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Most Clinical Strikers in Europe

There are many ways of judging how good a striker is, varying from the purely subjective to a range of different statistical methods. The total goals scored by a striker over the course of a season are an obvious choice. However, this does not take into account how regularly the striker plays. A striker that plays in all thirty-eight matches and scores twenty goals has clearly had a pretty good season. However, is he better than a striker that has scored fifteen goals, but played just twenty matches?

Therefore, a striker’s minutes per goal ratio is often used as a marker of his quality. The more regularly a striker scores, the better the striker is. Logically, this makes a lot of sense. In the previous example, the striker that scored fifteen in twenty matches will appear higher on the list than the striker that scored twenty goals in thirty-eight matches. But what if the striker that scored fifteen in twenty matches had ten shots on goal in those matches? What if the striker that scored twenty goals scored them from just three shots per match? Now, which is the better striker?

It is a good question. Often, a striker that plays for one of the top clubs will have more opportunities to score goals due to the quality of the build-up play from his teammates. Therefore, it would seem likely that he will score more goals and will score more regularly. Neither of the previous two measures takes how clinical the striker is at taking chances into account.

I decided to have a closer look at this issue. By obtaining statistics on the total number of shots that each striker has taken over the course of the season, and combining this with the number of goals that each striker has scored, we can obtain a measure of the percentage of shots that a striker scores from. As with any measure, there are problems with this that we shall look at more carefully later, but it provides a basic indicator.

In order to try and avoid strikers that had not played regularly from skewing the results, we restricted ourselves to looking at strikers that had scored a minimum of eight goals in the league so far this season. In addition, every player in the sample has played a part in at least fifteen league matches this season. Combining the results from all the qualifying strikers in the top five leagues in Europe (Premiership, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1), we can find the most clinical strikers on the continent.

Most Clinical Strikers in Europe

There are some interesting names that appear in this table. We immediately spot two of the big three strikers in Spain this season. Lionel Messi has scored an incredible forty league goals already this season, but we also note that these goals have come from just 140 shots. As a percentage, this works out that he scores from 28.49% of the shots that he has taken this season. So, while there are only two strikers in Europe that have taken more shots than him (Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo), he is also one of the more clinical finishers. He combines quantity of shot with quality of finishing – no wonder he is the continent’s leading goalscorer.

Chelsea and Real Madrid target, Falcao also shows well on this measure. His twenty-one goals have come from 84 shots, giving him a conversion rate of 25%, inside the top ten in Europe this season.

It is interesting to note just one Premiership striker in the top 15 – Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez. Long regarded as one of the most natural finishers in England, the statistics do seem to back this up, having scored from 24.24% of his shots on goal this season. It is worth noting that this is down on his figures for the past two seasons, despite still being the most lethal finisher in the division. However, the lack of Premier League strikers does not speak volumes for the quality of finishing in England.

While there are plenty of immediately recognisable names on this list, the top three will be more of a mystery to the average fan. Brest’s Israeli striker, Eden Ben Basat, Nice’s Dario Cvitanich and Cagliari’s Marco Sau are hardly the most well-known strikers in Europe. It could be that those players are just having one-off excellent seasons, or it could be that they truly are natural finishers. Without further analysis, it is difficult to know.

Least Clinical Strikers in Europe

Again, there are some intriguing strikers that appear in this table. Arsenal fans will be disappointed to see that their £9.6m summer signing has actually been the least clinical striker in Europe this season, scoring with just 10.1% of his shots.

Their close rivals, Spurs, will also be disappointed to see Jermain Defoe appearing here. Often regarded as one of the more clinical strikers in the country, the statistics for this season would appear to suggest that this is not the case. Given Defoe’s profligacy in front of goal and Adebayor’s lack of form this year, it is no wonder that Spurs are strongly linked with a new striker in the summer.

We also see a potential reason for Manchester City’s struggles this season. The defending champions find themselves twelve points behind their city rivals and have scored seventeen goals fewer. At the current rate, they will end the season with 69 goals, well short of the 93 that they scored last year. The appearance of both Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez on this list hints at the reason for their lack of goals.

