Using a combination of statistics to create a measure that ranks the Premier League's most influential and efficient goal scorers
Who is the best goal scorer in the Premier League? This season it is an honour that appears to have several candidates from the prolific Robin van Persie, the divisive Luis Suarez and the devastating Gareth Bale. A look at the goal scoring charts would put RVP at the top of the table but perhaps without such stellar service he would score less goals; although by the same token, if Spurs and Liverpool had more goal scorers perhaps they wouldn’t have so many scoring opportunities.
At the end of the day, ‘who is the best?’ will always be subjective and dependent on what factors you perceive to be the most important. However, I believe it is possible to at least try and measure which goal scorers have been the most influential and effective for their respective teams. This is not about saying one player is better than another but rather to see which player is doing the most for their team.
To keep things simple, I’ve looked at the top 20 players in terms of goals scored and shots attempted so the list focuses on players who have a significant goal scoring role for their respective teams (naturally there is significant overlap between the two lists).
The measure is made simply by adding 4 different statistics. Two measure a player’s influence or responsibility for scoring goals and two measure a player’s efficiency in front of goal.
To measure influence I’ve looked at the percentage of a team’s shots a player takes and the percentage of a team’s goals that the player scores.
If a player is taking a large number of shots, they are, whether they should be or not, taking on the responsibility for trying to score goals. They may be reckless and perhaps they shouldn’t be doing it, but whether the team likes it or not they are taking on that role.
Of course, someone who shoots all the time but never scores is not particularly useful so I also looked at the percentage of a team’s goals that a player has scored. 15 goals from a player may seem like a decent return but if the team has scored 100 goals, that figure is less impressive. On the other hand if a player has only scored 7 goals but the team has only scored 14 overall, then those 7 goals are pretty important for that team, if not particularly notable on paper.
Next comes efficiency. To take this into account, I looked at the difference between the percentage of a team’s shots the player attempted and the percentage of a team’s goals the player scored (plus/minus). If player A has taken 40% of a team’s shots but only scored 20% of their goals that’s not ideal. Player A’s plus/minus would be -20. On the other hand if player B has taken 20% of his teams shots but scored 40% of his team’s goals that’s pretty good. Player B’s plus/minus would be +20.
Finally, to give an extra nod to efficiency, I added a chance conversion rate. Some players don’t get many chances but come up with the goods when given the opportunity and such players deserve recognition also.
I added these 4 figures up to come up with an overall score which should therefore take into account a) how important a player is to their team as a goal scoring option and b) how efficient they are at this job.
I have not included goals scored in this measure as I think this overly favours players on strong teams. Strong teams will always provide their goal scorers with more opportunities to score so this will skew the results. Also, if you’re scoring a lot of goals it will be reflected to some extent in the percentage of goals scored.
THE TOP TEN
The results while not entirely surprising, as they include most of the usual suspects, are perhaps not in the order that many would have predicted (One caveat: Demba Ba is not included as he has played for two teams thus making calculations of his % of team shots/goals a bit tricky. Looking at his stats, I don’t think he would have made the top 10 in any case). Here are the top 10 in reverse order:
10. Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham): 73.19pts (% of team shots: 17.69 - % of team goals: 28.26 - Plus/minus: 10.57 - Conversion 16.67)
Berbatov’s numbers are pretty solid across the board, if unspectacular, very much unlike the man himself. His most impressive statistic is probably the 28.26% of goals he’s scored of Fulham’s total haul so far this season.
9. Romelu Lukaku (WBA): 74.06pts (% of team shots: 18.58 - % of team goals: 29.17 - Plus/minus: 10.59 - Conversion 15.73)
Lukaku’s numbers are broadly similar to those of Berbatov with the big Belgian posting a slightly higher percentage of shots taken and goals scored but a slightly lower conversion rate. Not bad for a player who’s come off the bench 14 times this season.
8. Adam Le Fondre (Reading): 74.41pts (% of team shots: 14.52 - % of team goals: 26.83 - Plus/minus: 12.31 - Conversion 20.75)
Perhaps a surprising name to see in the top 10. Le Fondre is here by virtue of his clinical finishing – his conversion rate of 20.75 is the best of the Premier League’s top 20 goal scorers – and the fact that Reading have scored relatively few goals. Nevertheless, given that his goals have largely come from the bench, it is a pretty formidable achievement.
