Finding the best strikers in the Bundesliga – data analysis
The data analysis series where we look at the most interesting players that play in the Bundesliga is coming to a close. In this final analysis, the task will be to use data and statistics to find some of the best and most undervalued strikers in Germany’s top division.
Hopefully, we will find players who are showing good potential to succeed in the future given the Bundesliga clubs’ willingness to promote and develop youth players. This data analysis includes strikers who have played a minimum of 1000 minutes in the league this season. In the end, this analysis will produce a list of some of the most interesting strikers in the league who have the potential to make a step forward in their career and perhaps don’t get enough recognition.
Shots and touches in the box
The first section of this data analysis consists of the player’s ability to create many shots as well as have many touches in the box. Strikers need to be able to find space in the box via good movement or positioning to get better quality chances in front of goal.
Shots per game are a good indicator of future success for a striker in terms of scoring goals as the more shots you take usually results in more goals and it speaks to a striker’s ability to create or be at the end of chances. The same goes for touches in the box as it can give us an idea of a striker’s instincts in the area.
One of the outstanding candidate in this category is Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski who boasts a great combination of the number of shots and touches in the box per game. The striker has 4.11 shots per game, the most out of the strikers, and 6.42 touches in the box per game.
Chelsea-bound striker Timo Werner is the other player who boasts an incredible combination of shots and touches per game. He leads the league in touches in the box per game with 6.66 and has a great tally of 3.56 shots per game. Having over four shots per game is usually the benchmark for elite strikers so the RB Leipzig striker is slightly shy of that mark.
Matheus Cunha is in that elite bracket with 4.06 shots per game but the Brazilian is lacking with the number of touches in the box with only 3.06 per game. This could be down to the fact that he plays for a team in the bottom half but the tally is still quite low regardless.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Lucas Alario is a player with a good combination of both statistics as well. The Argentine has 3.22 shots and 4.73 touches per game. Players such as Marco Reus, Gonçalo Paciência, Patrik Schick and Erling Haaland also have similar numbers to the 27-year-old.
Dribbling is a great asset for a striker to have since it gives them a good ability to create their own chances or help create for their teammates. Strikers with great dribbling will also be able to get out of opposition traps and double teams, which will help the team in since it can give the team an added dimension in their attack.
This chart highlights the distribution of the strikers who are great at dribbling in the Bundesliga, with darker blue dots meaning that the player has a very low dribbling success rate and darker red meaning the opposite.
The leader in this regard is Cunha, who attempts an impressive tally if 8.2 dribbles per game and completes 62.63% of them. It should be noted that completing above 60% of your attempted dribbles is regarded as elite, which means that the Hertha Berlin man is one of the best at dribbling in the league at least.
Next up is Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram who also has great dribbling numbers. The Frenchman has been spectacular for Marco Rose’s side contributing to a whopping 17 goals in 31 appearances. The 22-year-old attempts 7.25 dribbles per game but his success rate is quite low at 52.43%.
His teammate Breel Embolo has similar dribbling statistics to Thuram. The former Schalke man has an even lower success rate at 48.03% but does attempt 7.02 dribbles per game, which is promising for a 23-year-old.
Werder Bremen’s Milot Rashica is also in this list despite predominantly being a left-winger. He has featured enough times up front so we have decided to include him too. As a winger, it should come as no surprise that he has great dribbling numbers as he attempts 6.72 dribbles per game and completes 53.67%.
28-year-old Karim Onisiwo, who has very similar numbers to Rashica, rounds out the top five. The Mainz 05 centre-forward attempts 6.53 dribbles per game and has a good completion rate of 56.62%. The likes of Rabbi Matondo, Werner and Paciência all follow in close behind Onisiwo.
In this section, we are going to look at the striker’s ability to win aerial duels. Strikers are strictly judged on their goals but this will help us look into the finer details of how they score. As with dribbling, being able to win duels in the air adds another skill to a striker’s arsenal and gives a different option for the team.
To judge a player’s aerial capability, we are looking at the number of aerial duels they contest per game and the percentage of success in that number.
Bas Dost has by the best combination of number of aerial duels and their success rate out of all Bundesliga strikers. The Eintracht Frankfurt player attempts 11.54 aerial duels per game and wins 61.39% of them.
Three players other than Dost attempt more than 11 aerial duels per game but their success rate is considerably worse. Davie Selke attempts 11.82 aerial duels winning 48% of them and Anthony Ujah attempts 12.3 aerial duels but with a success rate of only 38.13%. Union Berlin striker Sebastian Andersson attempts the most aerial duels with 13.44 per game but has a low success rate of 45.15%.
In contrast to these players, there are strikers who don’t attempt as many aerial duels but their duel win percentage is quite good. Three players stick out immediately and they are Thuram, Schick and Wout Weghorst. All of these strikers have an aerial duel win percentage between 53-55% with Thuram contesting the least duels at 5.8 and Schick contesting the most with 7.36.
