Goal kicks: How does each Premier League club take them? – The Athletic

By The Athletic UK StaffMar 5, 2024

An outfield player taking a goal kick used to be a rare treat, a sign that the goalkeeper had pulled a muscle and needed a willing team-mate to launch the ball towards the centre circle.

But since a tweak of football’s laws in 2019, the once-humble goal kick has become an increasingly integral part of how a club chooses to build up play. Some teams choose to have a defender pass the ball laterally to the goalkeeper, some ask the goalkeeper to play short to team-mates in the box, while some still prefer to go long and direct.

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With our guide to playing out from the back in mind, The Athletic asked its Premier League reporters to keep a close eye on how their side took goal kicks this weekend.

Some teams stuck to deeply held principles while some had to adapt to the opposition or injuries. Whatever the chosen approach, each club had distinct ideas — a clear indication we have moved past the era of gathering 20 outfielders in the middle of the pitch to fight for a high ball.

Arsenal

Arsenal are not afraid to go long from goal kicks and play off second balls, but most often they start attacks with their centre-backs stationed in line with their goalkeeper David Raya.

Such was their dominance, the Spaniard only had to take a few goal kicks against Sheffield United on Monday, but they did use one of their favourite short routines in which Gabriel plays the ball across to Raya on the right side of the six-yard box.

An outfield player takes 36 per cent of their goal kicks and it is typically Gabriel. When Raya receives it he usually lets the ball run across his body and plays out to William Saliba, who is stronger in possession. At other times, he stands on the ball to attract the press before playing, which helps create passing angles into the midfielders or opens up the opposition shape to go longer into the striker.

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Last season, while at Brentford, Raya launched over 50 per cent of his overall kicks compared to Aaron Ramsdale on 35.4 per cent. That number for Raya was expected to reduce once he moved to a possession-dominant club and it is now at 30 per cent.

Overall, 34.9 per cent of Arsenal’s goal kicks this season have been launched (the sixth-lowest total) with an average length of 31.6 metres the sixth-shortest, courtesy of Raya’s ability to clip the ball wide rather than punt long.

Jordan Campbell

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Aston Villa

Intriguingly, Emiliano Martinez took every one of Aston Villa’s goal kicks against Luton Town, marking a shift in thinking from Unai Emery. The last trip on the road came at Craven Cottage, when Martinez and Villa’s central defenders, Clement Lenglet and Pau Torres, took the goal kicks. This was designed to curb Fulham’s man-for-man pressing system and vary the passing lanes Villa used to progress the ball through the thirds.

At Kenilworth Road, though, Martinez often looked to play short into Lenglet, the closest centre-back, or when the situation necessitated towards the end of the game, go more direct into either Ollie Watkins or Morgan Rogers.

Jacob Tanswell

Bournemouth

There is one aspect in which Bournemouth are completely predictable this season: when they take a goal kick, you can bet the ball will be played by their goalkeeper. So far this season, they have taken 193 goal kicks. And on every occasion, it was the goalkeeper who had the honours.

Against Burnley last weekend, there was another pattern on show: Neto, the Bournemouth goalkeeper kicked the ball long for every one of the 13 restarts.

Using long balls has been a staple of Iraola’s approach as a coach. In possession, it stretches opponents and creates space for his midfielders to exploit. But playing long also puts the ball into areas where his team can best utilise their aggressive counter-pressing, allowing them to win the ball back high up the pitch within range of the opponent’s goal.

Jon Mackenzie

Brentford

Brentford’s captain Christian Norgaard recently described Mark Flekken as “the best goalkeeper I’ve ever seen with his feet.” The Netherlands international had a shaky start to life in the Premier League but is improving every week. He takes the bulk of their goal kicks and regularly mixes things up.

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In their 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Saturday, he alternated between passing it short to one of the centre-backs or pumping it long for Ivan Toney. It’s a tactic Brentford have had a lot of success with and it led to Neal Maupay’s goal in the 3-1 defeat to Manchester City last month.