Other Notable Strikers

Eight of the top strikers feature in the middle section of our sample. Manchester United and Bayern Munich target, Robert Lewandowski just misses out on the top 15 with his 22.08% conversion rate. Sir Alex Ferguson might note that he comes comfortably above both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

Two big names to note near the bottom of our sample are Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. Their 182 and 157 shots respectively are the highest of any player on the continent in the current season. While they have both scored over twenty goals this season, if they could improve on their conversion rate, their tallies could rocket.

Purely as a note, the mean conversion rate across the entire sample works out at 17.24%, while the median conversion rate would be 17.08%. This would see Edinson Cavani’s 17.14% conversion rate fall almost perfectly at the average, interesting falling below the mean value, but just above the median.


Earlier, we mentioned that there are inherent problems with virtually every set of statistics and any calculations that we carry out on the sample. This calculation is no different.

The first, and most important, is that this measure does not take into account the quality of each opportunity to shoot. Compare an open goal chance that falls to a striker from two yards and a snapshot from thirty yards. Clearly, the quality of these two shots and the chance that each ends up as a goal is very different. However, in this sample, the two shots would both be classed as equal.

It could be that all twenty-four of Eden Ben Basat’s opportunities have come inside the penalty area or as one-on-one chances. In which case, while his 37.5% conversion rate is still impressive, it is certainly not quite the standout performance that it currently appears. Without detailed statistics and knowledge of the type of opportunities that have fallen to Ben Basat, we cannot make a judgement on this.

Take another example – Francesco Totti. The Roma captain has been one of the leading players in Serie A for the best part of two decades. While he certainly scores his fair share of goals, he does also shoot from range on a regular basis. With such shots, we would expect his conversion rate to be far lower. Conversely though, the opportunity to shoot from such a position will occur far more regularly than a simple chance inside the area, allowing Totti to register his impressive tally of goals.

Another clear issue is that the sample size is relatively small. Cristiano Ronaldo has had the most shots of any player this season at 182, but there are just five players that have registered more than 100 shots this season. There are also twenty-one players in the sample that have registered fewer than fifty shots this season, eleven of which feature in the top 15. Indeed, the only four players with more than fifty shots inside the top 15 are Lionel Messi, Falcao, Mario Mandzukic and Ruben Castro –arguably a list that includes three of Europe’s top strikers. Similarly, there are no strikers inside the bottom fifteen that have had fewer than fifty shots.

A sample of this size is simply not enough to accurately measure conversion rates. Ideally, we would want every player to have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of shots before we begin to converge to each player’s true average. For example, last season, Sergio Aguero had a conversion rate of 17.7% -a figure that puts him slightly above average. This could suggest that this season’s figure is disproportionately low. Maybe goalkeepers have made a series of excellent saves against him. Maybe he has just had a couple of off days. With such a small sample, we cannot rule any of these out, meaning that we cannot have complete confidence in our outcome.

The final issue is that comparing across leagues is always a difficult proposition. There might be an argument that the standard of goalkeeping in one league might be of a higher level than in another. Whether that is valid or not would require greater analysis. However, the lack of Premiership players in the top 15 could just as easily be attributed to a higher standard of goalkeeping rather than a lower standard of striker. A similar argument could be made for the Bundesliga. There are just two strikers that appear in the list from a league that is currently blessed with an abundance of top quality goalkeepers – the likes of Neuer, Zieler, Adler, ter Stegen and Leno are arguably the best crop of keepers that any country has ever had.


While there are a number of pitfalls associated with our analysis, it still draws out a number of interesting results. The first might be that the average striker scores around 17.2% of his shots. In other words, your average striker will score a goal from every 5.8 shots. To many, this may seem relatively low, given the standards we set for our strikers.

However, the small sample size does affect our outcomes. As a test, if we restrict our selections further to only include strikers that have taken at least sixty shots this season, we begin to see the cream rising to the top.

Now, this is arguably a list of ten of the accepted best strikers in Europe. Thus, the argument that the best finishers are the best strikers becomes very much valid.

1 comment:

  1. Very intersting point of view :)

    Could you please make another one, now that the season has finished.


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