This is the list you don't want to be on. Expected Goals, for which there's a plain English explanation here, measures a player's efficiency, assigning a rating to the chances which fall to him. It's what we used to compile this list of the 20 best finishers in the Premier League this season.
Anyway, here's the roll of shame - and no defenders were allowed, because it’d be harsh to include Lewis Dunk in a list of players who should do better in front of goal... right?
20. Shinji Okazaki (-1.49)
The 32-year-old has actually scored more than he did in Leicester’s title-winning season when, strangely enough, nobody noticed that the hard-running forward was also quite profligate (five goals scored, across 36 appearances, from a total xG of 8.61).
In 2017/18, too, Okazaki has got into excellent positions with startling regularity – he’s taken 17 of his 28 shots from central positions between the penalty spot and the goal – but all too often failed to take advantage, including with opportunities against Chelsea, Spurs and Bournemouth.
19. Georginio Wijnaldum (-1.50)
Wijnaldum’s Premier League goal tallies, season-on-season, read 11, 6, 1 – although it’s important to remember that he has less responsibility to attack now, playing behind Liverpool’s famous front three. It’s still incredible that none of his 18 league goals in England – including those for Newcastle – have come away from home.
18. Dele Alli (-1.52)
A reversion to the norm was to be expected after Alli’s phenomenal figures last season, when an xG value of 14.71 ended up producing 18 goals.
Even so, he failed to even hit the target when he really should have scored in games against Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United – with the latter miss proving costly.
17. Ruben Loftus-Cheek (-1.58)
There’s not too much to worry about here. One failed shot with an xG of 0.36 (i.e. a chance he seemingly could or should be taking) was actually an opportunity of Loftus-Cheek’s own making in the first minute against Everton, and his subsequent effort forced a good save that let James McArthur tap in a rebound.
16. Paul Pogba (-1.71)
The Frenchman isn’t alone in reaping precious little reward from a number of ambitious attempts (his 38 long-distance shots have resulted in one goal), but his ability and technique do give rise to higher expectations. And it doesn’t help when you’re also having shots saved from this sort of range...
15. Alex Iwobi (-1.83)
Not only is Iwobi’s xG score higher than his goal count, it’s not even that high an xG score when you consider that he's made 18 Premier League starts and four substitute appearances, in attacking midfield, for a top-six side that plays on the front foot. His decision-making and shooting both need work – but at 21, he has time.
14. Andre Gray (-1.85)
Gray sets himself high standards on the pitch: after scoring in Watford’s 3-0 win at Newcastle last November, he said they’d managed to “grind it out and win ugly”, adding: “I should’ve walked off with the match ball, because I missed two good chances.”
Hence his pained expression late on in the home defeat to Swansea a month later. Watford led 1-0 with 85 minutes gone when Gray was put through on goal, but his shot hit Lukasz Fabianski. A minute later it was 1-1; a few minutes after that, Swansea snatched a winner. Football can be an unforgiving game.
=12. Christian Atsu (-1.97)
Atsu’s finishing must improve. The first 15 minutes of Stoke vs Newcastle on New Year’s Day seemed to consist entirely of the 26-year-old making a hash of decent chances, and he also scuffed an excellent opportunity on the rebound against Burnley, after debutant Kenedy had hit the post.
=12. Alexis Sanchez (-1.97)
Things are starting to look up for Sanchez at Manchester United, but 2017/18 has been a year to forget.
It’s always been the case that he’ll shoot from anywhere. This season, however, he won’t necessarily score from anywhere. Some 39 efforts from outside the area (for Arsenal and United) have produced only one goal, and that was from a central position 20 yards out. The Chilean is taking plenty of low-probability shots inside the box, too, so it’s natural that his xG differential should suffer.
11. Yohan Cabaye (-2.06)
Apart from a blocked shot in a goalmouth scramble against his old club, Newcastle, this is largely another case of accumulation: Cabaye has fired off 36 shots and only eight were from inside the penalty area.
10. Joselu (-2.19)
It's to Rafa Benitez’s credit that he’s got a tune out of Joselu. Admittedly it’s less Chopin, more Chopsticks, but the Newcastle striker has played his part as a focal point despite enduring a terrible season in front of goal.
