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Miroslav Klose: A World Cup Legend


16 World Cup goals through a concoction of elite positioning and lethal finishing. Part III of Stat
s Performs Legends Series analyses leading World Cup goalscorer Miroslav Klose.

By: Lars Wiedemann

This series examines the greats of the game through a combination of Stats Perform’s traditional and advanced analytical metrics. Each installment studies a different legend of the game and makes use of advanced metrics such as Expected Goals (xG) and sequences to bring more meaningful insights to the fore when analysing player performance.

After analysing midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo and self-proclaimed legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on the anniversary of his hat trick in his World Cup debut against Saudi Arabia on 1st June 2002, now seems an appropriate time to analyse the top scorer in World Cup history, Miroslav Klose.

The story of Klose has lowly beginnings. Before he joined then-Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern in 1999, Klose played for several amateur clubs such as SG Blaubach-Diedelkopf in the 7th tier of German football. No one could foresee the development the striker would go on to make in the following years of his career, in the Bundesliga and Serie A, as well as in international football.

Klose, who made his Bundesliga debut in April 2000 close to his 22nd birthday, scored 121 goals in 307 Bundesliga appearances and became the top goalscorer of the decade 2000-2010 for his goals with Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich, preceding Robert Lewandowski who has dominated the recent decade.

The unimposing Klose neither particularly impressed in the Champions League (14 goals in 39 apps) nor at German giants Bayern, scoring a mere 24 goals in 98 Bundesliga matches between 2007 and 2011. There is a sense that his Bundesliga goals are merely an output of his longevity.

No, Klose preferred the biggest stage of them all: the World Cup Finals. With Germany he played in four tournaments (2002-2014) and, with his 16th goal in the historical 7-1 rout of hosts Brazil in 2014, he became the World Cup record scorer, eclipsing Brazil’s Ronaldo (15 goals). Furthermore, Klose is the only player to score at least four goals in three different World Cup finals.

Miroslav Klose & Ronaldo World Cup comparison

Klose was a large and powerful striker, known for his ability in the air. Seven of his 16 goals were scored with his head – more than any other player in World Cup finals. Indeed, the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan was exclusively reserved for Klose’s head after all of his five goals were nodded home. His jumping ability, combined with his height (184 cm / 6’1”), was unmatched.

Miroslav Klose was not just prolific at World Cups, he is also the record goalscorer for the German national team (71 goals in 137 caps) ahead of another legend, Gerd Müller (68 goals).

Klose Encounters: An Instinctive Finisher

Apart from his ability in the air, Klose’s lightning quick goalscoring instincts in the penalty area were remarkable: Klose scored 12 of his 16 World Cup goals with his first touch (the remaining four goals came with his second touch). Klose was a true poacher.

The graphic below shows the position from which Klose netted his World Cup goals. The locations of his 16 goals are all from relatively close-range, especially when you consider that the vast majority came with a one-touch finish.

Miroslav Klose's 16 world cup goalsComparing Klose’s shooting positions with those of Brazilian legend Ronaldo illuminates the German’s style of play: Klose only had a few attempts from outside box, instead taking up dangerous positions where his shooting positions were very central to the goal. Compare that to Ronaldo’s, whose shot map consists of a huge variety of shots, some from tight angles, some from long range, and we start to understand the secret of Klose’ game; a player who was simply excellent at positioning himself and finishing calmly.

Miroslav Klose v. Ronaldo World Cup Shot Maps

Click to enlarge image

Expected Goals: Klose The Role Model

Despite scoring all of his World Cup goals from inside the box, Klose’s 16 World Cup goals have been anything but easy. Surprisingly, none of the goals Klose scored were from the penalty spot.

In terms of Expected Goals (xG) – which measures the quality of the shot and the probability of it resulting in a goal – Klose has vastly outperformed his output. He has netted 8 more goals than his xG suggests (8), the highest differential in World Cup finals since 2002. This points to Klose’s ability to finish coolly in high pressure situations.

World Cup Expected Goals overperformers

Not “Just a Poacher”

There’s a degree of snobbery around Klose’s World Cup record, as if such a simple striker who scores such simple goals shouldn’t be entitled to such a prize. Not only is Klose’s innate ability to operate in tight pockets of space and finish in a split second a rarity, but he’s not just the one waiting in the box to convert chances. His heat map from all his World Cup appearances shows his omnipresence in Germany’s play.

Klose World Cup Touchmap

Klose played a vital part in helping his teams to create chances. In his 24 World Cup matches, he assisted three goals and created 28 chances. Across that time frame, only Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Bernd Schneider and Philipp Lahm have created more chances in German sides. Klose’s ability to work hard to win the ball back and initiate attacks for his team is often overlooked: of all forwards to have played during the span of his World Cup career, only Lionel Messi and Landon Donovan have started more shot-ending sequences than the German (18 in total).

Looking For a New Klose

The current German national team has an array of attacking options at its disposal with Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane among those trying to cement their positions in the starting eleven, but a true out-and-out goal scorer is still missing.

Since Klose retired after winning the 2014 World Cup, Germany have played two major tournaments – Euro 2016 followed by their disappointing 2018 World Cup defence. Across both tournaments Germany clocked up an xG total of 17.9 goals, but only scored 9. They are missing someone with the finishing instincts of Klose.

When we compare Germany’s main strikers in the last two tournaments – Mario Gomez and Mario Götze shared this role during Euro 2016 while Timo Werner led the line at the 2018 World Cup– we can see that goals are at a premium. Of this trio, only Gomez has been able to get on the scoresheet (twice) in 840 minutes of play. Amazingly, all of the three strikers had more touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes than Klose, but none of them have yet been able to replicate his efficiency inside the box.

Miroslav Klose replacements: Gotze, Gomez and Werner

During the Klose era, Germany had a clear focal point in the box: they averaged 16 crosses from open play per World Cup game and were finding their target 27% of the time. Remarkably, the German team scored 20 goals from crosses in World Cup tournaments between 2002 and 2014.

Without Klose’s services to call upon, Joachim Löw has trusted more versatile players such as Mario Götze, Timo Werner and more recently Serge Gnabry or Leroy Sane to fill the gap. The change in personnel has also come with a change in playing style, but Germany’s tendency to cross still looks like a hangover from Klose’s days. In the two major tournaments without him they have attempted more crosses (24 per match) but with only 17% of them finding a teammate.

Klose is a perfect example of a striker who has learned the art of positional awareness, relying on being in the right place at the right time to score. Although he left the big stage almost six years ago, his legacy remains. The unimposing forward has become one of the most legendary players in World Cup history and holds a record may last for a long time.