We will start this article with a quiz question. Who holds the record for the most goals scored in Scotland’s top-flight since the first official season in 1890? For a bonus point, to the nearest 10, how many goals has said player scored? Answers will be at the end of the article. So, you will have to keep on reading, *wink wink*.
In recent weeks we have used data to find the best players in the Scottish Premiership. In this data analysis, we are going to use data and statistics in order to create an analysis of strikers in the Scottish Premiership in the 2019/20. Whilst data can be a great tool to aid in the identification of talented players, it cannot and should not be used in isolation without being accompanied by the traditional eye-test.
In this analysis, we will concentrate on per 90 stats. Again, whilst per 90 statistics are a great aid to help even the playing field, it is not a 100% indication of a players ability compared to another. Per 90 statistics become more accurate when the minutes played increase. For example – Player one scores 0.50 goals per 90 from his 600 minutes. Yet player two scores 0.3 per 90 from his 2000 minutes. Whilst it would appear that player one scores at a higher rate, his consistency is questionable whereas player two scores less frequent but has provided more evidence that he is able to consistently achieve 0.3 goals per 90.
With that in mind, I have filtered the data set so that we only provide analysis on those who have accumulated at least 1000 minutes in the 2019/20 season. Here is a table of players who fall into this data set and the number of minutes they have played.
This seems a bit obvious at first but it is an essential aspect of a goal-scorers skillset. In the following graph, we are analysing shots on target as a percentage and touches in the box per 90.
Alfredo Morelos – The Rangers frontman leads the way with 8.5 touches in the box per 90. The Colombian scores above average also for his shots on target percentage at 47.22%.
Jermaine Defoe – The second Rangers player is the second-highest for touches in the box per 90 with 7.14. The veteran Englishman is just ahead of average for shots on target with 41.03%.
Odsonne Édouard – The Frenchman Édouard has been a key player for Neil Lennon’s Celtic side this season and the stats back that up. Édouard takes 6.6 touches in the box per 90 and gets 42.48% of his shots on target.
Christian Doidge – Hibernian striker Doidge leads the way for the percentage of shots on target with an outstanding 71.11%. The Welshman does dip slightly under the average for touches in the box per 90 with 2.97.
Other than these four players, all others are around average in both areas except for a few players that are below average in both areas. Mickel Miller of Hamilton and Junior Morias are two examples.
xG and conversion rate
A crucial element of a striker’s armoury is his ability to take good quality chances and this can be measured as a statistic (xG). If we combine xG with a striker’s goal conversion rate, we can produce an effective graph to assess the finishing ability of a player (in this instance, we have calculated the goal conversion rate as the percentage of shots on target that results in a goal per 90). We can see the results below.
Jermaine Defoe – The 37-year-old proves that age is just a number. He is head and shoulders above the rest of the league. His xG is on par with league leaders Édouard and Morelos. Where he really stands out is his goal conversion rate, 81% of the shots Defoe gets on target result in a goal. If we compare that to the second-highest in the league, Curtis Main’s 57.14 %, we can see just how clinical Defoe is in front of goal.
Édouard’s xG is slightly lower than Morelos’ but he is more efficient than the Colombian in terms of goal conversion rate. Once again, a whole host of players are grouped together with Doidge and Sam Cosgrove being the pick of those. Michael O’Halloran stands out as one of the weaker players in the data set.
The modern striker’s sole responsibility is no longer only to score goals. Strikers are more and more frequently turning providers for their team-mates. A good statistic we can analyse for this is passes into the penalty area and xA, both per 90. The graph below shows the results.
Odsonne Édouard – The Frenchman is by far the most creative striker in the league, with an xA of 0.27. The Celtic frontman is not only one of the league leaders for his ability to score goals but also for his creation of goals. Édouard also makes 2.02 passes to the penalty area per 90.
Florian Kamberi – The Albanian who has split this season between Hibernian and Rangers is a clear second in terms of xA with 0.2 and a respectable 1.73 passes to the penalty area per 90.
Steven Naismith – Ex-Everton man Naismith has clearly been a major influence for Hearts this season. He makes the most passes to the penalty area per 90 with 2.91 but has a lower than average xA per 90.
There are a few players all clustered together that are just above average in both stats. Amongst these are Rangers duo Morelos and Defoe, along with another duo, this time the Hearts duo, of Ryotaro Meshino and Uche Ikpeazu.