Joselu’s 2017/18 nadir was a hat-trick of missed goalscoring opportunities against his former club Stoke, all of which should have been converted. Meanwhile, Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored 11 goals in 13 games on loan at Fulham. Awkward.
9. Erik Lamela (-2.21)
After scoring 15 Serie A goals in Roma’s 2012/13 campaign, a 21-year-old Lamela joined Spurs and has found the net only eight times in five Premier League seasons since.
Although his game has changed considerably, from hotshot to harrier, Lamela nonetheless lacks the confidence in front of goal that defines one or two of his team-mates. He's been denied at close range by Southampton, shot tamely from a great position in the North London Derby, and saw Stoke’s Jack Butland save his sliding toepoke from five yards out (xG: 0.76). Still, Christian Eriksen made the score 5-0 a minute later in that game, so never mind.
8. Kelechi Iheanacho (-2.65)
Hitting the woodwork twice in the space of four seconds as Leicester lost to Everton was unfortunate, but if anything sums up Iheanacho’s wretched season, it’s his failure to score from this position against Swansea. His poacher’s instinct has utterly abandoned him.
7. Alvaro Morata (-2.67)
...how it was meant to be.
6. Gabriel Jesus (-2.93)
This entry does seem surprising, but then Jesus has failed with eight of his 11 attempts from inside the six-yard box, despite hitting the target or goalframe with all eight. The Brazilian has also taken two penalties and missed them both.
5. Dwight Gayle (-3.08)
Five goals from 47 shots isn’t a fantastic return, especially when three-quarters of those shots are taken inside the area. Four times, Gayle has failed even to test the keeper with a shot carrying an xG value of 0.33 or more. Put simply, he misses the target too often from good positions.
4. Dominic Solanke (-3.30)
As Solanke’s would-be winner against West Brom was disallowed for handball, the 20-year-old still has more England caps (one) than Premier League goals.
He has come close. Against Swansea, an exquisite volley flashed wide, moments after he failed to convert a tricky-but-scorable chance from just a few yards out. However, he also missed from three yards against Burnley – albeit with the ball behind him and at an awkward height; then, in the first 15 minutes of this month’s Merseyside derby, Solanke flicked an unmarked header wide before shooting straight at Jordan Pickford from close range.
None of these chances were gimmes, despite the short distances involved. But, playing for Liverpool and England, they are chances he needs to start taking.
3. Tom Ince (-4.23)
David Wagner is a patient man. Although the Huddersfield boss surely recognises that stats aren’t everything, he must have been tempted to drop Ince when Guv’nor Junior played 1,527 minutes (or 17 full matches) before registering his first goal or assist of the Premier League season, on Boxing Day.
That tally now stands at two goals, despite his 67 shots putting Ince in the league’s top 15 names for quantity, if not quality. Still no assists.
2. Richarlison (-4.53)
The Brazilian scored five goals in his first 12 Premier League appearances, only to draw blanks in the 23 he’s made since. His last Watford goal came on November 19.
Richarlison hasn’t stopped buying tickets to the raffle, though. No, no: the 21-year-old’s shot count this season is surpassed only by Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Sergio Aguero. But Richarlison wasn’t exactly taking every opportunity before his drought began, either: when Watford lost 4-2 to Chelsea last October, having led 2-1, Richarlison contrived to miss from less than six yards while totally unmarked. Twice.
1. Christian Benteke (-8.26)
Some of the players can be forgiven for making our ‘top’ 20. A few are harsh victims of Lady Data. Benteke, on the other hand, has scored two goals from a total xG value of 10.26, which is nothing short of disgraceful.
It’s true that Crystal Palace benefit from having Benteke – who is seemingly undroppable when fit – as a focal point, but he has failed to convert wonderful goalscoring opportunities against Liverpool, Southampton, Manchester City, Burnley and Newcastle, to name just five.
Oh, and he broke rank to insist on taking a last-minute penalty with the score tied against Bournemouth, only to tap it tamely straight at the keeper. Still, though. Focal point.
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