Are long ball Leicester City taking us back to the future?

By Paul Nicholson

April 18 – Wonderful as the Premier League Leicester City story is, are we seeing an English return to long ball football? Could we soon be crying out for more of the same and a demand for the likes of the old Wimbledon to return to the top flight? Could Sam Allardyce be right after all?

Latest research from the CIES Football Observatory suggests that the long ball game is taking hold again in the Premier League (in comparison to other Big 5 European leagues) with three of the top six long ball teams being English – Leicester (3rd), Sunderland (4th) and West Brom (6th).

The CIES analysis looks at the percentage of long balls out of total passes. CIES finds that: “While the percentage of long balls for the best performing teams generally does not exceed 3%, this figure is almost 7% at Leicester.”

Above Leicester are German clubs Darmstadt (10.7%) and Ingolstadt (7.8%). The highest figures in the three remaining big-5 leagues are Eibar (La Liga, 6.6%), Frosinone (Serie A, 6.3%) and Bastia (Serie A, 6.2%).

Looking at the lowest ranked teams the bottom six positions are filled by Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich (both 1.1%), Barcelona (1.4%), Juventus (1.6%), Dortmund and Napoli (1.8%). The two lowest ranked English teams are Manchester City (2.4%), and Liverpool (2.6%).

Man City’s Champions League semi-final opponents Real Madrid are ranked lower at 2.1%. CIES points out that the average percentage of long balls for Champions League semi-finalists is 2.1%.

But before the Premier League is written off as a long-ball fiesta, a look at the overall league percentages suggest otherwise. Germany’s Bundesliga tops this table at 4.6%, England and Spain are level at 4.4%, followed by France on 4.1% and Italy on 3.8%.

The CIES says that in absolute terms, Deportivo La Coruña have played the most long balls (851, two more than Leicester), while Bayern Munich the least (246).

View the full table at

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