Among those waiting to get back on the pitch during football’s sabbatical, the world’s best scorers are probably the most impatient. The future is unpredictable, but it’s a bit less so with expected goals. So let’s delve into performances in front of goal this season to envisage an ending.
Expected goals – a metric at the lips of football fans in the past few years – goes further than simple shots and goals data by measuring the quality of the shot and the probability of it resulting in a goal. xG is also a good indicator of what’s coming next. Ciro Immobile, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Timo Werner, Lionel Messi, Jamie Vardy and Kylian Mbappé have been dominating their respective leagues, but in their own individual ways.
The battle for the Golden Boot among Europe’s Top 5 leagues will be fierce between Immobile and Lewandowski, but with a bit of help from xG, the prolific Polish striker has an edge. Here’s why.
Immobile is leading the Golden Boot race with an impressive tally of 27 goals. He has netted 7.2 more goals than his xG suggests (19.8), the highest differential in Europe’s Top Five leagues. Converting difficult chances hasn’t been an issue for him. He also has 10 goals from the penalty spot, more than any other player in Europe and more than the overall tally of players such as Arkadiusz Milik, Heung-Min Son, Iago Aspas or Dimitri Payet (9 goals each).
Despite the Laziale playing more league games (26) than Lewandowski (23) this season, he has scored a goal every 81 minutes, a slightly better ratio than the Pole (every 82 minutes). Without his penalty goals, though, he would drop into fourth place, leaving the top spot to Bayern Munich’s No. 9.
With penalties excluded, the odds aren’t in favour of the Italian. Lewi’s xG per shot ratio sits at an enviable 0.20, while Immobile’s is at 0.12, again highlighting the gap in the quality of chances between the players.
The Polish striker also appears to be the dominating force in terms of xG on the continent this season. His 23.7 xG – very close to his 25 goals – means that despite taking a lot of shots, he does so from dangerous positions very often, and, most importantly, he converts them. Having the likes of Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry and Thiago Alcantara has certainly helped him find a good mix of quality and quantity with 108 shots. That’s second behind – you guessed it – Cristiano Ronaldo (130).
There’s no surprise to find the Portuguese here, but what is striking is the low quality of his shots, with 0.09 xG per attempt (penalties excluded). It’s the lowest ratio among the Top 10 scorers. The second lowest? Lionel Messi, with 0.12 xG per shot (penalties excluded). The numbers reinforce their respective abilities to convert low probability chances into goals.
In the xG per shot category, there’s one player that stands out. On loan from Internazionale, Mauro Icardi has scored 12 goals from only 36 shots for Paris Saint-Germain. His ratio of 0.33 xG per shot is by far the best for players with 10-plus goals in Europe this season and may be explained by the fact that he shoots with discretion. When he does, it is very close to the opposition goal. In fact, all of his 36 shots have been taken from inside the box, at 10.3 yards on average, with eight of his 12 goals coming from inside the six-yard box.
It wouldn’t be fair to leave Jamie Vardy out of the discussion. He’s scored 19 goals – including seven with his ‘weaker’ left foot – and with a ratio of 0.24 xG per shot. Vardy is also doing this for a team that’s not as dominant as the others discussed here.
But scoring, of course, isn’t everything. There are only two players who have registered 10+ goals and 10+ assists in the Top 5 European leagues this season: Messi and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
The English youngster is notoriously – and deservedly – known to be a constant threat with the ball, thanks to his dribbling skills, but he is also a great finisher. He ranks third in Europe in goals-xG, with a 6.4 differential (14 goals, 7.6 xG), only behind Immobile (+7.2) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (+6.6). Considering his young age and the fact he is not a centre forward, these numbers are impressive. The Londoner has scored six more goals than he should have, and he’s also delivered eight more assists than his xA forecasts. The impressive numbers this season could be a sign of his progression into a world-class player.
As for the Golden Boot race, Lewandowski’s presence as a constant threat while not over-performing means he could overtake Immobile. It doesn’t hurt that, despite having fewer remaining games (nine v 12), three of his next opponents are among his five favourites in the Bundesliga (Wolfsburg, Dortmund and Werder Bremen).
Over time, xG tends to differentiate between one-season wonders and elite players who consistently outperform league averages. David McGoldrick, who has the worst differential in Europe this season, (-6.2, 0 goal, 6.2 xG), will certainly be hoping for a levelling off.