So often we hear that a striker doesn’t contribute to play and is simply there to put away chances. Who wants that? We all saw how little Theo Walcott was involved when played as a central striker. Arsenal fans were infuriated. Experiment over. Forget it Theo, and go back to what you know, back to what you know. One can imagine that a striker who is thought of as limited such as Javier Hernandez, a fine goalscorer, contributes little outside his poaching ability. However, are we viewing from a flawed perspective? Yes.
Can we realistically expect a striker playing for Barcelona or Bayern Munich to see as much of the ball as one representing Leicester City? No. It’s all about contribution relative to your team with a careful look at raw numbers for there are some who would still be limited in a more dominant team.
Just who is doing their fair share and who are those ‘limited’ strikers?
Glaring differences will be those slots coloured either green (relatively good contribution) or red (relatively little contribution).
Examining the results for 2015/16 in league play reveals some expected results and some not so.
Gonzalo Higuain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sergio Aguero were dominant in this category, scoring just about half of their team’s goals in 2015/16. Robert Lewandowski and Chicharito also fared well. In contrast, Edin Dzeko, Mario Mandzukic, Edinson Cavani (there was Zlatan) and Diego Costa make up the cadre of those struggling near the back of this esteemed company. The rest in midtable include Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Karim Benzema, and Antoine Griezmann.
There is always more context behind this already contextualised comparison. Zlatan who bullied Ligue 1, Aguero, Lewandowski, Benzema, Luis Suarez and Higuain all fared best in raw goal stats, a combination of their teams’ generally dominance and them being some of the best goalscorers on Earth.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang lagging behind everybody else in this stat is one of those you nod and say, ‘YES’, at. Both his passing volume and accuracy leave much to be desired and go a far way to cement what we know about him being the consummate poacher. He is used for that very purpose in a high intensity Dortmund attack for which Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the catalyst last season. Griezmann and Paulo Dybala show their all round efficacy here, both contributing more than their fair share.
Other notables are Aguero, Romelu Lukaku (generally considered a good goalscorer with deficiencies in such an area as this one), and Zlatan. Suarez’s contribution strikes as fairly low in a pass dominant Barcelona team both in volume and his own share of Barcelona’s total. Javier Hernandez performed better than expected in terms of his team’s share with a slightly low volume in a Bayer Leverkusen team that passed less than only Leicester City from the teams compared. Olivier Giroud’s passing fell short of expectations for a striker praised for his qualities that make up for his just above average goal production.
Again, the all round talents of Dybala and Griezmann are on display, with Suarez, Lukaku, and Zlatan being standouts. Suarez is one that lives up to expectations as does Zlatan, but Lukaku is often derided for not contributing to play to the point we’d suspect he were another rendition of Pippo Inzaghi. However, in relation to what Everton creates he is involved, very involved. The raw numbers also stand up to scrutiny in a year where his goalscoring took a big hit towards the end of the season. So much for him being a one trick pony.
Those who largely shunned creating for his teammates include Lewandowski (comfortably the worst), Aguero, Cavani, Aubameyang, Dzeko, Costa, and Kane.
Who was most trigger happy? Another stat which requires more than the cursory glance, shooting stats should both be considered in conjunction with creation and goal stats. Why? Those more adept at creating will more likely shoot less, a direct substitution, and shots to goals ratios are a crude but important determinant of efficiency and just how clinical they are.
Zlatan does everything. Aguero shoots a lot which would explain his slightly lower creation (he is used to finish moves from his talented playmakers more than the average). Higuain is the most trigger happy in raw numbers and Aubameyang also shoots more than his fair share, which is consistent with what has been gleaned thus far. Mandzukic lags way behind and isn’t spared by his all round game, but his overall lack of influence and favour at Juventus last year somewhat.
Costa, Hernandez and Griezmann all took on shots the least, but for different reasons. Chicharito, as a poacher, is ultra-reliant on latching onto the final ball while Costa operates much in the same mould in shooting, taking (comparatively) close range shots. Both always perform well in goal to shots ratios. This doesn’t mean they are somehow better at this than everybody else. It has a lot to with shot location. Griezmann, on the other hand, is more of a creator in his supporting striker role in 2015/16.
Those expected to prove the least complete as strikers were Aubameyang, Chicharito, Mandzukic, Dzeko, Lukaku, and Vardy. Of these, all except Lukaku were found to be less involved than their colleagues.
However, more interestingly, Suarez, Lewandowski, Giroud, Kane, and Costa performed worse than expected in relative terms and aren’t as involved as one would think. Benzema, known as an all rounder, was good without being spectacular or particularly distinguishing, faring slightly better than Lukaku and Higuain. Zlatan’s stats were the most predictable in a dominant season, while Dybala, another supporting striker was excellent all round along with Sergio Aguero.
When making conclusions as to how involved a player is, the team in which he plays must be considered. Vardy played in a counterattacking side and his stats reflect that. However, other stats reveal his deficiencies much the same as those for Chicharito, Mandzukic, and Dzeko. Don’t look at the raw numbers in isolation as this clouds the analysis and doesn’t consider the team a player plays for.
Determining striker contribution isn’t black and white nor is it subject to benchmark figures across teams or leagues.