Finding the best centre-forwards from lower possession teams in LaLiga – data analysis
Famous strikers like Luis Suárez, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, etc. always tend to take away the spotlight for the best centre-forwards in Spain. One reason for it could be the number of chances they get to score or create opportunities that are dependent on the amount of possession their teams enjoy. In this data analysis let’s find out the best centre-forwards who have been performing exceptionally well despite their teams having lower possession in the league.
In this analysis, we would compare players with their data and statistics under various metrics that are essentials for a good centre-forward. We are looking to find out the strikers who cause maximum danger with the little amount of possession they possess and hence we will only consider players who had performed well in most of our criteria and not just one.
Teams with lower possession values
Before we jump into our analysis of players, let’s first find out the clubs in LaLiga this season who have lower possession values.
Nothing to our surprise as we see Barcelona being the team to enjoy maximum possession followed by Real Sociedad. Interesting to see that 13 out of 20 teams in LaLiga have possession value which is below league average. Alavés is the team with the least possession value. Atlético Madrid positioned third in the table also possess lower possession value which is pretty obvious as we know the tactics of Diego Simeone who prefer to sit back while defending and rely on counters to score goals most of the time.
The majority of the teams on this list are teams who don’t prefer to build their game from behind. Instead, they press the opponents, wait for them to make mistakes, and convert these mistakes into chances. This is exactly why strikers in these teams have a very important role than in teams with higher possession value. They’ll have to make use of the minimum chances they get whereas teams with higher possession values can create chances very often. So the final set of shortlisted teams that we will be looking at are:
- Atlético Madrid
- Athletic Bilbao
Further in our graphs, we would be following a standard pattern of colour notation as follows,
- Green dots: The player has performed above average in both the criteria and has made into the elite list in that particular section.
- Red dots: The player has failed to perform above average in at least one of the criteria and hence would be neglected in that particular section.
- Pink dots: That difference between the players metric and average is very less and hence can be marginally accepted into the elite list.
this method is adapted to make it easy for us to spot the players easily and will help us throughout our data analysis in shortlisting the players. Now that we have filtered the team’s that we would be looking, let jump straight into analysing the strikers from those teams
Analysis of the player’s performance
To begin with, let’s take a look at the expected performance by the strikers in terms of goals scored or was the reason for a goal. We would consider players only who had performed above average in both metrics. After filtering out the teams with higher possession values and taking into account the players who had played more than 600 minutes the below graph is what we obtain.
Taking a close look at the above graph one could spot Álvaro Morata leading the data race in xG with a standout value of 0.50 with both Ángel Rodríguez of Getafe and Diego Costa of Atlético Madrid closely following by with an xG value of 0.43 each. Suprise inclusion to this list based on their team’s standing on the table would-be Lucas Pérez of Alavés. He holds the second position in expected assists and is right behind Costa with a value of 0.21 and with an xG value of 0.39. The other players who have managed to cross the average line are João Félix, Ezequiel Ávila who both have performed quite well when compared to Kevin Gameiro, Jaime Mata, Sandro Ramirez who are just above the margin.
The answer to the question ‘how Getafe and Atlético Madrid have been on top of the table despite having enjoying very less possession?’ is answered in the above graph. Out of the eight players who have made into the top right corner grid three are from Athletico while two are from Getafe. If we include Rodrigo who can be marginally accepted into the top performers’ list, then it’s would make two players from Valencia, the team which currently stands third when compared to the clubs with lower possession.
Touches inside penalty area/90 vs Shooting accuracy
Moving forward with our analysis we take these two metrics into account to compare players as we would like to see how these players use their minimum touches. With very little possession as strikers, you got to utilise the minimum opportunity put in front of you. Also, we are trying to see how many of them are dangerous with these touches inside the penalty box. We would only look at the shortlisted players from our previous analysis unless the striker has shown some exceptional performance.
On looking at the above graph the leading four players in touches in opponents penalty box per 90 are Morata(4.31), Ángel(4.11), Ávila(4.11), and Gameiro(4.10). These are the same four players who have also been outstanding in our previous analysis. Jaime Mata, Maxi Gomez, Jorge Molina are the new inclusion to this list. Not surprised by the exclusion of Pérez and Costa as they are the kind of players who help in scoring goals rather than directly scoring which is the reason why they both stood out in the value of the expected assists. However, the top four players taking more touches inside the box, have a similar shot on target accuracy ranging between 41% to 51%.