Lewandowski, Cordoba and Paciência are strikers that just miss the 50% aerial duel success rate despite all being good aerial threats.
Following on from looking at strikers’ different qualities to create chances for themselves, we are going to investigate their total attacking output. In order to measure their ability to do that, we are looking at their expected assists and goals per game. Expected assists and goals are a great predictor for how well a player will fare in the future in terms of their attacking output. As a side note, a combined xA and xG value above 0.8 should be regarded as elite output and a value above 0.6 should be looked as great output.
Only two players are in the elite category and it should come as no surprise that they are Lewandowski and Werner. The Polish international is in a league of his own as he nearly contributes to a goal per game with a total xG and xA of 0.9 per game. Werner contributes to 0.82 xG and xA per game, which is still elite and is a reason as to why Chelsea have signed him.
Embolo is slightly behind the elite mark this season with an expected goals and assists total of 0.76. However, at 23, this a great sign that his potential that looked to have gone to waste at Schalke is still there.
Four players have very similar outputs and they range from 0.69 to 0.71, so they rank between the great and elite rank. André Silva and Andrey Kramarić have an xG and xA of 0.71 and 0.70 per game respectively. Haaland and Thuram both have a combined xG and xA output of 0.69 per game.
Now, we will evaluate the best players we mentioned in the sections above who are under the radar or show promise. Therefore, the likes of Lewandowski, Werner and Haaland will not be included given that they play for big clubs and are regarded as one of the best in their positions. It should be noted that it will be extremely difficult to find players who are complete strikers that are either under the radar or quite young.
Marcus Thuram – The Frenchman has had a breakout campaign for Marco Rose’s side and has been very good in nearly every category. We have mentioned his great aerial and dribbling prowess and this makes him a threat on multiple levels. His combined xG and xA value is also very good as mentioned but broken down, 0.23 of that is from his expected assists per game. This speaks to his ability to bring his teammates into play and his creative abilities, once again showcasing his threat on multiple levels. The 22-year-old should be on the radar for elite clubs but with Gladbach finishing in the top four this season, he can prove himself in the Champions League next year.
Breel Embolo – Thuram’s teammate Embolo has had less shine than his strike partner given that he has had fewer minutes in the Bundesliga but his output is very similar. He ranks very highly in dribbling but slightly worse in aerial performance. He also has less successful defensive actions than Thuram but makes up for it with slightly better output – 0.76 xG and xA per game. The Swiss international does have slightly less performance in nearly every other category than Thuram but his numbers are still excellent. Valued at only £15m by Transfermarkt, he could be a great bargain buy for a top team.
Matheus Cunha – The Hertha Berlin player transferred from RB Leipzig in January this year and had a superb last half of the season with his new team. His expected goals of 0.48 per game is up there with the likes of Thuram and Embolo, which is a great sign for the 21-year-old. His total output does falter as he does only have a measly 0.03 xA per game. This speaks to his lack of versatility in terms of his skillset as can be shown by his limited aerial prowess. However, he does make up for this in other departments. We have touched on his great dribbling prowess and willingness to shoot, but his progressive run making is great too at 2.65 per game and high defensive effort (6.38 successful defensive actions per game) make him a useful asset especially for a pressing side. The 21-year-old will probably not be on the move unless Hertha can make a huge profit on him, but more scouting should be able to determine whether is lack of assists come from his deficiencies as a creator or whether it is down to his role on the team.
Gonçalo Paciência – Frankfurt’s ability to turn young strikers into great players continues as Paciência has become an integral member of their squad. The Portuguese striker has rarely been mentioned in this analysis but has been consistently good in every statistical category. He has a great number of aerial duels (7.3) per game and dribbles per game (5.66), albeit at a low success rate of 38.37%. His weaknesses come in his lack of defensive work and progressive runs with only 3.95 successful defensive actions per game and 0.79 progressive runs per game. At 25, he is still yet to hit his prime and thus, has still room for improvement.
So now we have a small shortlist of players that have shown either good potential or great output and they deserve to be scouted further to see where their strengths and weaknesses are on the pitch. As we have seen, the Bundesliga have some great players that are under the radar from the common fan, albeit the likes of Thuram and Embolo are somewhat well known already. However, Cunha and Paciência could be steals if the right teams come in for them, which would allow them to elevate their games.
Check out the last four parts of this series, where we looked at central defenders, full-backs, central midfielders and wingers:
Part One: Finding the best centre-backs in the Bundesliga – data analysis
Part Two: Finding the best full-backs in the Bundesliga – data analysis
Part Three: Finding the best central midfielders in the Bundesliga – data analysis
Part Four: Finding the best wingers in the Bundesliga – data analysis