Chelsea beat Aston Villa 3-1 in the fourth round of FA Cup last Wednesday to qualify for the next round. It was a much-needed win for the struggling Blues, who have found the going to be tough this season in the Premier League.
While Chelsea’s win was a treat itself for their supporters, the way Enzo Fernández scored their third goal with a direct free-kick was even more astounding. Partly because it was Fernández’s sixth goal of the season only and undoubtedly the best of the lot, but also because scoring through direct free-kicks has become very rare these days.
The previous decades had a lot more direct free-kick takers
The previous few decades were full of quality exponents of the direct free-kick. While the likes of Michel Platini, Diego Maradona, Eder and Zico scored a lot through them in the 1980s, the 1990s and 2000s were the golden period for free-kick takers.
Juninho Pernambucano, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Thomas Haessler, David Beckham, Juan Román Riquelme, Thierry Henry, Nolberto Solano, Gianfranco Zola and Alessandro Del Piero ruled the roost in terms of scoring from them.
Even prior to that, there were a few great free-kick takers like Didi, who is credited with starting the curling “Banana Kick”, Pelé and Eusébio, who were adept at scoring from free-kicks.
Even the past decade has experienced a lot of goals from direct free-kicks by the two best players in the world: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Hence, we can see that a good number of all-time greats excelled in scoring with direct free-kicks.
Even some defenders like Sinisa Mihajlovic, Ronald Koeman, Mario Basler, Roberto Carlos, Fernando Hierro and Michael Tarnat, who excelled while taking free-kicks and also kept scoring in abundance for their respective teams.
The possession-based style of football is probably responsible for the decline in direct goals from free-kicks
However, since the turn of the century, world football has decidedly made a shift to the possession-oriented style. Most of the teams are reluctant to concede possession cheaply these days. Hence, there has been a reluctance to aim at goals from the spot, as there is always a chance of the ball striking the wall and then going to an opposition player.
Moreover, there always remains the threat of conceding from a counter-attack in such a scenario. Hence, most of the free-kick takers are coached these days to pass the ball to one of his teammates who is making an off-the-ball run.
Most of them, however, prefer to play an aerial ball into the penalty box with a hope that one of the players present there will leap to score with a header.
James Ward-Prowse is a glorious exception in this regard and has scored 17 goals in the Premier League so far in his career and is only behind Beckham in that regard. There is another player in the form of James Maddison who has scored a good deal from free-kicks.
However, players like them are still few and far between. Plus, the gradual decline of Messi and Ronaldo, we might not see goals being scored from free-kicks in copious amounts in the near future.