In Part I of our Strikers Week statistical analysis of the best strikers in the world we took a look at those players who seem likely to stay at their clubs for the foreseeable future. Sergio Aguero, Robin Van Persie, Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale, Carlos Tevez, Mario Mandzukic and Roberto Soldado all went under scrutiny and we learnt a number of things.
Tevez is unmatched as a creator, Soldado’s conversion rate for Valencia last seen was exceptional and Van Persie seems a bargain even at £24million given what he adds both in goals and all-round play. If you haven’t yet then check it out here as well as our open thread where we want you to pick your top ten best strikers. We’ve already had a great response on Twitter so keep the votes coming and we’ll tally them up.
Today, let’s take a look at the next batch of strikers. They are Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Falcao, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Gomez, an illustrious list I’m sure you’ll agree.
Interestingly, all bar one could be playing at new clubs come the start of 2013/14 (while rumours about Zlatan returning to Italy persist). This shows the value of these players and how highly coveted they are, with superclubs around Europe preparing bids of up to €60million for their services.
First, a look at their goal statistics for 2012/13:
Click the photo to enlarge. Blue highlight means best on the list for that metric, red the worst. All stats courtesy of Whoscored.
As analytics expert Ted Knutson pointed out after Part I, factoring in penalties is an important element in any striker analysis. I won’t remove them completely (they still had to be scored, and did happen, after all) but separating them is a good and sensible idea so let’s do that:
As we can see, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the main man last season with an astonishing 30 goals. Even if we factor out his 4 penalties, the Swede is still comfortably top of the list here. What I find so impressive about this, as we’ll see from the build-up play statistics later, is that Ibrahimovic manages to be so effective a goalscorer whilst also offering a great deal as creator and link man.
Unlike a frontman like Falcao, who plays on the shoulder of defenders looking for space to run into, Zlatan spends a great deal of matches simply wandering around in deeper positions; laying the ball off here, spreading the play there. Yet when time comes to put the ball in the net, there he is.
His knack for goals, and the spaces to occupy to get those goals, is phenomenal. 0.88 goals per game bears this out, but a low conversion rate of 19.1% comes mainly from a tendency to shoot from anywhere, as his 157 shots shows – second only to Luis Suarez of all 15 strikers analysed.
The Liverpool striker is an interesting case. Suarez has the highest number of shots per game but also the lowest conversion rate, superior only to Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez of the 15 assessed. This low conversion rate is a recurring theme for the Uruguayan – last season he had the lowest chance conversion rate of any Premier League player with 10 goals or more, even behind the likes of Yakubu and Danny Graham. What is the reason for this?
Suarez is not the most clinical of goalscorers but what he lacks in that department he makes up for in others as we’ll see.
Suarez needed 8.13 shots on average to score last season, a staggeringly high figure for someone considered a top striker. Compare this to the likes of Robert Lewandowski (4.08), Gonzalo Higuain (3.5) or Mario Gomez (3.45) and we see a huge difference.
Gomez is unfortunate in that his playing time at Bayern Munich placed him bottom on our analysis for goals, shots per game and total shots, but if you look at his excellent conversion rate you realise that someone (Napoli? Fiorentina? Arsenal?) will be getting a real bargain if they can sign the unwanted German up for £20million or less. Don’t forget he hit 26 goals in 30 starts in 2011/12.
Falcao and Edinson Cavani’s high goal numbers are boosted by penalties, but even if you remove them both still managed 20+ goals from open play. Wayne Rooney’s poor goals per game rate is mitigated somewhat by playing behind the striker for most of last season.
Meanwhile Gonzalo Higuain is another who, at the right price, could be an excellent signing for someone this summer. And furthermore, a high number of his league goals this season for Real Madrid were important – often the opening goal of the game for example. A quality player Real may well be overlooking.
Build-up Play / General statistics
Let’s now move onto overall build-up play and see what more we can learn. Click to enlarge:
When you factor in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s assists to his goal tally, is there a better striker in world football today? 30 goals and 8 assists means he had a direct hand in 55% of all PSG’s league goals last season, an incredible number! I said it at the time and I’ll say it again, Ibra singlehandedly won them the title. Of all 15 strikers analysed he, Carlos Tevez and Van Persie lead the assists list with 8.
In terms of key passes Luis Suarez is comfortably top of the list, way ahead of anyone else with 2.7 per game. Interestingly Manchester United have two of the next best key passers in Wayne Rooney and Van Persie, both on 1.8 per game along with Tevez and Ibrahimovic. Mario Gomez and Gonzalo Higuain show they are more the poacher type, with poor numbers for key passes. Suarez also managed a fantastic 2.9 successful dribbles per game.
Mario Gomez leads the way in turnovers per game with only 0.8, matching Di Natale and showing his ability to hold the ball up, but it surprised me to see Falcao have such a high turnover figure of 3 per game. Monaco’s big new signing, Falcao is not a back-to-goal striker by any means – it his one of his biggest weaknesses in fact. But that number is still remarkably high compared to the others.
Reportedly unhappy at Manchester United, Wayne Rooney’s all-round play stats show a highly versatile player, comfortable doing either the job of an out-and-out striker as he did in the pre-Van Persie days or as a deeper creator. 10 assists and 45.8 passes per game at an 82.9% completion rate is impressive and this wonderful diversity to his game only improves his overall value. David Moyes wants to keep him and we can see why; a physically sound Rooney is an asset to any team.
At 72% Robert Lewandowski’s pass completion rate is low, bettering only Mario Mandzukic and Toto Di Natale of all 15 strikers analysed. 5 assists to go alongside 24 goals (0 penalties) is excellent however, particularly when added to a 24.5% shot conversion rate. Though he takes less shots, you could argue he offers more all-round than both Falcao and Cavani.
Mario Gomez’s low number of appearances still can’t mask a fine shots to goals ratio. Whether this is because Bayern are so good they put the goals on a plate for him or not, the numbers still outdo teammate Mario Mandzukic and hint at a ruthless striker who could improve many teams this summer.
Gomez, like Falcao, is a goalscorer through and through. Both managed just one assist this season. This is the antithesis of Luis Suarez, who needs 4 or 5 (or 8.13!) chances to score a goal but adds so much creativity to Liverpool that it’s tough to imagine them without him.
There are many more conclusions to be made here, one, for me, being that Gonzalo Higuain could be the signing of the summer for any team needing a proven, quality striker.
What do you think? Let us know your own conclusions by leaving a comment below. Next in Strikers Week we’ll be tallying up your totals to see who comes out on top as the best striker in the world, so keep sending your votes in the comments or via Twitter (@JustFootball).