The problem with hitting it long against Chelsea was that they had three centre-backs, Trevoh Chalobah, Axel Disasi and Levi Colwill, swarming around Toney and Yoane Wissa, so it only worked on a couple of occasions.

Jay Harris

Brighton and Hove Albion

A below-strength Brighton’s 3-0 defeat at Fulham was not typical of a team that uses an outfielder for goal kicks more than any other Premier League side (45 per cent of the time).

It is usually one of the central defenders, particularly captain Lewis Dunk, who passes to rotating goalkeepers Jason Steele or Bart Verbruggen to initiate the strict building-from-the-back style of head coach Roberto De Zerbi.

At Craven Cottage, De Zerbi’s side only had three goal kicks, all in the second half and all taken by Steele. On the second occasion, his intercepted pass almost led to a third goal for Fulham — always a danger with the high-risk-for-big-reward strategy of De Zerbi.

Andy Naylor

Burnley

Only three of Burnley’s goal kicks have been taken by an outfield player this season and that theme continued against Bournemouth with goalkeeper James Trafford taking all of them.

Trafford’s distribution has been a talking point among Burnley supporters all campaign but by going long it relieves the 21-year-old of pressure and immediately moves his team up the pitch. He kicked long on six occasions, creating second-ball opportunities in the middle of the pitch.

Due to Burnley’s struggles this season, eliminating unnecessary risks has become part of manager Vincent Kompany’s thought process and attempting to play out from the back against strong pressing teams is one of them. On the one occasion Trafford played short on Sunday, Burnley very nearly found themselves in trouble.

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Andy Jones

Chelsea

Chelsea typically set up their goal kicks with their centre-backs stationed either side of the goalkeeper (who is almost always the taker) deep inside their own penalty area, signalling head coach Mauricio Pochettino’s desire for his team to pass the ball out of defence, through and around opposition pressure.

But the approach was very different against Brentford. Perhaps as a mark of respect for the home side’s pressing traps, Djordje Petrovic sent his team-mates upfield and kicked long with all but one of his goal kicks.

It ensured Chelsea did not give the ball away deep in their own defensive third from their own restarts, but it also led to aerial duels that Brentford predictably dominated.

Liam Twomey

(Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

Crystal Palace

Palace are traditionalists with their goal kicks. Each of their 12 in the 3-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur was taken by goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.

Similarly, the same tactic was deployed each time. A long kick from Johnstone was intended to land just to the right or left of the pitch, pumped up just to the edge of the attacking part of the centre circle.

They were almost exclusively aimed towards striker Jean-Philippe Mateta, although they did not always reach him. When they did, he struggled to make much of them with the ball often bouncing off him. It demonstrated a lack of threat from goal kicks which, if anything, tended to give the ball straight back to the opposition. There is not much aerial ability in Palace’s squad, and that showed against Spurs.

Matt Woosnam

Everton

Here’s something unlikely to shock you: Sean Dyche’s Everton side like to go direct with their goal kicks.

They are third-bottom in the Premier League for build-up attacks and only one per cent of their goal kicks are taken by an outfielder — also one of the lowest totals in the division.

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The logic is pretty simple. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford possesses a booming kick and the attack is filled with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Beto and Abdoulaye Doucoure, who are adept in the air. Data from Statsbomb last week showed that Everton have by far the best success rate in the league in aerial duels.

On the few occasions where they do play short, Pickford aims the majority of his passes at centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite, who is comfortable playing into midfield or going longer to the strikers.

The 21-year-old’s composure is a big reason why he is now being touted for an England call-up, with Gareth Southgate in attendance for Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to West Ham.

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Patrick Boyland

Fulham

Fulham have added more variation to their goal kicks this season and that is reflected by the numbers, where around a third are taken by an outfield player.

