Premier League strikers: The stats behind this season's best number nines

We look at the Premier League's best forwards

Who is the Premier League's best striker? Joe Townsend looks at the statistics, from goals and assists to chance conversion and completed passes, before picking out his main man.

(First published April 7)


Premier League top performers series


Worth their weight in goals

Danny Ings: Southampton forward celebrates after scoring

Premier League top scorers

  1. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City): 19
  2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal): 17
  3. Mohamad Salah (Liverpool): 16
  4. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City): 16
  5. Danny Ings (Southampton): 15

Okay let’s get straight into it with the most obvious, most simple and arguably most important striking stat: goals.

It also makes sense to remind ourselves of how the Premier League goalscoring charts currently look, as no one could be blamed for losing track given there haven't been any games since March 9.

I'll keep it brief when it comes to the simple matter of goals because let's face it, that is the one footballing stat that really does explain itself. But I do think it's worth giving some context when we're comparing the five strikers on our list.

Simplistically, the best teams score more than the worst teams. So it has to make sense that it is harder to score goals if you're part of a struggling team than it is if you're part of a successful team doesn't it?

Jamie Vardy, Mohamed Salah and Sergio Aguero have been playing in the division’s top three sides, and while an underwhelming campaign has meant Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal are only scraping in to the top 10, the Gunners have a team packed with quality.

Liverpool's Mo Salah's Premier League season stats so far

Southampton meanwhile, have climbed away from relegation trouble into mid-table obscurity - much of that is down to Danny Ings.

He has been in phenomenal goalscoring form this season and deserves huge credit. For that, he gets a giant tick from me as the standout performer in the list above. But there is a counter-argument.

Who is he competing with for goals? Saints' second top-scorer is James Ward-Prowse on four. Arsenal and Leicester don't have another player in double figures either, though at least the Foxes triumvirate of James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez have contributed a combined 19 goals.

It is a totally different story for Salah and Aguero, who are constantly scrapping with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, or Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus (plus Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva) respectively.

With all of that in mind, statistically Ings and Aubameyang (43%) are streaks ahead in terms of the percentage of goals provided for their teams, which I suppose reflects both their importance and the absence of competition.

Salah and Aguero (24%) are almost half that number, while Vardy (33%) is somewhere in the middle.

Just food for thought.


The trigger happy frontmen

Manchester City celebrate Gabriel Jesus' goal

Total shots on target

  1. Mohamad Salah (Liverpool): 43
  2. Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City): 36
  3. Raul Jimenez (Wolves): 35
  4. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City): 35
  5. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United): 34
  6. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool): 34
  7. Teemu Pukki (Norwich City): 34

"If you don't shoot, you don't score" - we've all heard that one.

And the crowd baying for a striker to shoot, only to follow up with cries of disdain when the ball inevitably ends up in row z. Of course what they meant was shoot, but do it well.

As you can see Mo Salah isn't shy when it comes to stinging the keeper’s hands, and as we know from our previous section, 16 of those efforts went in – that’s better than one in three.

But Jamie Vardy knocks him out of the park on that front, with a lethal 19 goals from 35 shots on target. It's interesting that only those two strikers have appeared in both of our lists so far.

It emphasises that pulling the trigger is important, but knowing when to do so is just as, if not more so; more on that in a moment.

Just scrolling through the names on our shots on target list and what jumps out to me is the style of football each of their sides is renowned for - with natural poacher Gabriel Jesus' Manchester City being the exception.

Liverpool (nine goals), Leicester (seven), Wolves and Manchester United (five) are the most potent counter-attacking teams in England's top flight alongside Chelsea and Tottenham (also five).

It is far easier to get your shot numbers up when breaking upfield into clear space, and that has indeed been the case for Salah, Vardy, Raul Jimenez, Marcus Rashford and Roberto Firmino.

As for Teemu Pukki, well that's easily explained. Norwich need to find him or Todd Cantwell to have any chance of scoring - no other Canaries player has managed more than one Premier League goal this term.


The lethal weapons

Season stats: Jamie Vardy v Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Goal conversion percentage (18 game minimum)

  1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal): 36%
  2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City): 36%
  3. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City): 31%
  4. Danny Ings (Southampton): 31%
  5. Troy Deeney (Watford): 27%

While shots on target may have been interesting, I can't help feeling it took us a little off piste in our quest to find the Premier League's best striker. This gets us back on track.

