The Analysis of the Final Third Entries and Entries into the Penalty Area as a Performance Indicator in Football

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Performance Analysis is defined as a study of sports performance (O’ Donoghue, 2010), with the purpose to develop an understanding of sport and to focus on informing the coaches and the athletes to improve their performance (Hodges and Franks, 2002). Within the soccer industry performance analysis has a number of applications. The most common of applications are technical and tactical analysis, movement analysis, data and modelling analysis and finally coach and player education (Carling et al., 2005). As stated by Carling et al., (2005) it is known that performance analysis could provide feedback to coaches and athletes and to be a part of the coaching process of the coach to interact with athletes and team performance.

Notational analysis is proposed by Hughes and Franks (2004) that is firstly concerned with the analysis of movement, tactical and technical evaluation and statistical compilation. Thus, notational analysis is used as method for analysing different aspects of performance. In football notational analysis is used to analyse the performance of the players and provide to the coach feedback for the players and help for planning future training sessions. According to Carling et al., 2005 notational analyis is linked with hand notation using a pen and paper to record event actions of the game and statistitics. It is considered to be a  reliable and objective method of data collection however due to the rapid and continouus evolution of technology a number of computerised systems have been developed that are used to improve analysis. Currently performance analysis is using technology (video and computers) to assess players and team performance. The use of the video play a huge role for the coach to be able to assess the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and prepare the team for the upcoming games (Carling et al., 2005). Furthermore, technology not only assesses opponents but could be also helpful for the team to record videos to assess technical and tactical trainings of the team.

Prior to any type of analysis, researchers need to identify the performance indicators that they are going to use. A performance indicator is defined as an assortment, or combination of action variables that defines some or all characteristics of a performance. Performance indicators need to be concurrent with success in order to be useful. Performance indicators could be used by the analyst and coaches to evaluate a team performance or individual performance. It could be also used to compare athletes or teams. (Hughes & Bartlett, 2002).

After identifying performance indicators the other factor comes in play is the making, of both within a professional context and academic sources, operational definitions can play an important role in the analysis of the sport  (Williams, 2012). However before designing a coding window and to be considered crucial as it is shown in many journals and books the identification and definitions of performance indicators need to be correct (Hughes and Franks, 2004), coding window is a window created in a performance analysis software, for example sportscode and dartfish that helps the analysts to code the game. According to the notational analysis research the definitions are necessary to analyse the sport and to ensure that the collected data is reliable and valid at the same time (Williams, 2012). Additionally, it would help in terms of comparing the findings with other similar studies (Yiannis, 2008; Athanasios et al., 2009). In general, operational definitions could provide the analysts with a clear view of what each performance indicator is when it comes to analyse a performance. It could also be an important factor in the analysis in terms of the reliability of the collected data (Williams, 2012).

In research scoring goals are related to a variety of different performance indicators. In the current review of literature final third entries and entries into the penalty area will be explained. Final third entries are considered to be of high importance and a highly influential performance indicator in creating goal score chances (Hughes and Franks, 2005). The importance of final third entries has been included in the existing literature, with Hughes (1990) emphasizing that football games are won in the attacking third of the pitch. According to Carlos Ruiz-Ruiz et al., (2013) findings in the 2006 World Cup that analysed entries into the penalty area as a performance indicator, the findings of the study showed that winning teams made significantly more entries into the penalty area rather than losing and drawing teams. On the other hand, losing teams received more entries into the penalty (mean= 49) rather than the winning and drawing teams. Lago et al., (2007) had similar findings with Ruiz study that teams making more entries into the penalty area were related to success and likewise not allowing opponents to enter their own penalty area. Furthermore, teams that have higher number of passing in the final third of the pitch are more likely to create goal scoring chances and subsequently score more goals (Partidge et al. 1993).  It is because of these studies that entries into the penalty area and final third entries play a major factor in winning football games and to discriminate winning to losing teams.

In this literature review apart from the final third and penalty area entries also factors associated within the two performance indicators and other factors affecting performance will be covered.