That is normally the left-sided centre-back, either Tim Ream or, as on Saturday, Calvin Bassey. The thought process is simple enough: to invite a press from the opposition and then play out via the spaces they vacate.

Against Brighton, five were taken by Bassey, who passed to Bernd Leno. But that is not the only way they take goal kicks. Brighton tend to press with a man-v-man set up so when options became limited, Fulham mixed things up and went direct. This is a good out-ball with a target forward, and Rodrigo Muniz is becoming increasingly effective in that role. Fulham went long three times from goal kicks, with one other pass from Leno to a defender.

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Variation keeps their opponents on their toes.

Peter Rutzler

Liverpool

Liverpool had five goal kicks during their 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest with their approach consistent throughout.

With the hosts sitting deep at the City Ground, Jurgen Klopp’s side were able to build play from the back under relatively little pressure.

All five were taken by goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who always had plenty of options available with full-backs Conor Bradley and Andy Robertson pushing right out to the touchlines on either side. Centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahim Konate found space between them.

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Kelleher largely looked to captain Van Dijk, who is so comfortable in possession and so adept at switching play with his range of passing. Three of the five goal kicks were taken short to Van Dijk with no Forest player shutting him down.

The other two went short to Konate and Robertson.

James Pearce

Luton Town

Luton’s goal kicks at the start of the season were often a release of pressure or a hit-and-hope aimed upfield by Thomas Kaminski. It was either Carlton Morris or Elijah Adebayo who Kaminski would look for. But as Luton’s confidence in possession has grown, so has their usage of short kicks.

Only Sheffield United have taken more goal kicks than Luton this season, so Rob Edwards’ team know they need to be getting as much out of these opportunities as possible and they trust Kaminski to take the majority of them.

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Against Aston Villa, the former Blackburn Rovers No 1 went short to Amari’i Bell (his favoured option), Teden Mengi and Daiki Hashioka. His other two kicks were sent long for Morris to challenge.

Morris is an aerial force for Luton, but playing out from the back with the nearby quality of Ross Barkley and Albert Sambi Lokonga (when fit) has become an increasingly sensible option to get Luton moving forward rather than forcing Morris into another tussle. Luton’s adaption to Premier League football can almost be witnessed in their evolving taste in goal kicks.

Caoimhe O’Neill

Manchester City

Manchester City only took three goal kicks in the derby and although they are no stranger to a centre-back rolling the ball square to Ederson, the Brazilian goalkeeper did in fact take all of them at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The first was quickly taken (but short, of course) as City tried to get on with the game in search of a first-half equaliser, while the second and third were rolled square to Ruben Dias so the Portuguese defender could play out to Rodri and City could build their attacks from the back.

As you might expect, this is typical of Pep Guardiola’s City as it eliminates the risk of challenging for a high ball and losing possession. They do like to punt it long from kick-off, as United will remember from the FA Cup final, but goal kicks are normally taken short, even if that is to draw pressing forwards in and then play long over the top of them.

For Guardiola, direct balls have their place — but not at goal kicks.

Sam Lee

(Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Manchester United

Andre Onana was signed to help Erik ten Hag’s side pass out from the back. However, injuries and an ever-changing cast in defence mean, at the moment, he often kicks long.

United had 10 of them in Sunday’s Manchester Derby. The first three were taken by Raphael Varane, who passed to Onana, who then attempted to pass to the left-hand side to feed Marcus Rashford.

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Goal kicks four to nine were directly taken by the ’keeper, kicking long towards United’s right flank. Onana’s final goal kick was short down the left to Casemiro, setting up an unfortunate series of events that saw Sofyan Amrabat dispossessed and Erling Haaland score Manchester City’s third.

Carl Anka

Newcastle United

Whether it is Nick Pope, Martin Dubravka or Loris Karius between the sticks for Newcastle, goal kicks are almost exclusively taken by the goalkeeper. A mere six have been taken by an outfield player — and most of those occasions have been when the goalkeeper has taken a knock.

