I’m going to look at some stats to see who was the best striker in Europe last season. As usual with this blog, I am using data from understat.com, a great resource. I looked at players who scored 10+ goals in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season (England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy). This gave me a total of 90 players, so a pretty big data source to look at.
It should be easy to find out who is the best striker around, surely the striker who scores the most goals is the best striker?
In theory that makes sense and last season that would mean that Lionel Messi’s 36 league goals for Barcelona would make him the top striker in Europe last season. No surprise that the best player in the world is the best striker. Lets have a look at the top ten goalscorers from last season.
But what happens if we say that penalties shouldn’t count when considering how good a striker is. That’s fair enough I guess, as there is a lot of luck involved in penalties. Let’s take them out of the equation and see what happens. Well Messi’s goal tally goes down to a meagre(!) 32 goals, but this puts him level with PSG’s Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe only scored 1 penalty which is why he jumps up. As you can see from the below, this now also brings in players like Karim Benzema and Sergio Augero.
So Messi and Mbappe finish as the best strikers in Europe, end of argument, right? Well no, Messi played 370 minutes more football than Mbappe, so he had more time to score his goals. So let’s look at non penalty goals per 90 minutes played, this would give a fairer comparison between players.
This is where we see a new name, Paco Alcacer of Broussia Dortmund, who scored 1.30 non penalty goals per 90 minutes, ahead of Mbappe on 1.23 goals and Messi on 1.20 goals. Also appearing on this list are Ishak Belfodil, Edinson Cavani and the late Emiliano Sala. So now we have Alcacer as the best striker in Europe. But is that the case?
By now, most people who read these types of blogs know what expected goals are. This is the stat which gives each shot at goal a value between 0-1 depending on the location, etc of the shot on how likely it will be scored according to previous shots from the same location.
So we are already down to NPG90 with our stats, so let’s bring in a new stat which is xNPG90. This is how many non penalty goals a player is expected to score every 90 minutes. From this, Mbappe jumps back up to the top spot with an xNPG90 of 1.09, followed by Robert Lewandowski on 0.92, Messi on 0.74 and Alcacer on 0.72. I have already blogged about Lewandowski which you can read here. This chart also sees the debuts of Suarez and Ronaldo.
So is there anything else we can consider? Well what about the difference between xNPG90 and NPG90, this will show who is performing the best over expectations. There is a bit of a change here, Alcacer goes back to the top with an NPG90 Diff of 0.58 (basically he scores 0.58 goals more than expected every 90 minutes), followed by Messi on 0.33 and the late Emiliano Sala with 0.31. Sala was having an incredible season before his tragic death in January 2019. Mbappe falls down to number 10 in this list with 0.14. Lewandowski falls all the way down to the worst performing striker with -0.34. So, the top 10 strikers in Europe this season using this in depth stats are:
We also see on this list Iago Aspas who had a great season at Celta Vigo, along with Jadon Sancho, the young English player at Broussia Dortmund.
It will be interesting to follow Alcacer this season to see if he is able to keep up this strike rate, especially if he ends up getting a lot more minutes with Dortmund. Without a doubt we can expect Messi to continue his excellent goalscoring record.