Analysis

Revealed! What we’ve learned about the Premier League’s most – and least – productive attacking players this season

Mesut Ozil

Must do better, Mesut. And you, Eden – but then, as we've discovered, this is nothing new. Huw Davies crunches the numbers to reveal the effectiveness of our top-flight stars this term

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Everybody loves stats, right? No. They don’t. That was a silly thing to say. However, we think there’s a football statistic that may appeal to even the most traditional purists or hardened cynics. Put simply: which players really like goals?

As we did in 2016 and 2017, we’ve calculated how long it takes each and every Premier League player to score or set up a goal in the current season. It doesn’t take a genius to guess who has the very best Minutes-per-Goal-or-Assist (MpGA) rate in 2017/18, but further down the list, surprises are in store.

For now, all we’ll say is this: when it comes to efficiency, Eden Hazard’s no Jesse Lingard.

Eden Hazard

"Eh?"

Hot damn, Salah and the City

It’s not the most stunning revelation, but the only place to start is with the observation that Mohamed Salah is quite good.

The Egyptian has been smashing records almost as regularly as he’s been smashing in goals: for one, nobody’s scored in more Premier League games within a single season (21), and Liverpool still have half a dozen of them to play. There’s always room for one more impressive stat, though, and it’s worth noting that Salah’s rate of goal contribution – including assists – is utterly ridiculous.

Any manager would be thrilled to have a player who scores or directly sets up a goal per game. Salah’s doing it once every 65 minutes. That’s a better average than any other regular starter over the past few years and, with 15% of the season remaining, his combined 38 goals and assists already represents the highest total across a campaign since Luis Suarez’s 43 in 2013/14.

Mo Salah

It’s impressive enough that Salah betters Sergio Aguero’s productivity. If his current rate is ridiculous, Aguero makes the ridiculous seem normal. The Manchester City striker is scoring or assisting a Premier League goal every 72 minutes in this campaign, following rates of 105MpGA last year (when he was oddly profligate) and 91, 75, and 67 in the years before that. Averaging 80 minutes per goal contribution across five seasons shows astonishing consistency.

This season, though, Aguero isn’t the only Manchester City player posting incredible numbers. Indeed, if you allow for a reasonable minimum of seven combined goals or assists, Pep Guardiola’s players make up half of the top 10 contribution rates.

Manchester City also account for five of the top 10 total contributions from an individual, with Gabriel Jesus replaced by Kevin De Bruyne, whose 22 goals and assists have come at a rate of ‘only’ one every two hours. Rubbish.

The (Red) Devil’s in the details

It’s pretty remarkable for half of a team to each average a goal or assist per game, give or take a few minutes. Guardiola’s development of Sterling and Sané is clear to see, but even Old Man Silva is contributing far more regularly than ever before (although he’s always laid on plenty of secondary assists – the assist to the assist, if you like – and they aren’t counted here).

Meanwhile, De Bruyne leads the Premier League’s assists charts, Bernardo Silva has contributed to a goal every 145 minutes, and Fernandinho and Kyle Walker are each chipping in with half a dozen themselves.

Raheem Sterling

For comparison, the rates at second-placed Manchester United aren’t even that bad. Anthony Martial has a surprisingly healthy MpGA of 96, while Romelu Lukaku’s is 119 and Lingard clocks in at 123. Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba average a goal or assist every game-and-a-half, too. It’s simply that City’s numbers are off the charts.

Still, it hasn’t exactly helped them against Liverpool, has it? And even if the Reds rely on their forwards to add the finishing touches rather than spreading around the whole team, it’s hard to argue with the efficiency of Salah (65MpGA), Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané (both 114). In fact, third in the top 10 above should actually be the departed Philippe Coutinho, with 13 goal contributions coming once every 86 minutes on average. Whatever happened to him, anyway?

Arsenal’s secret weapon

Over at Spurs, Harry Kane deserves credit simply for not slowing down significantly. To continue his year-on-year improvement would’ve required him to score or assist a goal every 10 minutes, which would be… tricky, let’s say. Even if last year’s unbelievable rate of 70MpGA has given way, he’s still having an impact on every game.

Unfortunately for Mauricio Pochettino, the men supporting Kane are also less efficient than in 2016/17. Christian Eriksen’s ratio is up from 138MpGA to 162. Dele Alli has been declared by some to have taken on a more selfish goalscoring role of late, yet he’s laid on more assists than any player in the league not at Manchester City; nonetheless, his overall rate of 150MpGA is worse than his 122MpGA last season (thanks to 10 fewer goals scored).

Dele Alli, Son Heung-min

Fortunately for Mauricio Pochettino, there’s always Son Heung-min. The relatively unheralded forward has relieved the burden on Kane, directly contributing every 122 minutes this term. Again, it doesn’t match his previous rate (104MpGA), but it’s a more-than-reasonable rate. Besides, the only other Spurs player with five or more combined goals and assists is full-back Ben Davies.

Talk of underrated Welshmen in north London brings us to Aaron Ramsey. The Arsenal man is usually picked as part of a midfield two, with three or four world-class attacking talents playing in front of him, so he’d be forgiven for offering little in the final third. After all, he’s as much responsible for going backwards as he is going forwards.

Yet in terms of minutes per goal or assist, Ramsey contributes at a better rate than nearly all of his team-mates, including Alexandre Lacazette and arch-creator Mesut Ozil, not to mention a few handy players who aren’t at Arsenal, including but not limited to Eriksen, Alli, Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Bernardo Silva, Wilfried Zaha, Willian, Pedro and Xherdan Shaqiri. Before last weekend, Ramsey was ahead of De Bruyne, Mkhitaryan and Riyad Mahrez, too. It’s some achievement to outscore those players from central midfield and still go under the radar.

