What Counts As An Assist In Football

The Ultimate Guide To Assists In Football

Last updated on October 17th, 2021

You may have heard of the term ‘assist‘ in football.

However, what exactly counts as an assist and are there any goals that do not have assists?

Here’s what you need to know:

What counts as an assist in football?

Assists are awarded to a player who last touched the ball before leading to his teammate scoring a goal. This can be any touch by the player, including a pass, cross or shot. Depending on the situation, there may not be an assist awarded for certain goals.

Here is the official definition of an assist by Opta:

The final touch (pass, pass-cum-shot or any other touch) leading to the recipient of the ball scoring a goal.

If the final touch is deflected by an opposition player, the initiator is only given a goal assist if the receiving player was likely to receive the ball without the deflection having taken place.

Own goals, directly taken free kicks, direct corner goals and penalties do not get an assist awarded.

Opta

Here are some key pointers from this definition:

  1. Any touch by a teammate that leads to a goal will be awarded with an assist
  2. Certain scenarios will not have any assists awarded

For the first pointer, any touch that leads to the goal will be awarded!

Here is one of the more bizarre goals, when Hull City played against Leicester City.

Both Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez attempted bicycle kicks at the same time! In the end, Diomande was awarded the goal by the Goals Accreditation Panel.

This is because he was deemed to have the last touch of the ball.

Meanwhile, Hernandez was awarded the assist since he touched the ball before Diomande scored the goal!

The Goals Accreditation Panel helps to determine whether a goal should be considered as a deflected shot or be awarded as an own goal.

Assists may not be intentional

When you think of an assist, you may think of a player who either performs a beautiful pass or cross to the goalscorer.

However, that is not always the case!

The player who last touched the ball before the goalscorer scores the goal may have made an unintentional touch.

For example, the ball deflected off Ayoze Pérez to allow Çağlar Söyüncü to score the goal against Manchester United.

Even though Perez did not intentionally touch the ball, he was still awarded an assist!

FIFA also has a definition

In the FIFA World Cup tournament, assists are awarded by the FIFA Technical Study Group.

Here are the 6 criteria that they set out to define an assist:

  1. An assist was awarded to the player who had given the last pass to the goalscorer.
  2. In addition, the last but two holder of the ball could get an assist provided that his action had decisive importance for the goal.
  3. After goals from rebounds those players were awarded an assist who had shot on target.
  4. After goals scored on penalty or by a directly converted free-kick the fouled player received a point.
  5. In case that the goalscorer had laid on the goal for himself (dribble, solo run), no assists were awarded.
  6. No assists were awarded, either, if the goalscorer took advantage of a missed pass by an opponent.

However, this definition is rather outdated as it was only used in 1986! Moreover, there are no later versions of this definition by FIFA as well.

FIFA did not update this definition, so the Opta definition seems to be the gold standard.

An assist will only be included in ‘chances created’, but not ‘key passes’

There are two different stats that are usually measured for playmakers: chances created and key passes. The main difference between these 2 metrics is that assists are included in chances created, but not key passes!

You can view my comparison between chances created and key passes to find out more.

Does every goal have an assist?

Not every goal will have an assist. An assist can only be awarded to a teammate who last touched the ball which led to you scoring a goal. If there were no previous touches by one of your teammates, such as from a defender’s backpass, no assist will be awarded.

There are quite a few situations where a goal may not come with an assist.

One common example is when a defender passes back to the goalkeeper, and you manage to intercept the ball! If you score a goal, no assists will be awarded.

This is because none of your teammates had a touch that led to you scoring the goal!

Another common example happened in the 2021/22 North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham.

For the third goal that Arsenal scored, Saka attempted to pass the ball, but it was blocked by a Spurs defender. The ball fell back to Saka, and he was able to score the goal.

In this case, there were no previous touches by his teammates before Saka was able to score the goal. As such, no assist was awarded to an Arsenal player for the third goal.

Can you assist yourself in football?

You are unable to assist yourself in football. This is because the assist is awarded to your teammate who last touched the ball which led to you scoring the goal. In this way, you are unable to assist yourself in scoring a goal.

You may have seen some goals where an attacker passes to himself and scores. One such example is Zlatan Ibrahimovic passing to himself when he was in PSG!

Since Ibrahimovic passed to himself before scoring the goal, no assist would be awarded for this goal!

The assist can only be awarded to a teammate that helped you in scoring the goal!

How many touches before it’s not an assist?

A player is able to take as many touches as he wants before scoring the goal. His teammate who last passed the ball to him will still be awarded an assist. However, if a defender touches the ball, an assist may not be awarded depending on the situation.

It does not matter how many touches you take with the ball before you score the goal. If your teammate passed the ball to you beforehand, he will still be awarded with an assist!

