Many people are of the opinion that strikers are the most important players on a football pitch. The ability to score goals can be invaluable and is key to any team’s success. This is typically the case in the A League with many sides having a talisman who they rely on to score the majority of their goals. However, in the modern day there is much more to a striker’s game than simply scoring goals. They are required to support in build-up play, press in the defensive phase, and of course, put the ball in the back of the net.
The A league is littered with players from all over the world with plenty of homegrown talent too. This data analysis will look through the statistics to discover who are the best strikers in the A league.
This analysis will look at Wyscout data for every player that has played as a striker and has over 800 minutes of A League action so far in the 2019/20 season. This provides a total of 29 players of varying play styles, ages, and nationalities. I’m not looking for value in the market, or a future star, simply the best striker in the league right now.
As mentioned above, the primary objective of a striker is to score goals and that’s what I’ll look at first.
This first test compares a player’s expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes against their actual goals per 90. This will give an idea of how good they are at taking their chances.
There are three players who stand out from the rest. Firstly, Melbourne City’s Jamie MacLaren scores 0.87 goals per 90 which is better than his xG per 90 of 0.64. This shows MacLaren to be a clinical finisher as he scores chances that aren’t necessarily clear cut. MacLaren has been a standout player since returning to Australia in 2019 following spells in the Bundesliga and Scotland. He is also the current leading goal scorer in the league with 18 goals.
The next standout is former EFL man and Sydney FC striker Adam Le Fondre. In his debut season in the A League, Le Fondre has outperformed is xG per 90 of 0.66, scoring 0.81 goals per 90. This has him sitting behind MacLaren in the goal scoring charts with 17 goals.
The third obvious standout is another player who has excelled in his first A League season. Western United’s Kosovan striker Besart Berisha has scored at a rate of 0.77 goals per 90, again outperforming has xG per 90 of 0.65. The 34-year-old has netted 14 times this season.
This graph again looks at players xG per 90 however this time cross references it with their shots per 90. This shows those players who take good quality shots in games despite not scoring as many as the league’s top marksmen.
MacLaren, Le Fondre, and Berisha stand out again taking 3.56, 2.16, and 2.14 shots per 90 respectively. These three have proven their quality by scoring the goals to go with these shots unlike some others.
Adelaide United’s George Blackwood takes an average of 2.43 shots per game with an xG per 90 of 0.6. However, the Australian hasn’t been able to translate these into goals with just 4 to his name this season. This shows that he isn’t a prolific finisher despite getting plenty of opportunities.
There are a few players who take a lot of shots and score goals despite not reaching the levels of the top three. The first of these is Roy O’Donovan who moved to Newcastle Jets from Brisbane Roar during the season. The Irishman takes 2.33 shots per 90 with an xG per 90 of 0.51. These figures have seen him score 9 goals this season.
Another player who takes a large number of shots is Wellington Phoenix’s Ulises Davila. He takes 3.34 shots per 90 while maintaining an xG per 90 of 0.45. This high volume of shots while having a respectable xG shows his impressive shooting ability. The Mexican is 5th in the goalscoring charts with 11 goals.
While goals may be the primary focus for strikers, it’s becoming increasingly important for them to be able to provide for their teammates. This is the next area I’ll look at with the first graph comparing players assists per 90 with the expected assists (xA) per 90.
There is one clear standout in this test with Newcastle Jets Dimitri Petratos providing 0.3 Assists per 90 which aligns with his xA of 0.31. Despite not particularly excelling in the goalscoring charts we can tell Petratos is a more creative forward. He clearly creates a good quality of chance for his teammates and gets rewarded for this with assists.
Davila once again ranks highly however, there are players who impress more. Davila’s Wellington Phoenix teammate David Ball is providing 0.27 assists per 90 despite his xA of just 0.18 per 90. This indicates that Ball isn’t necessarily creating the best opportunities, but his teammates are converting them.
Another two forwards who vastly outscore their xA per 90 are former Celtic man Gary Hooper (xA/90 of 0.07 and A/90 of 0.3) and Kosta Barbarouses (xA/90 of 0.13 and A/90 of 0.31). The lack of players with a high xA per 90 suggests that there aren’t many creative forwards in the league.