Research in performance analysis has paid a great attention to goal scoring in football because scoring more goals in a game than the opponent discriminates successful teams from losing teams (James, Jones & Mellalieu, 2004). Although, Garganta (1998), stated that assessing performance by the play of style based on scoring goals does not provide the full understanding of how the team performed. The author suggested that in order to understand the performance of the team all aspects of the game should be evaluated. The success of a football team is determined by scoring goals which is the ultimate target, a factor that has been given extensive analysis in soccer literature (Reep and Benjamin, 1968). Apart from final third entries research suggested  in order to score goals the team needs to enter into the penalty area (Wright et al., 2011). Other research noted that goals scored from the penalty area were significantly higher than goals scored outside the penalty area (Yiannakos and Armatas, 2006).

Additionally, in a recent study by Wright et al. (2011) examined from which area the goals are scored. The study showed that out of the 167 goals that have been scored in the English Premier League 87% of them were scored from inside the penalty area. Other studies showed similar findings, for example Olsen (1998), in a study for the World Cup 1986 showed 90% of goals were scored from inside the penalty area while Dufour 1993 in the 1990 World Cup 80%.

In the 2004 European Championship 15% of the goals were scored outside the penalty area and 85% from within indicating that the teams managed to enter the central areas of the attacking third of the field and mainly the penalty areas from where they scored most goals. (Hughes and Snook, 2006). Furthermore, in the in the 2004 Europeans Championships 44%, 35% and 21% of the goals scored were from inside the penalty area, inside the six yard box and outside the penalty area respectively (Yiannakos and Armatas, 2006). In 2002 World cup 84 % of the goals were scored from inside the penalty area of which 37% from the edge of the six yard box, the penalty area, 29% within the six yard box and 18% from the other areas of the box. The rest 16% of the goals were scored from outside the box.

Most successful teams in the Greek championship due to their technical and tactical superiority made much more shots from within the penalty area and scored more goals compared to the least successful teams. The lower ranked teams due to the opposite reasons stated above could not get close or within the penalty area and they were forced to shoot from outside the box resulting in scoring less goals. Armatas, Yiannakos, Zaggelidis Papadopoulos and Frankos, (2009b)

In the World Cup 2002 the South American teams due to their skills ability to enter the penalty area, made more shots from inside the box when compared with the teams of the rest of the world resulting in scoring more goals. (Brown & Hughes, 2004).

A comparison between English teams playing against each other 85% of the goals scored were from within the penalty area and when playing against European teams 95% of the goals scored were within the penalty area. This is based on the fact that European teams defend deeper in their area when compared to English teams resulting in giving the English teams time to build up their attack and manage to put more players in the penalty area and subsequently have more shots on goal. (Hewer and James, 2004)


In the literature it was found that there are some situational variables that may affect entries into the penalty area and entries into the final third. To name a few are match status, opposition effect and quality of the opposition.

Bloomfield et al. (2004) noted that match status plays a positive role throughout a match to teams that wants to be successful. It is considered that successful teams approach the game mainly with more attacking style rather than those who are unsuccessful. In most cases when teams are winning the game they play more defensively, in order to preserve the score, than when they are losing and vice versa.  For example, when they are losing they have more possession of the ball when compared with cases they are winning or drawing (Lago & Martin, 2007). The next factor that is associated with affecting performance is the tactics that both teams follow during the game. An attacking playing style was noted by a team where achieved the opponents penalty box more often but also, they did not allowed the opposition team to achieved their own penalty area (Ruiz-Ruiz et al., 2013). Hook & Hughes, (2001) research stated there is a relationship between an attacking performance indicator towards a successful performance, such as ball possession. Accordingly, to Ruiz-Ruiz et al., (2013) penalty area entries are expected to be seen by successful teams that perform an attacking playing style by entering the penalty area frequently and receiving less entries into their own penalty area by the losing teams. Finally, the results of two recent studies in elite soccer matches which observed the effects on playing tactics, on goal scoring and the chance reaching score box possessions concluded that attacking tactics and counter attacking tactics were more effective when the teams played against an unbalanced defence. (Tenga et al., 2010a, 2010b).