In this match between Stoke and Liverpool, Joe Gomez passed the ball to Phillippe Coutinho.

Coutinho did all of the hard work and scored an amazing outside the box shot!

Even though Coutinho took multiple touches, Gomez was still awarded with an assist!

Here’s another example. Sergio Busquets gave the slightest of touches for Lionel Messi to score an amazing solo goal against Real Madrid.

Even though Messi took multiple touches, Busquets was still awarded with the assist!

Does a saved shot count as an assist?

If a your shot is saved by the goalkeeper and your teammate scores the rebound, you will be awarded with an assist. This is because your touch indirectly led to your teammate scoring the goal.

This is one of the more common ways where an assist is awarded to a player.

However, you will need to make sure that your teammate is not in an offside position before he scores from the rebound!

Do rebounded shots count as an assist?

If your shot rebounds off the post, it will be counted as an assist if your teammate scores the goal directly from your rebounded shot. This is because your shot was the final touch that led to the recipient scoring the goal.

Can you assist an own goal?

No assists are awarded when an own goal is scored by the opposing team, as this was specifically identified as an exception to an assist by Opta. However, an assist may be awarded in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) if an own goal is scored.

The definition of an assist by Opta clearly states that no one will be credited with an assist in the event of an own goal:

Own goals, directly taken free kicks, direct corner goals and penalties do not get an assist awarded.

Opta

For example, if you cross the ball into the penalty area, but a defender puts the ball into the net, you will not be awarded an assist!

However, things get trickier when a decision needs to be made whether the goal is counted as an own goal or a deflection. It will only be considered as a deflection if the original shot was on target!

For example, Gabriel scored an own goal in this FA Cup match between Arsenal and Southampton.

Even though Kyle Walker-Peters made the cross, he was not awarded an assist!

Do you get an assist for an own goal in FPL?

In the rules of the Fantasy Premier League, you will be awarded with an assist if your shot or pass ultimately forces the opponent to score an own goal.

Interestingly, a player will be awarded with an assist for an own goal, but only in the Fantasy Premier League!

An assist will be awarded to a player who ‘forces an opposing player to put the ball into his own net‘.

In the example above (Gabriel’s vs Southampton), Walker-Peters would have been awarded the assist!

Is winning a penalty an assist?

As part of the definition of an assist by Opta, winning a penalty would not be considered an assist. However, an assist may be awarded to a player who wins the penalty in the Fantasy Premier League.

In the definition of an assist, Opta clearly states that winning a penalty does not count as one:

Own goals, directly taken free kicks, direct corner goals and penalties do not get an assist awarded.

Opta

This is because there are many ways that you can win a penalty.

The most common way occurs when a player is being brought down by a defender in the penalty area.

However, there are other times when a defender commits a handball offence. This occurs when the ball hits either the player’s hand or arm!

Either way, it does not fit in with the definition of an assist by Opta:

The final touch (pass, pass-cum-shot or any other touch) leading to the recipient of the ball scoring a goal.

Opta

An assist can only be awarded to the player who makes the final touch before the goal is scored.

It can be hard to determine who made the final touch before a penalty kick is awarded.

This is why no assists will be awarded to a direct free-kick or a corner too!

Does winning a penalty count as an assist in FPL?

If you are the player that wins a penalty for your team, you will be awarded an assist in FPL, provided that your teammate scores the penalty directly from the spot.

The assist rules in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) are slightly more ‘relaxed’ compared to the actual assist definitions by Opta.

A player will be awarded with an assist if they win a free-kick or penalty, and another player scores from the set piece.

However if a player who wins the free-kick or penalty scores from the set piece, no assist will be awarded!

Is a corner an assist in football?

If the corner is a cross that results in a goal, the corner kick taker will be awarded with an assist. However if a goal is directly scored from the corner, no assists will be awarded.

In the usual scenario, the corner kick taker will cross the ball into the penalty area. A goal is usually scored when his teammate heads the ball into the net.

The corner kick taker will be awarded with the assist.

However, if the corner kick taker directly scores from the corner kick, no assist will be awarded!

This is because there is no other teammate that last touched the ball which led to this goal.

Although you can score directly from a corner kick, you can’t dribble from this set piece!

Can you get an assist on a throw in?

There are no rules that prevent an assist from being awarded for a throw in. If you throw the ball into the penalty area and your teammate heads the ball in, you will be awarded an assist.

For example, Rory Delap launched this long throw into the penalty area,

He was subsequently awarded an assist in the Premier League!

Does a dummy count as an assist?

An assist is defined as the last touch by a teammate who led to the player scoring the goal. A player who performs a dummy does not usually touch the ball to trick the opponent. As such, the player who performs a dummy will not be awarded an assist.

