The 'Throw Show' - How can we maximise what we do on throw ins?

The 'Throw Show' - How can we maximise what we do on throw ins?

With an average of 50 throw ins per game in the current WSL season, throw ins are the most common dead ball situation in football.  In this blog, Game Insights Analyst Katie Sorenson explores the frequency of throw ins, and the impact throw in direction can have on a team's ability to maintain possession.

In the current 2023/24 Women’s Super League season, there is an average of 25 throw ins per team per game – a huge 50 a match! We see even more occur across younger age groups, evidenced by the U19 Women’s UEFA Championship in 2023, which saw an average of 33 throw ins per team per game, jumping that number from 50 up to 66. In fact, within a game formats study, we observed possession starts across ETC U14 girls playing at 3v3, 5v5, 7v7 and 11v11. Within the 11v11 setting, there was an average of 16 throw ins across a 20-minute period. If we were to balloon this up to a full 90-minute game, we would see approximately 72 throw ins – 36 per team per game!

To understand which teams within the WSL make the most of their attacking throw ins, we have delved into:

  1. Which teams are most successful at winning attacking first contact?
  2. Which teams keep possession for longer following the throw?
  3. Which teams are best at creating goal scoring opportunities from the throw in?

Attacking first contact

We have just tipped over the halfway mark in the current WSL season, with every team having played 13 of the 24. At this stage, attacking teams win an average of 82% of first contacts from their throw ins. This is 4% higher than last season, so we are already seeing that teams are better when it comes to this. But which teams are the best?

Aston Villa currently win first contact on 94% of their throw ins, the highest success rate in the league, followed by Manchester City (93%) and Chelsea (90%). Many things can affect how successful a team is at winning first contact from the throw in, such as the technical ability of the thrower, the movement of the receiving player, and the direction of travel of the throw (forwards, sidewards, backwards).

Through diving deeper into the direction of the throw, we can see that teams on average win first contact on just 63% of throws that are forwards, compared to 90% when sidewards, and 99% when thrown backwards. Aston Villa only direct 15% of their throw ins forwards, compared to the average of 36% across the league. Still, on these 15% of throws, they win first contact on 80% - 17% above the league average. Aston Villa most frequently throw sidewards, the 2nd highest in the league behind Chelsea. They are also 2nd for backwards throw ins, behind Manchester City, where we see they win 97% of first contacts across both directions. In the below graphic, you can see how Aston Villa direct their throw ins across the pitch, and what this means for attacking first contact.

When looking into the insights around Aston Villa and their throw ins, we can start to consider why they make the decisions to not throw ‘down the line’ like the majority of teams in the league. How are the players coached in this area? How have Villa developed throwers that trust their teammates to receive, and have the technical ability to throw accurately? How have they positively reinforced deeper players getting on the ball, developing confidence in these players to receive with the pitch in front of them (backwards throw) and with their back to goal on the half turn (sidewards throw).

Possession after the throw

Once we identified the relationship between the direction of the throw and what this can mean for attacking first contact, we wanted to look further into whether throwing sidewards and backwards led teams to keeping possession for longer compared to when throwing forwards.

Data shows that on average across this season, 52% of possessions from throw ins last between 0 to 5 seconds. 48% of throw ins see possession kept for at least 5 seconds. Check out the graph below, to see how the direction of the throw can impact the length of the possession following the throw.

Hopefully, you can see that teams were able to keep possession for longer on throws when they threw backwards, as on average, 82% of all backwards throw ins had a possession that lasted for at least 5 seconds, compared to just 26% of all throw ins that are forwards.

Chelsea and Manchester City are the two most likely teams to retain possession off a throw, with both teams being able to keep possession for longer than 5 seconds on nearly two of every three throws (63%). What is also interesting is Chelsea are quite successful at retaining possession for longer than 5 seconds from a forward throw. In fact, they can do this on 4 of every 10 forward throw ins (40%), which is higher than the league average by 14%. What this demonstrates is that teams do not have to always throw backwards or sidewards – a forward throw can be more progressive and break a defensive line and get you closer to your attacking goal! So, there is definite value in having a multi-directional throw approach. Do you have players that are capable of throwing and retaining off a throw from all three directions?

Goalscoring opportunities from a throw

We see goals scored directly from corners and free kicks every week. These are two dead ball routines that are thought to be more ‘attacking’ and therefore we can assume that coaches spend longer in working on these areas of the game. But there certainly is a benefit of working on throw ins within your training sessions to (1) work on retaining the ball and (2) to create goalscoring opportunities.

We have analysed 3822 throw ins across the 2023/24 WSL season so far. There has been an end product of a shot being taken from 135 of these (4% of all throws; 0.9 shots per 90), and this had led directly to 14 goals being scored. This might seem a very small number, but we have to remember that a throw in can be taken from anywhere on the pitch along the side-line – the deeper the throw in, reduces the likelihood of reaching the opposition penalty box.

The data shows that 59% of these shots came when the throw in was taken in the attacking third of the pitch. 31% of shots from throw ins starting in the midfield third, and just 10% of all shots from when the throw in was taken in the defensive third. This demonstrates that the deeper the throw, the less likely it is to have an end product.

Tottenham struggled in the league last season, finishing 9th on 18 points, scoring 31 goals across the season (1.4 per 90). This season however, they are definitely on the up, already on 19 points after 13 games, having scored 20 goals (1.5 per 90). What might be surprising, is that 25% of their goals have come from following a throw in. When we look at the throw in direction again, throwing the ball sidewards leads to 58% of shots, and accounted for 9 of the 14 goals being scored. 4 of Tottenham’s 5 goals from throw ins were scored when the thrower directed the ball sidewards. Watch the below video and note down what you observe around Spurs’ strategy from the throw. How do they exploit space? How do they free up the receiver to get on the ball? How do they create a goalscoring opportunity?

Coaching considerations

Now we have discussed the insight on throw ins, we hope you have started to think about what this might mean for you and the players you coach.

  • Do you consider the technical abilities of your throwers to be able to throw it backwards and sidewards to retain possession, as well as forwards to progress further up the pitch and maybe start an attack?
  • Do you work on how your players receive the ball from a throw in, both unopposed and from high pressure from an opposition player?
  • Does your players’ decision on the throw depend on where on the pitch the throw in is being taken?

To find out about implications of throw ins for young players, read this blog below -Exploring throw-ins from the FIFA Men's World Cup 2022