How valuable are Direct Free Kicks?

I have seen questions asking whether free kicks have been included in certain published shooting statistics.
The inference made by those asking the questions is that the conversion rate that could be expected from a free kick is different to a normal open play shot, hence the direct free kicks (DFKs) should be stripped from the player’s shooting numbers in order to give meaningful analysis.

Invariably I see those sorts of questions as a challenge, and my mind translated the questions asked to “Can I prove one way or t’other whether DFKs are much more dangerous than shots from open play?”.

Thankfully, for anyone who is interested, my stats do give me an answer to the subject at hand, and I’m willing to share at least some of that info in this piece.

The way I have decided to present my findings in this very short article is to show how the percentage chance of scoring a goal from a particular zone is higher for DFKs than regular open play shots from the same location.

Additional Goal Expectation for DFK

Free Kicks

By way of explanation let’s start in the most central zone just outside the penalty area.

Dead Centre
The 1% means that the chance of scoring a goal from a DFK in that zone is just 1% higher than scoring an open play shot. Interestingly, if we continue looking at the very central strip of the pitch we can pretty much conclude that a DFK is no more likely to be scored than an open play shot.
This may well  come as a surprise to some, but it seems to confirm the much quoted commentary phrases of “this free kick is too straight” or “he would be better with a bit more angle on this”.

To The Side
Contrast that with the additional goal expectation that we see as we move slightly to the right or left of centre. We can expect DFKs to find the net at a rate which is somewhere between 3 – 10% more than open play shots hit from the same locations.
Given the conversion rates experienced in these zones this uplift is quite substantial and so when looking at player shooting ratios and goal scoring records it would be helpful to know how many of their shots were DFKs.

A DFK is a strange beast, as it changes where you ideally want to shoot from.
In an open play situation you would choose central positions as your shooting choice as these give you the greatest chance of converting.
However, when faced with a dead ball situation and a wall of 4 or 5 opposition defenders in front of you then shooting the ball from an extremely central location is the one of last places you would choose to tee it up.

Before anyone asks I’d prefer not to disclose the scoring rates for each zone for DFKs and open play shots. Given the time and effort taken to collect this information I’d like to keep that part of my research private for the moment. I trust that the uplift in DFK scoring rates as presented here will still be of benefit to readers.