When you perform a dummy, you are usually trying to deceive the opponent. This makes the opponent think that you are going to either pass or shoot the ball.

However, you normally just let the ball pass through to someone who is in a better position to score!

Since you do not actually touch the ball, you will not be awarded an assist.

Here are some examples of a dummy that has led to a goal:

#1 Andrea Pirlo vs England (World Cup 2014)

Here was this goal that was scored by Claudio Marchisio in the 2014 World Cup match against England.

Andrea Pirlo did a wonderful dummy that created the space for Marchisio to take a shot!

However, in the BBC Match Report, Pirlo was not awarded an assist!

Instead, it was awarded to Marco Verratti who made the pass. This shows that if you did not touch the ball, you will not be awarded an assist!

#2 Suarez vs Espanyol (La Liga 2014/15)

In this La Liga match between Barcelona and Espanyol, Luis Suarez did a great dummy to make space for Neymar to score the goal!

Again, the assist was awarded to Jordi Alba who crossed the goal.

You can find out the differences between La Liga and Copa del Rey in my comparison.

#3 Suarez vs Tottenham (Champions League 2018/19)

Luis Suarez again produced 2 excellent dummies to make space for Lionel Messi to score a brace.

Phillipe Coutinho also played a part by faking a shot in the third goal too!

For both of Messi’s goals, the assist was awarded to Jordi Alba who made the crosses. Again, Suarez was not credited with the assists!

#4 Lautaro Martinez vs Bologna (Serie A 2021/22)

In this match against Bologna, Lautaro Martinez performed a brilliant dummy to make space for Edin Dzeko to score the goal.

However, Martinez was not awarded the assist, which was given to Brozovic instead.

Inter Bologna Brozovic Assist Martinez Dummy

#5 Lionel Messi vs Real Betis (La Liga 2020/21)

In this match between Barcelona and Real Betis, Messi provided a great dummy to allow Griezmann to score the goal.

However, Messi did not touch the ball, so he was not awarded with the assist!

Can a goalkeeper assist a goal?

Goalkeepers are able to be awarded an assist, just like any other player. If the goalkeeper is the last player to have touched the ball before his teammate scores a goal, the goalkeeper will be awarded the assist.

It is rather rare for a goalkeeper to assist a goal, especially since they are so far away from the opponent’s goal.

Since they do not need to run around so much, it could be one of the reasons why goalkeepers are able to retire later.

However, even if it is a rare occurrence, it is still possible for goalkeepers to assist a goal! This usually happens in 2 situations:

  1. The goalkeeper takes a very long goal kick
  2. The goalkeeper does a long drop kick

In both of these situations, the goalkeeper’s kick is really far, such that it is able to reach the striker. If the striker is able to score the goal from the goalkeeper’s pass, the goalkeeper will be awarded an assist.

A rarer occurrence would be if a goalkeeper was able to score a goal! However, it is still possible and there are quite a few goalkeepers who have accomplished this feat.

For example, Jose Sa’s long drop kick allowed Raul Jimenez to score his first goal after returning from injury.

Jose Sa was then awarded the assist for the goal.

Another example is Ederson who kicked his goal kick all the way to Aguero. Aguero managed to chip the Huddersfield keeper too!

Ederson was also awarded with the assist.

In fact, the goal kick is actually one of the 3 set pieces where you can’t be called offside! Aguero was in an offside position when Ederson kicked the ball, but was not called offside due to the Laws of the Game.

Are there secondary assists in soccer?

Secondary assists are collected by football statistic sites. However, they are rarely being used in most professional leagues, except in the Fantasy MLS game.

A secondary assist is an ‘assist before the assist’. This is awarded to the player who passes the ball to his teammate who then assists the goal that was scored by another teammate.

There are no official leagues that award secondary assists to a player.

Usually, only the player with the most assists in the competition will get a certain award!

The only exception is MLS Fantasy, which awards 3 points for each ‘second assist’. This is the same number of points being awarded to a player who assists the goal!

Some football statistic sites use this statistic

However, certain football statistic sites like Opta collect these statistics.

They even have a definition for a second assist:

A pass/cross that is instrumental in creating a goal-scoring opportunity, for example a corner or free-kick to a player who then assists an attempt, a chance-creating through ball or cross into a dangerous position.

Opta

They do show this statistic from time to time as well!

One reason why a second assist is not used that often could be due to how these assists are defined. In cases where there are 2 passes made before the goal, the second assist can be easily awarded.

However, there are other cases where there might not have been a pass before the assist.

It may be too tedious for sites and leagues to keep track of this statistic!

Conclusion

Assists are an important part of scoring a goal. There are some assists that are even nicer than the goal itself!

As such, players who help to set up the goal should be given some credit as well!

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