Ranked! The 20 best finishers in the Premier League... according to Expected Goals (xG)
If you can’t quite get your head around xG, which would hardly be a crime, then read this fun-yet-informative feature first.
Because xG explains how easy or difficult a particular shooting opportunity may be, it can, among other things, give an idea of which teams and individuals are taking their chances well. If a player’s xG value across the season adds up to 10.2 and he's scored 15 goals, making his differential +4.8, then he’s probably having one hell of a campaign.
It’s not an exact science – theoretically, any of the players below could be consistently lucky recipients of handy deflections, serendipitous mishits or generous goalkeeping – but xG can offer something of a guide to which 20 players have been the best finishers in the Premier League this season. If nothing else, the identity of the top three should allay any fears that it’s a complete nonsense.
Here we go, then...
20. Ryan Fraser (+2.19)
‘The Wee Man’ (at 5ft 4in, he’s shorter than Selena Gomez) has scored only four goals in 2017/18 but they all helped Bournemouth to a positive result – and he has had precious few chances presented on a plate.
At this point we’d like to welcome any American teenagers reading this after Googling ‘Selena Gomez’, only to accidentally open an article about hypothetical data in soccer.
19. Marcos Alonso (+2.24)
You’ll see few better finishers playing at wing-back. Alonso’s attacking proficiency is an asset for Chelsea: twice this season he’s saved Alvaro Morata’s blushes, headed home a corner – not exactly part of the standard full-back’s armoury – and converted a sublime free-kick.
Being named in the PFA Team of the Year was arguably a little generous, mind.
18. Laurent Depoitre (+2.42)
A five-goal tally doesn’t make for a massive sample size, but Depoitre has generally taken his chances well. The big Belgian’s calm finish against Manchester United ultimately won Huddersfield the game.
17. Sergio Aguero (+2.43)
The best-performing teams have players converting chances more often than they ‘should’ according to said chances’ difficulty. It’s one reason why Tottenham surged to 86 points last season, and why they aren’t doing so this season – because in 2016/17, Dele Alli (+3.29), Son Heung-min (+6.23!) and Harry Kane (+9.18!!!) all vastly outperformed what would reasonably be expected of them.
This season, Manchester City’s dominance is implied by them having three players in this top 20. Aguero is the first: a personal return to form after last term.
16. Ashley Barnes (+2.65)
A third of Barnes’s goals have come from fewer than six yards, so you wouldn’t expect him to outstrip his expected goals figure all that much. However, a handful of corkers include a pseudo-bicycle kick scored a few days before Cristiano Ronaldo’s Best Goal Ever™.
In absence of similar recognition for their man’s acrobatic strike, Burnley have at least ensured you can watch it on loop for an hour.
15. Javier Hernandez (+2.75)
Although it seems surprising that Hernandez has the Premier League’s best conversion rate, turning 27.5% of his shots into goals, his seriously impressive ratio comes from a less surprising statistic: the Hammers poacher has hit 24 of his 29 shots from inside the area.
As a result, Hernandez’s xG differential is very healthy without being extraordinary, because he efficiently converts chances while rarely attempting the improbable… which, to be fair, is kind of the point.
14. Anthony Martial (+2.80)
The Frenchman may join Messrs Salah, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Bonucci and Robben in being sold in his early 20s by Jose Mourinho. He, too, could thrive elsewhere.
Martial’s shooting isn’t faultless – see his miss from six yards against Bournemouth – but neat finishes against Everton, Stoke and Burnley serve as a reminder that he showed potential as a striker before being given, literally and figuratively, a wide berth.
13. Xherdan Shaqiri (+2.93)
If you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the inflatable aubergine. Hence a shot-happy Shaqiri having 65 attempts – two-thirds of them from outside the box – for his seven goals.
Still, when you can place the ball as precisely as Shaqiri did to score against Newcastle, Brighton and Leicester – each goal defying an xG of 0.03 – then you’ll try anything.
12. Leroy Sané (+2.97)
Identifying where Sané has improved the most isn’t easy, but it may be the reliability of his shooting.
While wonderful strikes such as his volley against Everton rightly make the headlines, the 22-year-old’s technique wasn’t in doubt. Just as impressive is how quickly the German is becoming a dead-eyed killer in front of goal.
11. Kevin De Bruyne (+3.01)
Twentieth in these rankings last week, De Bruyne surged up to 11th with a stonking strike against Swansea.