Recent research also suggested that prior to any sort of performance analysis in football games the quality of opposition should be taken into consideration which is another factor affecting performance (Lago et al., 2010). Lago et al., (2010) in general claimed that a team playing against a stronger team will have less time of possession as a result. Ruiz-Ruiz et al., (2013) stated that teams playing against stronger teams are more likely to receive more entries into their  penalty box than those against weaker teams. Another study by Redwood-Brown, Bussell and Bharaj, (2012) investigated the impact of different standards of opponents in the English Premier League in regards to top teams, middle and teams that ended at the botton of the league. They recorded different kind of performance indicators that included final third entries and entries into the penalty area. The analysis of the results showed midlle level teams had sigificant final third entries and entries into the penalty area, p= 0.022 and p= 0.023 respectively against  the bottom teams rather than top level teams. However, the authors also found that top level teams had more entries in both areas when they played against top level teams. Finally they suggested that there is not always differences in performarnce in regards to team level.

In other studies they examined a way to find a winning formula based on statistical reports to be successful. For example, a study by Horn et al., (2002) investigated the central zone of the pitch, just outside the penalty area, the authors recorded that 86% entries on this area would then  had an outcome in the peanlty area with an attempt on target. Similal studies by Taylor and Williams (2002) in the World Cup winners 2002 identified that there is a major importance on tactical aspect in regards to the ball regains, the authors suggested that if the team steal the ball on the attacking third would result into more attempts on goal. These findings where supported by other studies that successful teams in World cups and European leagues are tend to regain possesion in the attacking third. These could have an impact on goal scoring opportunities due to the fact that the ball is regained  on the attacking third which is closer to  the oppontes goal (Bell Walker et al., 2006). Following the research of Reep and Benjamin, (1968) research on how the passing frequency of a team  can lead to goals ensuing investigation has apparently made two differentiating schools of thought, to be specific those who advocate ‘possession’ football and patient built up and the research of  ( Hook and Hughes, 2001; Bate, 1988) who suggest that a more fast  approach or ‘long ball game’, which recommends that the team that gets the ball into the penalty area of the opponent as frequently as possible and subsequently more times than the patient built up of the game  will create more goal  opportunities and score more goals.

Gethin Rees, Nic James, Mike Hughes, Joe Taylor, Goran Vučković, (2010) stated that a manager of a team with the assistance of the performance analysis would be able to understand and assess on how the team responds to diverse circumstances during a game. A comparison can be made between games of the team when it has more possession of the ball but doesn’t manage to have many entries in the penalty area of the opponent resulting in drawing, losing the game or winning with a goal difference and when the team has more possession and manages to have much more entries in the opponents penalty area and score more goals resulting in winning the game.  The same though can be done with a team that follows the “long ball game.” Finally, the comparison can be made between two teams that are from the opposite schools of thought. Rees et al., (2010) analysed Premier League teams to prove if different strategies can be detected and determine whether a team is successful or not based on the above. Furthermore, attacking techniques and strategies were analysed in order to prove if there are any basic differences in the philosophy of the teams in the way of entering the opponents’ final third. Evolving score was used in order to determine if the match status influences the behaviour of the players and the team in general for example, possession game leading to more entries in the opponents final third or Long ball game leading to more entries in the opponents’ area when winning.

Jones, James, and Mellalieu, (2004) in their analysis did not take into consideration the under 3 seconds’ possession in the opponents third. In order for the analysis to be objective and be able to make a comparison with the above analysis, the authors said that all time possession that leads to entering the opponents final third will be taken into account including the possession of under 3 seconds. Horn, Williams and Ensum (2002) proved that 64% of possessions in the area in front of the penalty area (zone 14) comes from possessions between 0.5 to 2.5 seconds.  As a result of these possessions in zone 14, as explained above, 46%, of the off target attempts comes from the below 3 seconds possessions. The fast recovery of possession is a result of the high press strategy which enables a team to win the ball in the opponents’ area 14. They concluded that both successful and unsuccessful teams did not change their tactics on ball passing into final third in regards with the score line.