Winning the duels
One last area to analyse our strikers on – the winning of their duels, both offensive and defensive. In modern football, strikers are often required to lead from the front in terms of being the team’s first defender. To analyse this, we are going to look at offensive duels won and defensive duels, both as a percentage.
Micheal O’Halloran – St. Johnstone forward O’Halloran is by far and away the striker who wins the highest percentage of his defensive duels at 7.47. He is also one of the highest in terms of offensive duels won with 30.66%.
Steven Naismith – Naismith appears towards the forefront once again; He wins the highest amount of offensive duels with 40.79%. Naismith does, however, score below average for his defensive duels won per 90 (45.3%).
Doidge scores well once again with above-average % in both statistics. Stevie May wins a high percentage of his defensive duels (63.77%) but lets himself down with one of the lowest offensive duels won percentages. Curtis Main and Jermaine Defoe are also worthy of a mention for all the wrong reasons. Both players are the lowest scorers of the two statistics. Main only wins a mere 16.67% of his attacking duels. Whereas Defoe only wins 40% of his defensive duels. Whilst the data for certain stats can be misleading due to the role that a player has in his club’s tactics, it would be beneficial if both players were able to improve their duel success rate.
We have analysed several statistics that we believe to be key metrics for the analysis of strikers. Several players stand out, some are obvious inclusions that you could have predicted, others not so much.
Odsonne Édouard, Alfredo Morelos, Jermaine Defoe, Christian Doidge, and Steven Naismith are all players that have shown up well in this data analysis. If we look at the minutes played for these five players, we can see that some are a lot more regular than others (to ensure we minimise the possibilities for anomalies, all ‘league averages’ in the following statistics are the average of players who have played more than 1000 minutes in the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership).
We’ll now look at several statistics and how these five players match up against each other and the league average.
Below we can see the statistics for the five shortlisted players from four metrics that are good indicators of a striker’s attacking output. We can see just how impressive Doidge shots on target percentage is. Morelos, Édouard and Defoe, who boasts a quite incredible 1.10 non-penalty goals per 90, are the only players to score above average in every area.
Creativity is where Édouard pulls away from the rest; he is by far the most creative striker in the league, with considerably higher assists and xA per 90 as well as key passes per 90 than the other four players in our data set. Naismith and Morelos are the only players to score higher than the Celtic forward in any category and they edge him out with their passes to box per 90.
Defensive capability and aerial prowess
Whilst defending is not a striker’s primary responsibility, we are seeing an emergence of ‘defensive forwards’ led by Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino. One other area that is commonly attributed to these ‘defensive forwards’ is their ability in the air and hold play up to allow their team-mates enough time to get up to support the attack.
When we analyse the statistics and data for metrics closely linked to typical attributes for ‘defensive forwards´, we can see that Doidge leads the way for headed goals per 90, when we compare that to his non-penalty goals (0.46), we can see that half of his goals are a result of a header. In other areas, Naismith is a long long way clear for possession adjusted interceptions (PAdj) per 90. Naismith also impresses in successful defensive actions per 90 and aerial duels won (%). Morelos and Édouard are closely linked in all areas, slightly edging each other out in two metrics a piece. Despite his superior finishing, Defoe struggles in this set of data metrics. Once again, a lot of the data is influenced by a player’s role in his team.
In this data analysis, we have used data and the statistics from the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership season to highlight five players that all have strengths in various areas. Whilst it is clear that the likes of Defoe, Morelos and Édouard are scoring goals and shooting at a much higher rate than other strikers in the league, a large part of this could be consequential of the fact that they play for the two most dominant teams in the league. In other areas of the analysis, we discovered that Édouard is in a league of his own for creativity, providing even more evidence that he is ready for a step-up to the Premier League. From a defensive point of view, few players come close to Naismith; the 33-year-old has built his career on being a hard-working centre-forward and the data would suggest that he isn’t slowing down due to age anytime soon. There are some fantastic strikers in the Scottish Premiership, all of whom have different strengths and traits, which only makes the league more diverse and exciting to watch.
Do you remember the quiz question? Here’s a reminder “Who holds the record for the most goals scored in Scotland’s top-flight since the first official season in 1890? For a bonus point to the nearest 10, how many goals has said player scored?”
The answer is Jimmy McGrory, who made 378 league appearances for Celtic and 408 league appearances in total and scored a staggering 410 goals. In his entire career, he made 534 club appearances and scored a staggering 538 goals. For comparison, Lionel Messi has made 719 top-flight appearances and has amassed 628 goals. A Scotsman more prolific than the great Messi, who would have thought it?