The worlds of sports and data are natural bedfellows, with so many events and actions to measure in any given event. Over in the US, sports data has been big business for some time, with Sabermetrics leading the way in the most stats-heavy of sports, baseball.
The major European sports and leagues still lie some way behind our American cousins, but the gap has begun to close over the past decade or so, with the at-times controversial measure of Expected Goals (xG) rising to the forefront of football data discussion.
Most commonly used to assess the effectiveness of a team as a whole, in recent times, xG has been increasingly applied to zero in on the underlying performances of individual players, sparking much debate amongst fans and punters assessing the latest betting offers.
Given the name of the measure, “Expected Goals,” the position which most naturally lends itself to an xG analysis is that of center forward. By comparing the number of goals a striker has scored with the number they “should” have scored, given the quality of the chances that fell their way, we are able to assess the efficiency of attacking play in all of the top leagues around the world.
This xG method is seen by many as being more accurate than simply counting the number of goals scored. After all, most competent strikers are likely to grab a hatful of goals if playing in a high-class attacking side which creates boatloads of chances. However, put the same player in a defensive side struggling against relegation, and those goals are likely to dry up. xG aims to erase that disparity between the quality of teams and looks solely at a striker’s ability to take the chances which do come their way.
Premier League’s Most Lethal Marksmen
With all of the above in mind, we turned our attention to the current Premier League season, looking at the strikers and attacking midfielders across all twenty sides to produce an xG ranking. One name in the top 5 certainly won’t come as a shock, but the others are perhaps a little more surprising.
James Maddison (Leicester City) – xG: 3.63, Actual Goals; 9, Difference: 5.37
The one bright spark in what has been an underwhelming season for the Foxes, at times, Maddison has been just about the only positive aspect of the underachieving side. Maddison rarely scores an ordinary goal, with his high tally coming as a result of his set-piece expertise and a handful of fabulous finishes from inside the area. Also a regular provider of assists, Maddison is essential to Leicester City and understandably admired throughout the league.
Erling Haaland (Manchester City) – xG: 22.24, Actual Goals: 27, Difference: 4.76
Next up, the least surprising name on the list – Manchester City’s Norwegian sensation, Erling Haaland. Goals were expected when the phenomenon arrived at the Etihad, but few anticipated quite the barrage of strikes, which has lit up the opening half of the season. Whilst it is true that Haaland isn’t the type of player to create chances for himself, and is provided with plenty of opportunities from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and co, what the stats do show is that he is absolutely lethal with the opportunities which do come his way.
Phil Foden (Manchester City) – xG: 4.24, Actual Goals: 8, Difference: 3.76
We remain in the blue half of Manchester for our next name, with England international Phil Foden notching almost twice as many goals as the xG stats suggest he should. More associated with providing the ammunition of Erling Haaland, Foden has proven just as dead inside the area. All eight of the academy product’s goals have come from inside the 18-yard box, but few could be said to be easy chances, with Foden’s ability to find the right flick, dink, or thumped finish seeing him comfortably surpass his xG prediction.
James Ward-Prowse (Southampton) – xG: 2.59, Actual Goals: 6, Difference: 3.41
For most players, a free kick anywhere in the vicinity of the edge of the area represents a speculative opportunity. However, if it is James Ward Prowse over the ball, Southampton fans and those of the opposing sides are almost expecting the net to bulge. The David Beckham of the modern era, Prowse is simply a class apart from a dead ball situation, with a total of 16 direct free-kick goals in his Premier League career.
Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United) – xG: 6.75, Actual Goals: 10, Difference: 3.25
At the start of the current season, few would have expected to see the name of Newcastle United’s Paraguayan flyer on this list. Beloved by the Geordie fans for his tireless work ethic, Almiron consistently struggled to find an end product to match all that effort. How things have changed during the 2022/23 campaign, with Almiron lighting up the league with a highlight reel of stunning strikes to become an essential cog in the resurgent Newcastle United machine.