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Goals are the currency in which Premier League teams trade. Scoring them is essential to staying in the division, and to succeeding at the top end.
Most elite teams will have more than one player capable of scoring plenty of goals, whilst for teams at the bottom, goalscorers who can contribute consistently are worth their weight in gold.
But which attacking players in the Premier League are worth the most to their teams, and which teams are desperately short of a goalscorer?
We wanted to look at the top goal contributor to each Premier League team’s attack and compare and contrast their respective contributions to their teams.
The reason was two-fold: we wanted to examine which teams had a single attacking focal point, and which teams diversified their attack more. We also wanted to see which individual players stood out.
How we did it
Taking each team’s highest contributor for non-penalty goal contributions, and non-penalty expected goal contributions, we calculated what that contribution meant as a percentage of the team’s total.
In cases where the team’s highest expected goal contributor and actual goal contributor were different players, we used the player whose overall total was highest.
For example, Robert Snodgrass has ten non-penalty goal contributions for West Ham United this season compared to Sébastian Haller’s eight. But Haller has a total NPxG+xA of 10.27, whilst Snodgrass’ is only 6.12, significantly lower.
One interesting case for deciding who to choose was Liverpool. We'll explain why later.
We translated those numbers into a graph to see which players contributed more to their team than average, who contributed less, and what conclusions could be drawn.
Your team's biggest goal contributor
The resulting graph threw up several interesting conclusions. Football Whispers‘ Sam McGuire gave his thoughts on the results.
The first thing to note is the cluster of players which make up the core of what you would expect a team’s focal point to contribute to its attack – roughly 30 to 40 per cent of both a team’s NPxG total and NPG total.
What’s interesting is that cluster encompasses teams from up and down the table. Relegation-threatened Watford and Aston Villa both have players squarely in the main cluster, but so do Champions League chasers Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester United.
It’s not necessarily surprising to see Newcastle United and Norwich City as the biggest outliers. Norwich have scored just 23 non-penalty goals in the Premier League this season. Star forward Teemu Pukki has contributed 12 of them.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s attack has been putrid all season, with big-money striker Joelinton scoring just once, and only Jonjo Shelvey netting more than two goals for them.
Likewise, Sheffield United only have 30 goals to their name, and nobody has more than five goals for them. But their charge up the table is bolstered by the fact that they boast the league’s second-best defence.
One player whose importance is thoroughly underlined is Raúl Jiménez, who contributes the highest NPxG per cent of any player in the league to Wolverhampton Wanderers. For the second season running, Jiménez has also contributed a hefty goal contribution tally, contributing 42.1 per cent of his team’s non-penalty goals – compared to 41.8 per cent last year.
The other big outliers at that end of the graph are Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Southampton’s Danny Ings. The big worry for both of those teams is – as the graph demonstrates – both are running hot this season.
Ings has 15 goals from 11.05 xG and Aubameyang has 16 strikes from 11.24 xG. To be so reliant on one player to score goals, and for that player to be overperforming is an alarming combination. Given neither team is having a particularly impressive season, there is real cause for concern at both clubs.
McGuire says: “Ings is running hot and Southampton aren't creating ample chances for him, his output won't be sustainable. Aubameyang is an elite finisher but Arsenal need to get him more involved, massively overperforming his NPxG. It’s not a good look for either club.”
At the other end of the graph, one trend is clear. The cluster comprised of Neal Maupay, Haller and Callum Wilson are all underperforming. Each has contributed fewer than ten goals and less than 30 per cent of their team’s total tally.
All three of those teams are struggling as a result, with Brighton & Hove Albion, West Ham and Bournemouth respectively all making up the Premier League’s bottom six, and thoroughly in the relegation scrap.
McGuire: “One big takeaway from this graph is that you need your main attacking outlet to be at least par, and you need reliable, consistent performers to stay in this division.”
Then there is the Liverpool question.
Liverpool are an interesting case study because the way they play orients around ensuring all three of their attackers get chances, and all three of their front three would have been interesting fits on this graph.
Roberto Firmino has a marginally higher expected goal contribution than Mohamed Salah but has a significantly lower goal contribution. Sadio Mané, on the other hand, has a higher non-penalty goal contribution than Salah, but a significantly lower expected goal contribution.
McGuire said: “Salah is interesting. He's the only one of the players responsible for 35 per cent or more NPxG+xA who doesn't exceed 35 per cent of the teams NPG+A. Liverpool are geared towards creating chances for all of their attackers and that is what makes them so special as a team.
“Whereas Arsenal, Wolves and Norwich, all teams with players who are responsible for in excess of 35 per cent of the team's NPxG+xA, are perhaps too reliant on their main men. With all of those teams having a forward involving himself in over 40 per cent of the goals scored by the team.”
Another player who jumps out is Kevin De Bruyne. Only three teams' main goal contributor isn't a forward – Newcastle, Aston Villa and Manchester City.
While Jack Grealish has been the standout for Villa, and we’ve already discussed Newcastle, City have a wealth of attacking prowess at their disposal.
But not only do De Bruyne’s 16 assists and eight goals give him the highest City goals contribution, they give him the highest tally in the league.
That said, De Bruyne having City’s highest numbers can be explained by the relative lack of game time to both Sergio Agüero (who has 19 goal contributions in 1,407 minutes) and Gabriel Jesus (who has 14 goal contributions in 1,325 minutes).
Whilst many of the conclusions that can be drawn from this data are very intuitive, there remain some interesting takeaways.
Southampton and Arsenal are two teams that need secondary goalscoring outlets because they are over-reliant on red-hot finishers. And of the teams down the bottom of the table, several are suffering from below-par attacking performances from the focal points of their respective attacks.