The ability of teams with high possession of ball and their tactic to attack from the central area of field (Zone 14) is the main reason they are successful (Grant and Williams, 1998; Taylor et al.,2002; Carling et al., 2005). Most goals in modern football are scored through attacking from the central area than any other part of the field (Grant et al., 1998; Horn et al., 2002; Williams, 2003).

In Smith, R. A. and Lyons, K. (2017) study, defensive line is defined as the line where a team, due to tactical strategy, the offside law or other factors, decides or is forced by the attacking team during the course of the game to defend and stop the attacking team. This line can be anywhere between the edge of the penalty area and the halfway line. The area will be referred in this analysis as the area 14 Plus which when compared with area 14 is much bigger. The results showed that most passes leading to goals are done within Zone 14 plus (Smith, R. A. and Lyons, K. 2017). The analysis of the results also showed that passes that lead to goals from that area during the fourth world cups (2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014) were 61%, 69%, 59% and 59 % respectively. It should be noted that possession and passes in Zone 14 which is the area in front of the penalty area is more productive in respect of scoring goals. They also concluded that more goals are scored when the ball is regained in the third  half of the opponent which is also supported by other research (Bialkowski et al., 2014)

In the research possession in modern football has been under analysis especially the last few years (Casal et al., 2017). But not all parameters where taken into consideration and Casal et al., (2017) study intend to introduce the importance of the field area in which a team has or tries to have possession. Casal et al., (2017) divided the pitch into two zones, the own half of the team called middle defensive zone and the opposition half called middle offensive zone. The importance of the above is that if a team has higher possession in his defensive area and not in middle offensive zone then the opportunities of scoring goals will be much less. The real aim in football is to score goals and win the games (James, Jones & Mellalieu, 2004). With no possession and entries in middle offensive zone then obviously it will be very difficult to achieve that. The importance of effective possession and the area of field in which it occurs are factors that differentiate successful and unsuccessful teams. Collet, (2013) suggested the need for effective possession located in the middle offensive area or the opponent’s penalty area which are the most dangerous places for the opponents. The author also suggests that successful teams always try to have possession near and around the penalty area of the opponent and close to the opponent’s goal.  By doing that they create more chances for scoring and they eventually score more goals. They are successful in keeping possession longer and enter more frequently the middle offensive zone. On the other hand, teams that are considered unsuccessful occupy the ball and have possession in their defensive zone and subsequently they create much less chances of scoring goals than then the successful teams (Casal et al., 2017). Following the analysis of the authors concluded that winning games chances would increased by almost two times (1.72) and  having more possesion in middle offensive zone would led to 44.25% success rate. However these results are based on national teams and may limit the reliabilty of the study.

Furthumore, another factor that could have an impact on affecting performance is game location. A study by Gómez et al., 2012 investigates the effects of game location and final outcome on game related statistics in each zone of the pitch in professional football. It has been recorded  recorded that home teams and winning teams have stronger effect in game related statistics such as goals, shots, crosses. In addition, home and winning teams have more shots and goals in attacking third and especially in the six yard box rather than the losing and drawing teams. More specifically winnings teams do not loose the ball in their own penalty area.

Similar studies as Gómez et al., 2012 that invistigate the game location is the study by Bialkowski et al., 2014 who suggested that home teams have a more attacking play of style when they are playing at home. Teams that are playing at home are having more possession which leads to more final third entries because they have more players in more advanced positions. It is also stated that defending higher would result in regaining the ball possession back at the final third of the pitch.


In conclusion, there is a gab in research if there is a directed link between final third entries and entries into the penalty. For instance, there is not yet any research to link on how many final third entries ended in the penalty area which led to goal. However we need to stress that there is  a gap in reasearch that makes a comparison  between  the number of final third entries and the number of entries into the penalty area and their impact on the final result of a football match.  When a team’s penalty entry entries are of a small percentage of the final third enties then less chances for scoring will be created and less goals will be scored. The higher the number of entries in the penalty area the more the chances will be created and subsiquently more goals opportunities will be created resulting in more goals to be scored.


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