Other than Troy Deeney bumping Mo Salah off the list, our chance conversion top five mirrors the goalscoring charts. So the most prolific this season, it would appear, are also the most clinical.

For Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jamie Vardy to score better than one in three chances is lethal. Would you have put Deeney up there though? In fairness, he is almost 10% behind our top two, but his numbers are still superb.

I want to cross-reference with another stat while we're here.

Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino

Big chances missed

  • Roberto Firmino (Liverpool): 19
  • Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City): 18
  • Tammy Abraham (Chelsea): 17
  • Chris Wood (Burnley): 17
  • Sadio Mane (Liverpool): 15
  • Jamie Vardy (Leicester City): 15
  • David McGoldrick (Sheffield United): 15

Jamie Vardy is maintaining his role as an ever-present in this piece. The Premier League's top scorer has been a tad profligate as well as prolific, missing the same number of big chances as David McGoldrick, who just had to make this list.

The former Republic of Ireland striker has been crucial to Sheffield United's season, linking play superbly and receiving near constant praise from manager Chris Wilder. But in 21 top flight appearances, 16 of them starts, he still has not scored.

Roberto Firmino is another unsurprising name to crop up, and he leads the way. His extra-time goal against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16 which ultimately proved to be in vain was the first time he'd scored at Anfield in all competitions this term.

Rather than go name by name through the rest, let's rattle off the inconspicuous absentees: Aguero (11), Aubameyang (8), Ings (5).

Danny Ings is looking more and more lethal.


More than just a goalscorer

Wolves striker Raul Jimenez celebrates with Diogo Jota

Accurate passes

  1. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool): 755
  2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool): 660
  3. Mohamad Salah (Liverpool): 564
  4. Raul Jimenez (Wolves): 540
  5. Joelinton (Newcastle United): 516

I was thrown off by the appearance of the much-maligned Joelinton in this list, but it does make some sense.

His manager Steve Bruce now famously described him as "not being a natural goalscorer" and I would do the same if my £40m striker had scored once in 29 Premier League appearances.

When a centre-forward is low on confidence, then they are far more likely to lay the ball off for a simple pass than to take the risk of running in behind or trying to get a shot away so no wonder the Brazilian's passing stats are through the roof.

The other four you cannot argue with though and their appearance in the assists charts confirms that accurate passes does mean something.

Assists

  1. Heung-min Son (Tottenham Hotspur): 7
  2. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool): 7
  3. Sadio Mane (Liverpool): 7
  4. Mohamad Salah (Liverpool): 6
  5. Raul Jimenez (Wolves): 6

Heung-min Son taking over from Joelinton gives us a better feel here without a doubt. The South Korea captain isn't get much focus here though, sorry Tottenham fans, because the other four warrant more.

It makes sense to look at the Liverpool trio as a whole. Roberto Firmino's 755 completed passes is eye-watering. It does reflect his role in Liverpool's XI though, and the fact that he is far from a traditional number nine, despite what you may see on the back of his shirt.

The Brazilian spends most of his time dropping deep, linking play and leaving Mo Salah and Sadio Mane as the furthest forward member of the Reds' much heralded attack. The fact their passing numbers are so high too might come as a slight surprise to some.

Although the Liverpool front three is often talked about in that way, as a three, a lot of the time Firmino's role is closer to being the point of a midfield diamond than a central striker, and his passing stats reflect that.

The 20 goals the trio have provided in assists is hugely significant too.

Raul Jimenez might be Mexican but he truly is a readymade British striker. His assists and passing numbers show what he offers as the fulcrum to Wolves' attacking game as arguably the best target man in the Premier League - 13 goals is nothing to be sniffed at either.

There really aren't many forwards like him around in England anymore and you'd be hard pressed to find one who can do his job better.


Simply the best?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates

It's tough to pick just one, mainly because the lines have been so blurred in terms of what a striker is. Strikers that are actually wingers, or inside forwards or advanced playmakers.

This isn't to say I wouldn't any number of the other players as the best option in a certain formation but what I've settled on is the best out and out striker, who would fit in to any system.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sticks out for me in that sense. Whether it be 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 3-5-2 - whatever you like, he has the attributes and the stats that show he'd make it work.

His all-round game stacks up against anyone, and in an Arsenal team that has ranged from poor to inconsistent since he joined from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018 he still managed to score 61 goals in 97 games.

Imagine if he'd joined a top-four team.


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