More than 20 per cent of Newcastle’s goal kicks this season have seen Dubravka pass short to Fabian Schar, the centre-back, and more often than not the goalkeeper does play it to a defender so that Newcastle can build from the back.

They are not averse to going long, however, and do mix things up. During the 3-0 victory over Wolves, Dubravka regularly urged his centre-halves upfield. Dan Burn, the left-back, often pushed high from goal kicks to try and compete in the air, while many were aimed towards striker Alexander Isak.

Newcastle do have a preference to play it out from the back, but they are not dogmatic about it, especially in periods of poor form.

Chris Waugh

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest’s intention against Liverpool was clearly to have central defender Murillo play the ball short to January signing Matz Sels. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side set up to take every goal kick in this manner, as they sought to play the ball out from the back.

But of the 12 goal kicks Forest had in the game, they only took a handful of them in this manner, with Liverpool pushing high and looking to stop them from doing so.

For the other occasions, Sels instructed Murillo and fellow central defender Andrew Omobamidele to leave the edge of the six-yard box and restarted play the old-fashioned way, launching them downfield.

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Against teams less intense than Liverpool, you can expect Forest to start playing short again.

Paul Taylor

(MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s goal kicks being taken exclusively by the goalkeeper shouldn’t be taken as a signal that the club also go long with the ball every time. Instead, the Premier League’s bottom side do mix things up, especially now Ivo Grbic has arrived from Atletico Madrid.

The Croatian has hit several goal kicks over halfway in his first league outings, hoping either one of the United strikers can dominate in the air or the midfield win the second ball. But he’s also not been averse to playing short to centre-backs Anel Ahmedhodzic and Jack Robinson, either. His superior distribution skills mean he has also dinked 20-yard passes to the wing-backs as well.

It’s a noticeable change from when Wes Foderingham was in goal — his tendency was to hit the ball long.

Richard Sutcliffe

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham dominated possession so much on Saturday against Crystal Palace that they barely had a goal kick to take. But when they did, it was very clear what the strategy was. The two centre-backs would stay in their own penalty area. Vicario would pass the ball out to the right and Romero would start the attack. Not once did the goalkeeper kick the ball long.

Maybe this was because Spurs had no one up front to win the header and make it stick. Maybe it was because Palace stayed in their defensive shape and did not want to press Tottenham all the way up the pitch. But under the circumstances, Spurs were able to build up exactly how they wanted: maintaining possession in their own half before moving forward.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

West Ham United

During West Ham United’s 3-1 win away to Everton, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola took all their goal kicks. When he played it short, Kurt Zouma, the captain, was his target, and he would play it from the back to build an attack.

His long kicks were noticeably aimed at Lucas Paqueta, on the left, who was up against Ben Godfrey. The Everton player is a centre-half but was playing out of position at right-back and Paqueta proved effective at keeping possession from Areola’s goal kicks.

(Rob Newell – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Areola also aimed for Jarrod Bowen, who played as a lone striker. Bowen has transitioned into an effective centre-forward this season and his bustling hold-up play combines well with Areola’s effective distribution.

Roshane Thomas

Wolverhampton Wanderers

It was a very small sample size for Wolves on Saturday with just four goal kicks in a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle.

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All were taken by goalkeepers: three in the first half by Jose Sa and one after half-time by substitute Dan Bentley after Sa suffered a blow to his quad that forced him off at the break.

And there appeared to be a plan to draw Newcastle out of their mid-block approach with two of Sa’s goal kicks and Bentley’s only effort taken short to defender Max Kilman. This was designed to let Wolves pass out from the back and encourage the home side to press them.

The only goal kick not taken short ended with Sa’s attempted long diagonal to Rayan Ait-Nouri being cut out by Kieran Trippier.

Steve Madeley

(Header photo: Dave Howarth – CameraSport via Getty Images)

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