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Yakubu | Firing Rovers to Safety?

Yakubu has scored 10 goals in just 11 starts in the Premier League since his summer arrival from Everton, but will his goals be enough to keep Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League?

Feed the Yak: Blackburn fans will be hoping Yakubu doesn’t over indulge this festive period

After completing the signing of Yakubu on transfer deadline day, Steve Kean stressed the importance of having a forward who has a track record of finding the net in the Premier League, observing that “he has been around and scored goals everywhere he has been so that is [a] nice habit to get in as a striker”.  The only problem was that the statistics in recent years suggested that Yakubu may have already kicked that habit at the highest level.

In his last three seasons at Everton Yakubu found the net just 10 times in 53 appearances, scoring four times in 2008/09, five times in 2009/10 and just once in 2010/11. His recent record in the Premier League pointed towards a player in decline, who had already fulfilled his potential and was winding down his top flight career.

Blackburn’s top scorers last term – Niko Kalinic, Jason Roberts and Junior Hoilett – bagged just five goals apiece, making them the lowest top scorers for a club last season, so the need for a new striker was obvious. That Yakubu was the man for the job was less apparent. Yakubu averaged a goal every 669 minutes last season for Everton, with a chance conversion rate of just 7%. All five of Blackburn’s front men who found the back of the net last season appeared more efficient in front of goal than Yakubu, as Kalinic scored with 16% of his shots, Roberts with 22%, Hoilett with 14%, Benjani with 17% and Mame Biram Diouf with 8%.

However, Yakubu’s impact since his arrival has been instantaneous and after just 11 league appearances he has already matched his ten goal haul from the last three campaigns combined. In reaching ten goals he has already become the first Blackburn player to hit double figures in the league since Benni McCarthy in 2008/09. His turnaround in form is illustrated by the below statistical comparison with his record in recent seasons:

Attacking statistics for Yakubu this season in contrast with the preceding three seasons

Since joining Blackburn his attacking statistics have improved beyond recognition. Yakubu has averaged almost a goal a game for Rovers, scoring every 98 minutes, scoring almost three times as frequently as during his final three seasons with Everton, where he scored  a goal every 288 minutes. His shooting accuracy has also significantly improved to 67% in 2011/12, from an average of 50% across the three preceding years.

This increase is all the more remarkable when considering that Yakubu’s shooting accuracy has always been high, as can be seen by a comparison with the two leading marksmen since the start of the 2008/09 season. Yakubu’s average shooting accuracy of 50% over the three years falls shy of Darren Bent’s 55%, but is greater than Wayne Rooney’s 47%.

A cursory glance at the goals for column in the league table illustrates the impact Yakubu has had since his arrival at Ewood Park. Having outscored just four sides in 2010/11 (Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, West Ham United and Sunderland) with 46 goals scored at 1.2 goals per game, Blackburn have only been outscored by six sides in 2011/12 (Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City) with 24 goals at 1.4 goals per game.

Yakubu’s goals represent 42% of the entire Blackburn squad’s goals this season, showing how Blackburn have become reliant very quickly upon his delivery of goals. Only Demba Ba of Newcastle United, 57%, and Robin van Persie of Arsenal, 48%, have scored higher percentages of their sides’ goals this term. All three players have made exceptional starts to the season and a comparison of the league’s top scorers at Christmas demonstrates the extent of Yakubu’s renaissance in the Premier League:

Attacking statistics of the Premier League’s top scorers at Christmas 2011/12

Of the nine players to have netted eight or more times, Yakubu is the only player to have done so in a struggling side, as Blackburn occupy last place in the table while the rest of the league’s top scorers play for sides in the top seven. Yakubu’s appearance among the league’s top scorers is therefore despite being in a side that creates far fewer chances than the other sides, where Yakubu has joined the league’s elite strikers despite having less than half as many shots as both Rooney and van Persie.

The number of goals scored by Yakubu has been amassed on the back of clinical finishing in front of goal when chances do come his way. This is evident as his 67% shooting accuracy is the highest of the league’s top scorers by 5%. The only player in the league who has also mustered 25 shots or more with a higher accuracy is Tottenham’s Rafael van der Vaart, who has an astonishing 77%.

However, unlike van der Vaart, who has a chance conversion rate of just 19% of his shots, when Yakubu strikes he not only hits the target but invariably finds the back of the net, with 37% of his shots going in. Again, this surpasses all of the other top scorers, this time by 6%. No player who has taken ten or more shots this year has a higher chance conversion rate than the Blackburn forward.

However, even with Yakubu in exceptional form, Blackburn are still consigned to the foot of the table at Christmas; an ill-fated position given that only one side has ever recovered from this position to safety come the season’s finale. That side was West Bromwich Albion back in 2005/06, who – encouragingly for Rovers – were eight points from 17th place at Christmas, while Blackburn, despite a torrid start to the season, are just five points adrift of safety.

In order for Blackburn to avoid the drop Yakubu will need to maintain the free-scoring streak that has seen him recapture the form that has taken him into the top 30 Premier League marksmen of all time. Of those still active in the Premier League just nine have netted more goals than Yakubu. The Ewood faithful will be hoping that his goals ensure that he continues to remain active in the blue and white halves of Blackburn Rovers come the start of next season.

BRFC fan and football obsessive. Follow me on Twitter at @JWarsop for more of the same, only in 140 characters...
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