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Ranking the 5 most lethal finishers in world football since 2014/15 using data analytics

Rishit Grover
CONTRIBUTOR
Top 5 / Top 10
Timeless

Southampton FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Southampton FC v Leicester City - Premier League

Looking ahead and planning for the future, is essential, but so is to look back in time and appreciate the efforts of those who have performed at the highest level for a long time. This piece looks to highlight the contribution of players who have been lethal in front of goal, converting opportunities and putting games to bed through their above average-finishing.

The timeline for this list consists of all games played over the seasons 2014 to 2019 and the first 19 games of the EPL season. Therefore, at max, any player in this list could have played a total of 38 (total games in an EPL season) multiplied by 5 (5 because of the following 5 seasons - 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19) + 19, i.e. 38*5+19=209 games. Also, out of the top 5 leagues, the German league plays 34 games a year and therefore the maximum a player in that league could have played is 34*5+17=187 games, about 16830 minutes whereas for an EPL player it would be 18810 minutes.

For a player to appear in this list, he would have had to have scored more than 50 goals over the 5 and a half seasons, a tall ask indeed, but this helps remove the outliers and inconsistent performers. Additionally, the player would have had to play for more than 6000 minutes over the same period. This ensures that the player regularly featured for his team in their domestic league bid for excellence.

Furthermore, only non-penalty goals have been considered while curating this list. The stringent constraints described above produce a list of 57 attackers from the top 5 leagues that consistently scored goals over the aforementioned seasons.

Previously, it was difficult to measure really how effective an attacker was in front of goal. Then expected goals came into the picture. xG, as it is commonly referred to, represents the likelihood of a shot ending up in the back of the net using variables such as ‘Assist Type’, ‘Header/Foot’, whether it was a ‘Big Chance’ and the ‘Angle and Distance’ from goal. Opta debunks this parameter rather flawlessly. xG or Expected Goals play a central role in discerning the constituents of this list.

A player that eclipses his xG stat is generally considered a lethal finisher, but it wouldn’t be fair to compare the stat directly. If player A plays more games than Player B, in all likeliness, he would have a higher xG value, purely because he was on the pitch for more minutes. In case you were curious, if we were to just sort npxG (non-penalty expected goals) in descending order, the usual suspects would constitute the top 5. 5th would be Aubameyang, 4th Suarez, then Messi, Ronaldo and first would be Lewandowski with 138.68 npxG, but that’s only because all these players have played more than 14500 minutes each.

This would defeat the purpose. It would only make sense if we were to find out which players scored more goals than they should have, i.e. had the largest difference between their npg (non-penalty goals) and their npxG (non-penalty expected Goals). By doing this we get a metric we can call Net Outperformed npxG (non-penalty expected goals) or Net onpxG

Net onpxG = npg (actual np) – npxG (number of goals they should have ideally scored)

To further refine this metric, we can go ahead and divide each player’s Net onpxG metric by ‘Total Mins’ played, for each player to get a metric we can label as Net onpxG/Total_Mins. We can then multiply this value by 90 to get Net onpxG/90 or Net onpxG Per 90.

Net onpxG Per 90 = (Net onpxG/Total Mins played) X 90

This doesn’t favour any player just because they’ve played more than another player. Now enough of this, let’s just get to it.

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#5 Paco Alcácer – Net onpxG Per 90 – 0.121

Borussia Dortmund v SV Werder Bremen - Bundesliga
Borussia Dortmund v SV Werder Bremen - Bundesliga

Paco Alcácer has seen more than most players would have by the time they reach the age of 26. Having lost his father 18 days before his 18th birthday, Paco has done a commendable job in keeping his career on track, moving from boyhood club Valencia to the superpower that FC Barcelona is now. He has had a few crests and troughs in his life.

In his last two seasons at Valencia (2014-16), he hit double figures for goals scored and was subsequently signed by the footballing (term coined by Arsene Wenger) behemoth Barcelona. Signing for Barcelona must have surely been the ‘crest’ but everything he did post this, in the revered Barcelona jersey was the trough in his fledgeling career.

In 2018, he signed for Dortmund on loan and set a new Bundesliga record for the most goals scored by a substitute in a single campaign. His stats in the Bundesliga at the end of the 2018/19 campaign read: Starts-11, Substitute Appearances-15, Goals Scored-18. Since the 2014/15 season, Alcacer has had some part to play in 120 games (starts + substitute appearances). He’s played 6993 minutes in those 120 games, appearing from the bench more often than not.

Notwithstanding his rare starts, his presence has had serious ramifications for opposition defences. Over the last 5 seasons, he took 189 shots scoring 46 goals, a lethal return of a goal every 4.11 shots, the 3rd lowest total of Shots/Goals by any player in the top 5 leagues, over the last 5 seasons (having shots greater than 150). He has scored 48 non-penalty goals while his npxG was only 38.6 goals, giving him a Net onpxG Per 90 of 0.121.

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