One exception to this rule is Tommy Oar. The Central Coast Mariners man hasn’t provided an assist this season despite expecting 0.2 assists per 90. This shows he is creating good opportunities however isn’t reaping the rewards. It is worth considering that Oar is primarily a winger who has featured as a striker which will affect his statistics.
While assists are an easy indicator of a player’s creativity it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. The next test will look at players passing into the penalty area and how successful it is. This gives a better idea of how often they get the ball to their teammates in dangerous positions.
Petratos and Davila are once again impressive with lots of passes into the box at a respectable success rate. Berisha again stands out with an impressive 77.78% success rate, however, only completes 0.49 of these passes per 90. This tells us that he doesn’t pass to the box often but when he does it is more often than not successful.
Tommy Oar is the obvious standout on this graph completing 7.2 passes into the penalty area per 90 at a success rate of 55.17%. While Oar is one of the least threatening goalscoring forwards its clear he is more of a creative force. Similarly to the last test, Oar is getting the ball into goal scoring positions without any success.
While Jamie MacLaren and Adam Le Fondre stood out as goal scorers, they don’t stand out creatively. This shows they are reliant on their goal-scoring abilities which could limit them in certain systems.
Defending from the front
A striker’s defensive ability is also becoming increasingly important. In many team’s systems, their strikers will be asked to press defenders high up the field to win the ball back. This test will look at players’ offensive duels per 90 and their success rate.
It is worth considering that players’ defensive influence may be affected by the system in which they are used in. This could mean that some players are involved in far more duels than others.
Of the players picked out previously, only Davila stands out in this test. He completes 14.06 offensive duels per 90 winning 43.81%. Wellington Phoenix are third in the league for passes per defensive action (PPDA), a metric used by Wyscout to monitor pressing intensity. This could contribute to Davila’s data however his success rate is still at a good level.
The main standout for duel success is Lachlan Wales of Melbourne City. Wales has 8.5 offensive duels per 90 winning over 50% of them. While he hasn’t shown up in the attacking tests, wales is one of the more impressive defensive forwards.
The player who stands out for having the most offensive duels is Chris Ikonomidis. The Perth Glory man has 18.52 offensive duels per 90 with a success rate of 36.26%. This is just below the average success rate for the league which is impressive considering his high volume of duels. Perth Glory aren’t one of the higher pressing teams according to their PPDA either which makes his statistics all the more impressive.
While it may not initially seem too important, dribbling can be an important attribute for a striker to have. The ability to dribble can help them to drive their team forward and start attacks themselves. The test below will compare their dribbles per 90 to their progressive runs per 90.
Wyscout’s definition of a progressive run is as follows,
A run is considered progressive if the distance before the starting point and the last touch of the player is:
- at least 30 meters closer to an opponent’s goal if starting and finishing points are in own half
- at least 15 meters closer to an opponent’s goal if starting and finishing points are in different field halves
- at least 10 meters closer to an opponent’s goal if starting and finishing points are in opponent half
This will show us the players who most frequently drive their side forward.
It is once again players who have played in wide areas who show up most prominently. Ikonimidis and Wales stand out as completing a high volume of both dribbles and progressive runs. Andrew Nabbout is the newest player to stand out. He completes 7.43 dribbles per 90 and 3.07 progressive runs per 90. These statistics show he frequently carries the ball and drives his side up the park.
Davila is again the most impressive of those players who excelled in the attacking tests. The Mexican completes 5.08 dribbles per 90 and 1.88 progressive runs per 90. These are more impressive statistics as he stakes his claim to be the best in the league.
We once again see the likes of Jamie MacLaren sitting low down the graph. This shows he doesn’t dribble often and instead does most of his work higher up the park. This was an observation made earlier in the analysis which is proven here.
It is clear that the A-League has a wide variety of strikers who each have very different skillsets. There are also a lot of players who have played in a number of positions that have altered their statistics. While Jamie MacLaren and Adam Le Fondre, the league’s top goal scorers, clearly stake a claim to be the best in the league purely down to their goals, this is the only area they stand out in. Similarly, Dimitri Petratos is an exceptional creator without posing the same goal threat as others. The likes of Ikonomidis and Oar also stand out in individual areas while they lack in other aspects.
The player who stands out as the most well-rounded striker in the league is Ulises Davila. He is high up in the goal-scoring charts while also being an impressive creator. He also shows up reasonably well in the defensive and dribbling tests making him the most well-rounded striker in the A-League.