A lot of football fans say stats aren’t everything. They’re right: stats aren’t everything. But maybe we can identify information these people will find enlightening – like finding just the right Coen Brothers film before exploring the rest of their canon. Don’t make Expected Goals Ratio your first wobbling step. Don’t begin your journey with Barton Fink.
So, since a large proportion of cynics say the only stats that matter are goals (perfectly understandable), let’s look at goals, shall we? Specifically, let’s look at which Premier League players contribute goals the most often. Slightly more specifically: how long it takes a player to set up or score a goal.
In other words: who averages the fewest minutes per goal or assist?
Ozil, Aguero... Wilson?
You won’t be too surprised to discover who’s at the top of this list. Riyad Mahrez has a pretty good season, all told, and each of his 14 goals and 10 assists – the highest combined total in the league – has come, on average, every 85 minutes.
That means Mahrez is contributing a goal per game, and when you consider the only other player to do that in the Premier League this season is Sergio Aguero (every 89 minutes), it’s a reminder that unless you’re Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the idea of a ‘goal-per-game striker’ is an exaggeration or even a myth.
Aguero has also scored 14 goals, but assisted only two. He has, however, spent 30% less time on the pitch than Mahrez, hence his similar ratio of minutes per goal or assist (let’s just call it MpGA from here). Mahrez’s team-mate Jamie Vardy is fourth in the rankings with an MpGA of 103. He’s behind assist-thirsty Mesut Ozil, whose 17 assists – and four goals – have come every 100 minutes.
Also impressing are Romelu Lukaku (21 goals or assists at 107 MpGA, and that includes only one penalty), Kevin De Bruyne (14 at 111 MpGA) and the oft-maligned Olivier Giroud (16 at 112 MpGA).
And a shout-out is due to Callum Wilson at Bournemouth. Wilson was injured as early as September, sadly, but first a hat-trick at West Ham helped him to five goals in seven games: one every 109 minutes. Wilson inspired us to include a minimum requirement of five goals or assists, which is sad news for Robert Huth.
Must do better
But what of the big names who aren’t as productive as you might think? Certainly Raheem Sterling should be looking to improve on a return of 238 MpGA; i.e. a contribution to the scoresheet every four hours. And even if goals aren’t everything, it’s surprising to see Alexis Sanchez scoring or creating one only every 200 minutes, a worse ratio than Jordan Henderson and Arouna Kone among others.
The increasing emphasis on Yaya Toure’s attacking aptitude over defensive apathy means an open-play goal or assist every 234 minutes isn’t really enough. You’d expect more from Cesc Fabregas than a goal or assist every 380 minutes.
And Gylfi Sigurdsson may have scored three penalties and two delightful free-kicks, but as a playmaker, making just three other goals – one every 692 minutes, or seven-to-eight matches – isn’t good enough.
Then there’s Juan Mata. The Spaniard has contributed seven goals of all kinds at a rate of 285 MpGA, placing him behind some 66 players on a 79-name list (because of that cut-off). Incredibly, Mata hasn’t scored or assisted a Premier League goal since November 7 – and that was a stoppage-time penalty.
Even more incredibly, he hasn’t scored or assisted a Premier League goal from open play since September. He has seen 24 hours of match action since then. Juan Mata has played a full day of Premier League football without contributing to a goal. Most incredibly of all, nobody appears to have noticed.
The unusual suspects
That’s enough negativity for now (we’ll have more later). It’s time to pay tribute to the forgotten men creating and converting goals at a healthy rate. All hail Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan. The 33-year-old playmaker is enjoying an Indian summer ahead of his Irish summer at Euro 2016, racking up 11 goals and assists in comparatively little match time. His superb ratio of 134 MpGA matches that of the deservedly lauded Dimitri Payet. Even if you discount the penalty he scored against Liverpool, Hoolahan is, on average, more efficient going forward than Philippe Coutinho, Ross Barkley, Sterling, Theo Walcott, Sanchez, Pedro, Oscar... we could go on.
Gerard Deulofeu is another name surprisingly high on the MpGA list, even if his talents are more widely appreciated. Joining him in the top 10 with a sub-two-hour average is fellow Merseysider Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian deserves credit for settling so quickly, reflected in a ratio of 117 MpGA. It might shock you to hear that his Liverpool chum James Milner averages a goal or assist every other game, notching 10 for the season – only one of them a penalty. Also put your hands together (or don’t, whatever) for Watford’s Odion Ighalo (131 MpGA) and Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels. The latter’s 315 MpGA ratio may not look all that, but for an unheralded full-back at a small club battling relegation, seven goals and assists is mighty impressive. It’s more than team-mate Matt Ritchie has got, anyway.
Whither the Champions League winners?
It’s worth noting, though, that United have just three players with a total of five or more goals and assists in this campaign: the aforementioned Mata, plus Wayne Rooney (11) and Anthony Martial (10), who each average a contribution every other game.
As for Chelsea, only Diego Costa (14 goals and assists at 131 MpGA) requires less than four hours of match time to get his team on the scoresheet one way or another. Player of the Year Eden Hazard – who, like Mata, hasn’t managed that feat since September – isn’t even on the list.
Hammers share the load
It isn’t odd to see Manchester City and Liverpool boast the most players with 5+ goals or assists, but they share that accolade with West Ham. Half a dozen of Slaven Bilic’s men have reached that tally, and in precious little time too. They seem to excel in cameos: only five players in the whole Premier League have hit that five-goal total in fewer than 990 minutes, or 11 ‘full’ matches, and three of them – Enner Valencia (144 MpGA), Manuel Lanzini (192 MpGA) and Michail Antonio (197 MpGA) – play for West Ham.
Also spreading the load are Southampton and Norwich, who each have five players with five or more goals and assists. Forza Cameron Jerome! Meanwhile, Aston Villa are alone in having just a single player to do that: a very lonely Jordan Ayew, with five goals (no assists) at a ratio of one every three-and-a-bit matches.
A footnote from the future
Finally, is there a warning for England here? Looking just at the number of minutes played, you notice the four busiest names are all English, three of them likely Euro 2016 squad members (sorry, Troy). Harry Kane, still only 22 years old, has missed just 43 minutes of Tottenham’s league season, and played in all bar two of their cup games. Ross Barkley, also 22, has sat out only an hour all season (and also one cup match); so, too, Jamie Vardy. He’s not on this list, but Nathaniel Clyne hasn’t missed a minute.
Are England about to go into another tournament with tired players? Perhaps, perhaps not – they are young, after all (well, apart from Vardy). It’s something to bear in mind, though.
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