Player Focus: Premier League's Top Goalscorers Analysed
That Luis Suarez has had an exceptional season is not in doubt (and, to offer the information that suddenly seems demanded by Twitter, no, I didn’t vote for him as the FWA Player of the Year because I’m not a member of the FWA and, even if I was, I wouldn’t vote anyway because I don’t think individual awards have any place in football). He’s scored 31 goals, equalling the record for a 38-game Premier League season set by Alan Shearer and equalled by Cristiano Ronaldo.
But that tally, clearly, is not merely the result of his own excellence. He has benefited from playing in a very good team that has prioritised attacking football. If Suarez had played for, say Norwich City, the lowest scorers in the Premier League with 28 goals, then while he would clearly have improved them, he would also have found goals harder to come by. So charts of top goalscorers are always a strange amalgam of individual and team. If you only had one chance, would you necessarily want Suarez on the end of it?
Suarez’s conversion rate is actually comparatively poor. Again caution is necessary: certain players, of whom Suarez is one, are extremely good at generating half-chances. Part of what makes him so effective as a striker is, paradoxically, something that takes his conversion rate down. He will attempt shots from unlikely positions and angles, trying to catch the keeper off guard and while that means a large number of his shots will not generate goals, the net effect is positive.
Prolific as the Uruguayan has been this season, he has converted only 17.4% of his chances. Of the other 22 players who have scored nine or more goals in the Premier League this season, nine have converted a greater proportion. In fact, Suarez isn’t even the most deadly finisher at Liverpool: Daniel Sturridge, with 21 goals, has scored with 22.1% of his shots, Steven Gerrard with 13 goals, with 21.7% of his, and Raheem Sterling, with nine goals, with 20.5%. Overall, the player with the highest conversion rate, by some margin, is Yaya Touré. His 19 goals have come at a conversion rate of 32.2%. The next highest of those top 23 scorers is Emmanuel Adebayor, whose 10 goals have come at a rate of 23.3%, with Sturridge third.
One of the great truisms of punditry after a player has put a decent chance wide is to insist that “he should have worked the goalkeeper there.” Touré, though, is not particularly good at getting his shots on target: only 44.1% of his shots are on goal. The best in that category is Aaron Ramsey, who has put 54.2% of his shots on target this season but achieved a conversion rate for his nine goals of only 18.8%.
Where Touré is exceptional is what happens when he gets a shot on target. If he manages that, a staggering 73.1% of his shots result in a goal. The next highest among those top 23 scorers is Robin van Persie with 57.9%, with Sturridge and Danny Welbeck joint third on 50.0%. What that suggests is that Touré aims at the corners: as far as possible, he takes the goalkeeper out of the equation. More than half of his shots may go wide or over, but if it’s on target, only just only quarter of his efforts are saved.
The opposite is Rickie Lambert, who scores with only 31.6% of his shots on target – and only gets 38.8% of his shots on target. The Southampton forward has scored 12 goals this season, but at a conversion rate of just 12.2%, the poorest of any of the league’s top 23 scorers.
There are caveats about the type of chance created but still, the evidence suggests that if you needed somebody to score for your life, you’d rather the chance fell to Touré than Suarez. And certainly not to Lambert.