Aaron Ramsey

Alexisnotonfire

We mentioned Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean hasn’t had a happy time at Old Trafford since his move there in January, with Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand saying he “looks a shadow of his former self”. While his time with Arsenal in 2017/18 had been nothing special, his first six hours of football in Manchester brought a single goal and no assists. One of each against Swansea last week helped bring his average for the season down to 163MpGA.

Intriguingly, his opposite number in that January swap deal – the man who was seemingly the makeweight – has fared better. Mkhitaryan’s rate at United this season was 155MpGA and at Arsenal it’s just 90; Sanchez’s rate at Arsenal was 151MpGA and now it’s over 200. Clearly the Armenian is relishing his newfound freedom. And Alexis Sanchez is not Armenian.

Although Sanchez is more of a goalscorer than a goalmaker, there’s arguably a whole subset of underperforming players according to their rate of goal contribution, and that’s the Premier League’s pure creators.

Alexis Sanchez

As a stat, minutes per goal or assist can reveal only so much, and strikers tend to have better MpGA averages than playmakers. Still, that didn’t stop Cesc Fabregas last season (five goals, 12 assists) from recording an extraordinary rate of 78MpGA, and only two of Mkhitaryan’s 11 contributions in 2017/18 have been goals rather than assists.

So, even though there’s undoubtedly more beneath the surface in terms of chances created and their respective teams’ tactics, FFT doesn’t feel too bad for suggesting that the Premier League’s most creative players could be having more of an impact. For one thing, Fabregas’s decline from 78MpGA to 374 is… well, it’s not great, put it that way.

Ozil is another guilty party. The German has free licence to make goals without having to worry too much about defending, so with that in mind, a goal or assist every 180 minutes – or every two full matches, according to the maths graduates in our office – is a pretty underwhelming return. Mata’s ratio of 238MpGA puts him below Andre Gray and Chris Brunt, although this is at least better than the 2015/16 period in which he played over 24 hours of league football without contributing to a goal in open play.

Then there’s Eden Hazard. Given that he’s now playing in a front three with no defensive responsibilities at all, and often as the most advanced player on the pitch, he could certainly be contributing with more regularity. And even though he’s perceived as being either brilliant (2014/15, 2016/17) or blasé (2015/16, his annus horribilis), the Belgian’s ratio barely wavers.

On one hand, contributing to 20 goals every season requires consistency that many would envy. On the other, Hazard is theoretically one of the best players in England, even Europe, and he should certainly be playing a part in a goal more regularly than central midfielders in deeper roles, such as Ramsey and Pogba. Hazard, this great creative force, has assisted three goals in 2017/18, following five last season and three the season before that. Numbers aren’t everything, but they are something.

Deserving more respect?

Finally, let’s hear it for the little guys. Raise your glasses, please, to...

The Lesser Lights’ Goalscorers. Chris Wood doesn’t start every game for Burnley, yet the New Zealander has lent himself to eight goals and one assist at a rate of 131MpGA. In a team averaging less than a goal per game, even while sat seventh in the table, that’s mightily impressive.

Similarly, Everton’s Oumar Niasse deserves huge credit for somehow averaging a goal or assist every 104 minutes – or in technical terms, every match-and-a-bit. He’s part of an Everton side that puts the ‘dire’ into ‘direct’ and he doesn’t even take penalties. He’s also, it seems, one of the Premier League’s most effective strikers. Go figure.

Oumar Niasse

Glenn Murray’s World Cup call-up claims are fanciful, but 11 goals (no assists) at 166MpGA for Brighton is a healthy return. At Leicester, Jamie Vardy averages 164MpGA and Shinji Okazaki (179MpGA) has scored more than he did in their title-winning season. Meanwhile, Marko Arnautovic’s transformation at West Ham has been something to behold: his overall rate for the season may be only 142MpGA, but 11 goals and assists (95MpGA) in his first eight games as a striker followed one in 12 before that.

And finally there’s Charlie Austin, playing for a Southampton team that is frankly just awful. Counting only goals and not assists, the injury-stricken striker has a rate of 114 that is bettered only by Salah, Kane and Aguero among all players with half a dozen or more strikes to their name. Six goals are enough to make him Southampton’s joint-leading contributor, even though we’re now into April and Austin has played the equivalent of seven-and-a-half matches. Worrying.

Next on FFT’s Roulette of Respect...

The One-In-Twos. If ‘one in two’ is meant to be the sign of a decent goalscorer, an MpGA ratio circling 180 should be lauded also. A round of applause, then, for Pascal Gross (13 goals and assists at 187MpGA), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (10 at 182), Xherdan Shaqiri (13 at 193), Dwight Gayle (eight at 190) and the Bournemouth pair, Callum Wilson (nine at 182) and Junior Stanislas (seven at 186).

Pascal Gross

Also deserving of praise:

The Burnleys. Across their 31 matches, no individual at Burnley has contributed to more than eight goals, a record shared between Wood and Johann Berg Gudmundsson. Other teams also share their goals about, but they’re not sat in the European places.

And last of all, let’s not forget:

The Defenders. Ben Davies leads the way for his positional pals with eight goals and assists at a highly impressive 246MpGA, averaging well under one every three games. Yet he’s still playing as a centre-back for Wales.

Other defenders to have contributed towards half a dozen or more Premier League goals this season include Aaron Cresswell, Cesar Azpilicueta, the unexpected goal threat that is Nacho Monreal, the unexpected bench-warmer that is Sead Kolasinac and the Patrick Swayze tribute act that is Marcos Alonso.

A shoutout to Leicester’s Harry Maguire, though, for being the only true centre-back in that list. His six goal contributions include four assists. Hey, it’s more than Eden Hazard’s got.

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