The curl shot (part 1): New research reveals top goalscoring technique

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Auckland’s David Grey has studied 1,000 goals scored in an English Premier League season with one objective — to learn the art of the curl shot. His research has uncovered the science behind the sorcery … and he shares his findings in this special two-part feature.

By David Grey

Is there anything sweeter than a ball curling and dipping perfectly inside the far post of the goal?

Picture this. The ball arrives on the edge of the 18-yard box. A touch inside. A pace to steady yourself. A quick glance towards the goal, and you shoot.

The ball flies from your boot with a wicked spin, curls around the goalkeeper’s gloves and nestles into the far corner of the net as you wheel away in celebration.

You’ve just scored a simply sublime, unstoppable curl shot.

English Premier League (EPL) players are well known for thriving in these situations.

Superstar footballers Mohammed Salah of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung Min Son and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez all excel at the curl shot technique.

With observation of these players, a New Zealand-based player can greatly develop their own attacking game and score more goals.

In its simplest terms, a curl shot involves striking the ball off-centre to impart side-spin, with this side-spin causing the ball to have a curling flight.

Let Harry Kane show you how

Here’s an example of Tottenham Hotspur and England forward Harry Kane using the curl to find the inside of the far post:

The curl increases the effectiveness of the shot, particularly when aimed towards the far side of the goal, for two main reasons.

Firstly, goalkeepers tend to protect their near post, which means there’s more room to score at the far post; and secondly, the curling ball can escape the reach of the goalkeeper on its path towards the far corner of the net.

It is football folklore that a perfect curl shot is unsavable.

If a player can make the ball fly into the far corner of the goal with prodigious curl and power, a goalkeeper will have little to no chance of keeping the ball from the net.

At 18 Yard Club and likely many other goalscoring clinics, the curl shot technique is among the first skills taught to young players. It is considered a pivotal skill in elevating an attacking player’s goalscoring potential.

But exactly how important is the curl shot?

I set out to answer this question by researching more than 1,000 goals scored in the 2021-22 English Premier League season.

For my purposes, I set aside goals scored from within the inner half of the 18-yard box, and excluded penalties, free kicks and headers.

While many goals are scored from positions in and around the 6-yard box, the curl shot doesn’t come into play at such close range.

Instead, I analysed goals scored from 8 zones in the outer half of the 18-yard box and further out. (See Figure 3 below).

How the goals were scored

In the 2021-22 EPL season, 390 goals were scored from beyond 9 yards, with a spectrum of shooting techniques used: power shots with the “laces”, chip shots, volleys and curl shots.

My analysis revealed that of these 390 goals, a third were scored using the curl shot technique, and curl shots proved to be the prevalent goalscoring method from several zones of the attacking third of the pitch.

When we examine only goals scored from further out, the results are even more pronounced.

Of goals scored from outside the 18-yard box, 44% were curl shots. This makes curling the ball the prime method for finding the net from areas outside the box, placing it ahead of typical “laces” power shots (See Figure 2).

In addition, my analysis of the 128 curl shot goals in the 2021-22 EPL season revealed concentrations of curl shot goals in very specific zones.

These are marked as zones 6 and 7 in Figure 3.

Almost half of goals scored from these two zones are curl shots (49% and 48% for zones 6 and 7 respectively). It seems that in these areas of the pitch, the curl shot is more than just an option, it’s the primary goal scoring technique.

Use the curl shot in your own game

The curl shot is the most effective goalscoring technique for EPL players beyond 18 yards.

My conclusion is that to improve attacking potency, players should always attempt a curl shot when given a split-second to shoot in these areas of the pitch.

Furthermore, since right-footed curl shots are typically scored from the left side of the pitch (zones 1,2,5,6) and left-footed curl shots from the right (zones 3,4,7,8), players who’ve mastered the curl shot technique with both their right and left foot have the advantage of being able to convert with a curl shot from either side of the pitch.

They will have double the curl shot-scoring potential.

So, when you have the ball at your feet on the edge of the box, you know what to do… or rather you knew what you were trying to do, because the ball has just careened tragically off your boot and into the stands.

Hey, we’ve all been there.

Maybe next time you’ll find the net with a curl shot just like Salah, Son and Mahrez of the EPL.

David Grey

David Grey is an Auckland-based football researcher who coaches with the 18 Yard Club and plays as a striker for Northern League club Manurewa.

READ MORE: The curl shot (part 2): The physics behind the moment of footballing magic* >>>>

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