creating the space.

And this manipulation of the defence can be very useful, especially when Antwi-Adjei actually dummies (or at least, suggests that he will go long). Here, the Bayern defender is caught in two minds, knowing that Antwi-Adjei can reach Neuer, while the ‘keeper himself demands that player pushes. He doesn’t, so Antwi-Adjei takes a quick short throw having half-dummied the long throw, and then can sprint into the space behind the defender and get in a cross. This is a great example of using the threat of a box throw to generate chances, even if that isn’t recording in our TransferLab metric!

One last thing to note: TransferLab allows us to add metrics like box throw-ins to any profile. Which is really helpful, because you can find good all-round players like Antwi-Adjei, or the fourth player on our list, 22-year-old Swiss right-back Lewin Blum, who have this as an extra weapon. Blum rates as an elite-level attacking full back by Swiss Super League standards (top five league clubs, take note) and certainly has the potential to play at a higher level, while also contributing enormously from his box throw-ins.

While it is very unlikely a team would scout a player solely for their box throw-in ability, adding the metric to your desired player profile could be the deciding factor, or equip the coaching team with knowledge about a player signed largely for other reasons.

To find out more about TransferLab or request a free trial, contact us.

Header image copyright IMAGO / Colorsport

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