Spoiler alert! Luis Suarez is a terrific goal scorer. No mystery here. So what else is new? So, you think you’ve got it nailed down? You know who the other truly great goal scoring threats in the EPL are? Don’t be so sure, because the EPLIndex database of Opta statistics is going to shock you!
No Easy Goals: PKs and Set Play Specialists Go Home!
The top ten or eleven goals scorers—those players that have scored at least ten open-play goals in league match play during the 2013-2014 season are going to be analysed to uncover which ones are the most dangerous goal threats.
And when I use the term “goals” I am referring to “open play” goals specifically. For purposes of this article, I want to set aside scores occurring from either penalty kicks or set plays such as corners or direct free kicks.
The ability to reliably convert a penalty or PK is important. But from a skills standpoint, they create a goal inflation rate of near 400% compared to scores from in-play situations. That is, in-play goals typically have a rate of success of between 15-20% while PKs are about 75-80%. Scores from set plays are far more rare events and will be filtered out of this analysis as well.
If I didn’t do that, you’d think that Steven Gerrard is a goal scoring threat. What? You do think he is a significant goal scoring threat because he has 11 goals this season so far? Did you know that Gerrard has only scored 2 goals from match play not counting PKs (he’s had 8 of those) or a direct free kick (he’s scored on one of these)? Now that’s not to say that he can’t tear the cover off the ball, but a marking nightmare he is not. In fact, he needs to take almost 15 shots to score a single goal from open play! And when he’s taking those shots, other more dangerous players like Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are not getting the opportunity. Is a picture forming?
Underlying Metrics of a Goal Scorer
So now let’s identify the specific metrics that will be used to pinpoint the true goal scoring threats of the English Premier League.
In addition to simply looking at how many goals a player scores, the EPLindex performance metrics will identify characteristics ordinarily overlooked by most analysts in trying to uncover outstanding scoring performance.
The proof is in the pudding. No dancing around the main issue, okay? The goals scoring leaders, sans the direct free kicks and penalty adjustments show that, who else, Luis Suarez (29) is running away with the English Premier League scoring title.
In fact, Suarez’s efforts this season are on par with, if not superior to, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Zlatan Ibrahimović. It is simply a banner year for the Uruguayan footballer. Even his goal support in terms of assists and other creative contributions are on par with the best that these other premium strikers provide.
Luis Suarez’ teammate, Daniel Sturridge (20) arrives in second place. But there are surprises on the list once the adjustments for PKs and set plays are made. Look who else is in this elite list of goal scorers: Jay Rodriguez (15, 3rd tie) and Romelu Lukaku (12, 8th tie).
Shot accuracy (shots on target/total shots)
A good goal scorer needs to place shots accurately or no matter how powerful his strike, a ball ending up in row S will be no threat to the keeper. So keeping a strike on frame is extremely important to any shot attempt. Low percentages mean that the player will need to attempt many more shots to even threaten a score.
In this metric, second year player Romelu Lukaku comes in as a surprise leader with 64.3% of his shots on target. Lukaku is closely followed by the more familiar names of Aguero, Hazard Suarez, and Sturridge, with Remy being the sixth player with over half of his shots on target.
However, being on target is no assurance that the ball will end up in the net. Shot accuracy does not measure shot quality, just the fact that the ball is on the frame of the goal. But the bigger question is if it is struck and placed well. This metric does not answer those questions. And for that reason, shot accuracy is one of the least important of the goal scoring measures (I did not say unimportant).
Shot quality (goals scored/shots on target)
If the shot is on target, how often does it result in a score? This answers the questions of how well placed or struck (or both) the strike was.
Yaya Touré converts two-thirds of his on-target shots indicating incredible shot quality in terms of the combination of power and placement. It is an astounding measure considering the drop-off in the surprising second and third place players of Daniel Sturridge and Jay Rodriguez. Why surprising? Because of the list of prestigious, more well established strikers they displaced such as Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, and Wayne Rooney.
Shot effectiveness (goals scored/total shots)
How many shot attempts does it take a player to ultimately score? That is a rarely asked question. Yet it is as important a metric as any in establishing the credentials of a top-notch goal scorer.
If the number of shot attempts is large, other players on the club—possibly more skilled—are being deprived of opportunities to make the same, and likely more effective attempts at scoring.
Obviously, a higher shot effectiveness percentage is wonderful, except relative to the previous metrics we’ve discussed, it is going to be considerably lower. Shot effectiveness does not assume that the shot is either on target or that it is well struck or placed—just that it is a shot taken.
And the winner is midfielder Yaya Toure who converts an amazing one-third of all of his shot attempts! Quite an accomplishment. But neither Daniel Sturridge nor Sergio Aguero could be considered slouches with over 25% accuracies. Include Suarez, Hazard, Lukaku, Remi, and Rodriguez follow in the group that create at least a 20% conversion rate—a very impressive array of goal scorers.
There can be little room for argument in distinguishing the very top goals scorers in the EPL. However, some truly outstanding performances do tend to slide under the radar unless more analytical assessments are used to uncover these goal scoring gems. And one of them is neither a striker nor attacking wide player.
What we have discovered is that, of course, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have been burning up the EPL this season. SAS, as they have been called have launched Liverpool out of the middle of the table into the top echelon in an extremely short period of time primarily due to this amazing pair of goal scoring talents. But there are other truly superb performances that have also been revealed.
Although Yaya Touré is renowned to be the steel of the Manchester City midfield, he has also shown himself to be a spectacular goal scorer from the standpoint of shot quality as well as effectiveness. No other footballers—including Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero—have come close to his performance across these two metrics. In fact, the only one performing close to Touré’s numbers is Daniel Sturridge.
Additional performers that deserve “honourable mention” simply because they are not typical, household names when you think of the very elite strikers like Rooney, Van Persie, Dzeko, etc. are Jay Rodriguez, Loic Remy, and Romelu Lukaku. It comes as no surprise that that Eden Hazard was also a consistently high performer across most goal scoring metrics.
The players missing from the list that I would anticipate would be present except for injuries or usual “off year” performances would include Robin Van Persie, Christian Benteke, and Michu.
So, based on the previous Opta data used from the EPLIndex database the following players are placed into three strata of goal scoring proficiency—all belonging to the best in the Premier League:
[ul class=”list list-plus”]
[li]Gold: Suarez, Touré, Sturridge[/li]
[li] Silver: Aguero, Rodriquez, Lukaku, Hazard, Remy [/li]
[li] Bronze: Rooney, Dzeko, Giroud [/li]
Remember that the findings are based on the current season through this past weekend. Who knows the changes that tomorrow may bring?
One last comment. Statistical analysis does not replace common sense or personal judgment—it merely supports them. However, using gut-level feelings alone without employing supporting, hard data when it is available can ultimately be a most costly strategy for a football analyst.
Of course, in any given situation, a decision based solely on intuition may end up being a lucky choice. But it will merely be good fortune.
Over the long haul, the gut-level decision maker will experience results inferior to the one who thoughtfully includes appropriate data to supplement her or his decision. And it is the history of accumulated decisions that is the measure of a good analyst—not the one-night stand.