7. Steven Fletcher (Sunderland): 75pts (% of team shots: 13.65 - % of team goals: 27.5 - Plus/minus: 13.85 - Conversion 20)
Another surprise name - particularly given his recent injury troubles - however, Fletcher’s early season performances have been enough to earn him the 7th spot on this list. Like Le Fondre, Fletcher’s high score is in part due to his strong conversion rate although he too has been helped by the fact that Sunderland haven’t scored too many goals this season. His total is particularly impressive, however, given that he has not played since the middle of March thus reducing his totals for % of team shots and % of team goals.
6. Rickie Lambert (Southampton): 75.85pts (% of team shots: 17.66 - % of team goals: 29.79 - Plus/minus: 12.13 - Conversion 16.28)
Compared to his fellow strikers at bottom half clubs, Lambert is more of an all-rounder. He takes a decent proportion of Southampton’s shots, scores a decent proportion of their goals and does it pretty efficiently. He is the "Ronseal" striker.
So on to the top 5. Whilst the previous 5 could be characterized as strong performers for mid/low table teams, the top 5 have a different feel with some more familiar faces…
5. Gareth Bale (Tottenham): 77.1pts (% of team shots: 23.67 - % of team goals: 31.75 - Plus/minus: 8.07 - Conversion 13.61)
The big jump between Lambert and Bale is the proportion of Spurs’ shots that Bale takes and, to a lesser extent, the share of Spurs’ goals that he scores. At times it feels like it is only really Bale that scores or shoots for Spurs and these statistics seem to bear this out to a degree. Indeed, Bale has taken the second highest number of shots in the league after this man…
4. Luis Suarez (Liverpool): 80.96pts (% of team shots: 27.06 - % of team goals: 34.33 - Plus/minus: 7.27 - Conversion 12.3)
Perhaps lower than some may have thought he would be. Suarez has similar statistics to Bale but takes on an even bigger shooting/scoring role. He has taken 187 shots this season - 40 more than Bale - and the highest proportion of a team’s shots in the Premier League. He’s also scored the second most goals in the league and would be higher if not for relatively low efficiency figures.
3. Robin van Persie (Manchester United): 81.81pts (% of team shots: 25.42 - % of team goals: 31.65 - Plus/minus: 6.22 - Conversion 18.52)
Another who some might expect to be at the top of the list. Van Persie is impressive in three categories but his plus/minus is not great. Whilst this would seem to suggest that he is not so efficient, the high conversion rate contradicts this somewhat. In truth, RVP’s main problem is that his team has scored so many goals, thereby limiting his influence overall. Of players in top 7 teams, RVP is the best performer.
2. Michu (Swansea): 89.8pts (% of team shots: 22.86 - % of team goals: 36.96 - Plus/minus: 14.09 - Conversion 15.89)
Although Michu and Swansea’s performances have started to peter out as the season winds down, Michu has done enough to come second on this list. Of particular note is the percentage of Swansea’s goals that Michu has scored and his plus/minus statistics which are second only to the player ranked 1st. He may not have scored as many goals as some of the bigger names in the Premier League but for his team, his goals have been as, if not more influential and he’s been pretty efficient too.
1. Christian Benteke (Aston Villa): 99.29pts (% of team shots: 24.81 - % of team goals: 40.91 - Plus/minus: 16.09 - Conversion 17.48)
Benteke heads this list and by some distance. He has scored the highest percentage of goals for his team, has the best plus/minus and is pretty efficient too. The 6”3 Belgian has been a revelation for relegation battler’s Villa and you can only imagine where they would be without Benteke’s goals this season. He is close to 10 points ahead of his closest competitor on this list and unsurprisingly, several clubs further up the table seem to be vying for his signature. Whether he can reproduce such form for a better team remains to be seen but his performances this season suggest that the 22 year old may have quite the career ahead of him.
(All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com and statistics are accurate as of May 10th 2013)