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Strike a light! We have got the most efficient scorers of all Premier League clubs

2 months ago

When CP Scott, a legendary editor of The Manchester Guardian, wrote in 1921: “Comment is free but facts are sacred,” he should have exempted football from that statement.

Premier League clubs employ a lot of statisticians these days, rather than relying purely on the manager’s instinct and the evidence of his eyes.

Among the less important aspects of this apparently invaluable numbers game are stats on possession, completed passes and tackles won.

I reckon the first of those can be deeply misleading.

Witness our game against PSG, when the visitors had the ball 73% of the time but did diddly squat with it, apart from one exceptional move that led to their goal. A statistician could build an argument based on the false premise that we were outplayed on that unforgettable night. Which reminds me of the phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics”, a quote with obscure origins that is often attributed to Mark Twain of Huckleberry Finn fame.

Completed passes?

By themselves not a lot of use, if the numbers are inflated by a team shuffling the ball backwards and sideways in their defensive third, like a crab with an inner ear infection.

As for tackles won.

A high total might indicate not that a team did well, but instead were under severe pressure for 90-plus minutes, outplayed and run ragged.

There’s only one statistic worth its salt, the one Malcolm Macdonald would point to whenever the 1970s equivalent of keyboard warriors questioned his contribution to the team. Yes, goals scored (and prevented) are the crux of the matter.

All of which brings me to the Premier League’s list of top strikers this season, with each club having played eight times.

Name the man who has needed the fewest number of minutes, on average, to stick the pig’s bladder into the onion bag. Then name his closest rival.

At this admittedly early stage of proceedings, the top dog is Callum Wilson, who is taking just 65 minutes to hit the back of the net for each of his four. This equates to 1.38 goals every 90 minutes. If our battering ram of a centre-forward had played every minute of every game, he would have 11 already (or so the statisticians would say). Let’s forget the extrapolation. A goal every 65 minutes is impressive enough.

And the closest challenger to Wilson in the efficiency table is . . . none other than Alexander Isak, who just happens to be the main reason our No9 has been sitting on the bench a lot since August. On average, the greatest Swedish export since Abba, scores every 79 minutes, at a rate of 1.14 goals for every 90 minutes played.

In the interests of transparency, please note three other players have beaten the 100-minute average for each goal scored: Hwang (Wolves, 83 minutes), Haaland (Man City, 89 minutes) and Ferguson (Brighton, 90 minutes).

Neither Isak nor Wilson has been credited with an assist so far, though as Supermac might say: “What’s that got to do with the price of fish!”

And assists numbers can be somewhat misleading. For example, the laughably inept attempt by Richarlison to convert a gilt-edged chance in the opening minutes of the Luton v Spurs game last week should have earned an assist for Kulusevski. It didn’t, through no fault of the north London Swede. Incidentally, Spurs failed to take two more great opportunities before 10 minutes were up (Richarlison again, then Porro) which meant Maddison and Son were denied a tick in the assists column. Their work went down as mere “chances created”, somewhat less important data at the end of the day.

Although the best strikers can make a goal out of almost nothing, they usually get by with a little help from their friends. The aforementioned Maddison is renowned for his offensive input (in both senses of the term). If not for a great save by Pope in the dying seconds of our 0-0 with Leicester in May, he would have registered an assist that night.

This season, playing with freedom in a front-foot team, he has provided five assists and created 20 further chances. Good figures, though not that good, when you consider our own, our very own Kieran Trippier has also provided five assists and created 22 further chances. Each man has played eight times and Trippier’s average of 2.75 chances a game (excluding assists) is top of the lot. Some going for a player whose primary responsibility is to prevent goals.

The scoring stats for Wilson and Isak prompt a question: could they be played together? In theory, our attack would be boosted if they started each game alongside each other. They have different attributes but share one great quality when challenged to complete the most difficult job in football; their unflappability.

Isak’s close control and footwork must be the envy of disco king Tony Manero, while his raw pace is too much for all but the quickest opponents. Wilson’s strength, elusiveness and aerial power remind me of the best centre-forwards in England over the past 50 years.

Twin strikers seem to have gone out of fashion. Goodness, some top teams seem to manage without even one proper striker nowadays. I wonder why.

The first deadly duo to impress me (having been a bit young for the heyday of Wyn Davies and Pop Robson) were Supermac and Allelujah John Tudor. One got most of the goals, the other did most of the work . . .

Into the Eighties and Peter Beardsley made chance after chance for Gary Lineker at the 1986 World Cup and beyond. At least Lineker had the good grace to praise his England partner’s contribution. A few years later, Beardo was providing the same sort of immaculate service for Andy Cole. In 1993-94, Cole scored 34 Premier League goals (no penalties) and Beardsley 21 (seven pens).

They finished the season first and sixth in the scoring charts for all Premier League clubs.

Could we see a repeat of that goals bonanza, 30 years on, with Isak and Wilson?

Eddie knows best, though I for one would love our two top strikers to be given a run of games together.


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