Ferreyra of Espanyol who stands out with the shot on target percentage has very fewer touches inside the box per 90. Although he hasn’t made it to our elite list, we still look at him as his accuracy is quite high. With such good shooting accuracy, he could have converted more goals if he had taken more touches inside the penalty area. This could have given him a greater angle towards the goal and increase his chances of scoring. This possibly explains why his expected xG per 90 stands among the lowest values(0.15).
The conversion rate of the players
Moving further in our hunt to find the best centre-forwards from lower possession using data and statistics we next look at the number of deep completions per 90 and their goal conversion ability. Along with the above section this section also gives us a clear idea of how dangerous a player is when in the surroundings of the opponent’s goal.
Pérez leads with the highest number of deep completions (1.55) while his conversion rate (26.83%) stands third just behind Gameiro and Gomez. Morata who earlier dominated our earlier analysis sections has managed to enter the elite list by a slight margin managing a deep completion per 90 value of 0.97 while his conversion rate being just above average with a value of 15.25%. Mata who didn’t make it into the list in our first section has made an appearance in the previous section and here. He is found to be having a very good conversion rate of 23.08% and 0.88 deep completions per 90 and establishes himself as one the strikers to look at in LaLiga this season.
Charles who was neglected in our previous two sections has now caught our attention with his number of deep completions(1.05) and also looks to also have a pretty good conversion rate of 26.09%. But his statistics in the previous two sections weren’t very impressive and hence we would ignore him. Costa although being ignored from the list again has quite an impact on the number of deep completions made per 90(1.45) with a less threatening conversion rate(13.04%). Gameiro who was among the maximum number of touches in the penalty area has also managed to have the highest conversion rate(33.33) among the rest with also a deep completion value(1.22) of greater than one. Gómez and Ángel who have missed out on the elite list due to their lack of deep completions have managed to have a good percentage on goal conversions.
Analysis of the value of the pass
Being the last section of analysis before we finalise on our shortlisted players, we would take a final look at the value of the passes that these strikers make. Along with expected assists, metrics such as key passes and passes to penalty area also leads to a goal.
Pretty convinced by the fact that almost all the names that we have been mentioning pretty often in the previous sections have made into the elite list in this section except Pérez who lacks in the number of passes made into the penalty area(1.11). Pérez who was earlier mentioned for influencing the team’s goals has exceptional value in both passes made into penalty area per 90(3.1) and number key passes made per 90(0.70). Although Costa’s number of passes into the penalty area is quite low when compared to others he has made an impact on the number(0.72) of key passes that he makes per 90.
Rodrigo who was previously missed out due to his lack of ability in conversions now stands third in passes into the penalty area(2.71) and second in the number key passes per 90(0.74) just behind Jose Luis Morales. Morales will be excluded due to his inconsistency in our previous sections. Surprisingly Molina who wasn’t great with these statistics in our first section has managed to compensate with the other metrics of the game. Just like how he had excelled in our previous section, he excels here too on the number of key passes(0.63) he makes per 90 and with a decent number of passes into the penalty area per 90(1.62). Mata, Ángel, Félix, and Gameiro have managed an above-average performance in this section to make into the elite list.
Shortlisted players based on data and statistics
Based on our analysis we would now shortlist the strikers who have been performing well despite being in one of the low possession value teams.
- Lucas Pérez
- Álvaro Morata
- Jorge Molina
- Kevin Gameiro
- Ángel Rodríguez
- Jaime Mata
We could still add on to this list of shortlisted players but we would like to stop with just six and these players were shortlisted based on our analysis and their consistency in all aspects of the game. We shall analyse a bit further on their other qualities comparing them to the league mean and then arrange them in the order of preferences.
The above is the percentile ranking values of our shortlisted players in a few other metrics that are essential aspects of a complete finisher. On just blindly looking at all our chosen metrics and looking at how they have performed when compared to the performance in the league one’s eye would find Pérez very often as he’s been performing consistently above average in all aspects. Looking at his xG/shot ranking we could easily conclude that his shots are definitely to be feared. Molina too has looked dangerous along with Ángel who has only failed to perform above the league’s media in his expected goal per shot.
Looking at Morata’s stats we could easily understand that he’s is more of a complete finisher than a striker who assists. Atletico Madrid playing with two strikers in the front, where Morata plays in front of Costa. This possibly could explain why Costa has greater values in assisting goals than scoring while Moratta looks like a goal machine and lacks in assisting goals and dangerous passes.
Mata who has quite shown an all-rounded performance slightly lags behind the league’s median in quite a few metrics except his expected goal per shot and second assist per 90. These six players are indeed the best centre-forwards among the teams with lower possession values but we would like to conclude our data analysis by ranking them.
Ranking based on priority
1) Rank 1: Lucas Perez
The 31-year-old striker has been one of the best players for Alavés this season. Despite being in the team with the lowest possession value this season he has still managed to perform exceptionally well. Finding the net 11 times and with five assists to his name, he has offered everything that he could do the team this season. Along with his performance in front of the goal, looking at his stats he has also managed to assist players and has a very big impact on the team’s performance. Although he has entered the final phase of his career, his performance is still at a peak level and has a lot more to offer in the upcoming seasons. There’s no doubt on why Perez was offered to sign a contract with the LaLiga giants Barcelona as an emergency signing.
2) Rank 2: Jorge Molina
The late bloomer who is now aged 38 had only started playing professional football at the age of 25. The tall striker had only found the net five times and had assisted twice this season. Alongside Mata and Ángel, Molina has been able to put an overall performance and has been a vital player in the team success over the years. His experience and decision-making ability have indeed helped him to stand out and perform better than any player. Showing his class at even this age, Molina is surely one of those strikers that Getafe would find hard to replace when he retires.
3) Rank 3: Ángel Rodríguez
Another Getafe’s reliable striker Ángel has indeed managed to find the net five times and has assisted thrice this season. The experienced striker although lacking a bit in his expected goal per shot value and his offensive duels have compensated for his lacking performance by performing brilliantly in other aspects of the game. His drubbing ability along with his experience has helped him make the right decisions in the final third. With a very good number of through balls into the final third, He also has a good number of second assists to his name. His experience is what that has helped him utilise the fewer opportunities he gets wisely which has been the reason for Getafe’s success this season. Getafe will find it hard to find a replacement for the 33-year-old once he’s done servicing for the team.
4) Rank 4: Alvaro Morata
Team: Atlético Madrid
The Spaniard who began his career at Real Madrid is the youngest player to make it into our final shortlist. With wonderful skill on the ball the young Spanish footballer has managed to find the net 11 times this season and with just one assist under his name. Understanding his role in the team, in front of Costa, Morata has done an exceptionally good job for his team. Not only in attack but also in defending his stats are pretty good when compared to the other strikers. His progressive runs which often help to open spaces is also one of the key factors in Atletico’s play. With quite a number of his dribbles ending up in shots, Morata has been dangerous once inside the penalty area. Not to be blamed for his lower statistics in assistance of goals as his role in the team doesn’t demand that from him. With Griezmann off the team, Morata alongside a few other stars has a great responsibility on the shoulders for years to come.
5) Rank 5: Kevin Gameiro
The French striker who previously played for Atletico Madrid has been doing his job well enough this season. With just five goals and two assists under his name, a lot more is expected from the 33-year-old. Combining well with Rodrigo in the front Gameiro has put up a very good overall performance. But Gameiro is capable of offering a lot more than he’s been doing. With an outstanding shooting ability, he should be played to find the nets quite often if his team wants to qualify for the European stages in the next season.
6) Rank 6: Jaime Mata
Another Getafe player making his way into our shortlist. With 11 goals and three assists to his name, Mata has been another reliable striker that Getafe has got to their side. Having a good set of values under his name, Mata still lags a bit to earn the name of a complete striker in our analysis. His expected goal per shot value and second assists value being truly brilliant, he’s also expected to have performed above league median in other such criteria. Although the three Getafe players balancing each other’s performance and if they could excel in all, then Getafe is surely one of those teams to watch out for in the next season.
From our analysis, we observe that it’s mostly the experienced strikers who are wise enough to convert chances within the limited possession they get. Five out of six shortlisted players were above 30 and have proven to be consistent with their all-rounded performance. Identifying talents in team’s with lower possession and giving them opportunities in teams where they enjoy high possession could bring out their best performances within. Although there are other strikers like Costa, Rodrigo who we know are very good strikers we would still conclude our data analysis which was based on data and statistics by saying that the above shortlisted six players are the most complete centre-forwards from the lower possession value teams in LaLiga this season.