18 Jun, 2019

Who are the most “clutch” goalscorers in football?

18 Jun, 2019

Firstly, it’s important for those who don’t watch American sports to explain what the term “clutch” in the our article title means. The term is used regularly in US sports to describe a performance where the athlete is under pressure, usually in the last minutes of a game. An athlete who delivers “in the clutch” is one who performs when it matters, in the do or die moments. A “clutch shooter” in basketball for example is the one who brings their team home for the win in the fourth quarter and often the player given responsibility for the “buzzer shot” (final shot) when required.

Series-winning basket hit by Michael Jordan in Game 5 of the ’89 Eastern Conference 1st round

So, to football. There are certainly players who drive their team forwards in “clutch situations” who are not necessarily goal scorers, but we’ll leave that assessment for another article. For now, we’re going to take a look at “clutch” goal scorers. A player who seems to always score goals when the team needs them most. A player who, when the game is on the line, can be relied upon to step up and deliver.

Methodology

How should we measure a goal scorer’s ability “in the clutch” then? Our data scouting platform, TransferLab, features a “clutch” metric. TransferLab uses the name “Goal Importance” for the metric but it refers to the same thing.

“Goal importance” expresses the points added from a player’s goals based on two variables: time of goal and scoreline. This is based on historical observations across thousands of matches, which is used to generate ‘expected points’ curves based on the goal difference at a given time in the match:

When a goal is scored, the points added from that goal can be calculated as the difference between the curve for the previous points difference and the curve for the new points difference, for the minute in which the goal was scored.

For example, in the 1st minute of the game the expected points for the average home team is about 1.5pts if the scores are level. If the home team scores, this raises the expected points to about 2.5pts meaning that, on average, this goal gives one additional point for the home team. However, if the home team are 3-0 up, then the probability of not winning from that position is almost zero at any time in the game. Hence a goal scored at 3-0 up is effectively worthless in the context of gaining points.

Conversely, a goal scored by the average away team in the 90th minute at 0-0 raises the expected points from 1pt to 3pts – as the clock ticks down, the expected points tends towards the actual points given the current scoreline. Hence, a last gasp winner has the highest possible importance of 2pts whereas a goal scored at 3-0 up carries no importance.

Analysis

Let’s dive in and take a look at a few different league to see who most “clutch” players of the 2018/19 season were. First off, let’s take a quick look at the top five in the Premier League:

Not too many suprises here. Sergio Aguero certainly popped up when it was needed for Manchester City – it’s not easy going 14 matches unbeaten to win the league but with players like Aguero who consistently deliver in pressure moments they made it look quite straight forward. It would seem Harry Kane is still as important as ever to Spurs.

Glenn Murray’s contribution to keeping Brighton in the Premier League this season should not be under estimated. Looking at when his Goal Importance contribution came makes for interesting reading. His form between Game Week 1 and Game Week 15 was a key factor in Brighton’s survival. Without his contribution and those points in the bag their end of season slump would surely have seen them relegated:

EFL League One certainly tells some interesting stories:

Kieffer Moore, Cauley Woodrow and Lyle Taylor were, of course, hugely important in their sides achieving promotion. But again, it was another survival story which caught the attention here. The impact Wally Downes had on AFC Wimbledon after his arrival in December was hugely important. However, it’s quite incredible to see how much of a catalyst Joe Pigott was to their great escape during the the last quarter of the season. You can see below his contribution during the run-in.

How about the top five in Major League Soccer over the last 12 months?:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the epitome of a big game player. Everywhere he’s been in his career he’s been a match winner, so it’s no surprise to see him at the top of the charts here. Josef Martinez has also built a reputation as the “main man” at Atlanta United. He was of course the scorer of the game winning goal in the MLS Cup final last season against Portland. Rumours persist of a move to Europe for him. It’s also interesting to see the ex-Arsenal man Carlos Vela in the top five too. He’s having a stellar season for LAFC. Could he be the one to deliver a first championship for them in only their second full season in MLS?

Martinez’s goal vs Portland in the MLS Cup Final

The most clutch player in the world this season however, is a player not many will have heard of, but his goalscoring record is truly ridiculous!:

Germán Cano, plays for Deportivo Independiente Medellín in Colombia. He has become somewhat of a club legend. Last season he scored 15 goals in 16 league games to propel DIM to a second place finish and a place in the Copa Libertadores.

The Goal Importance metric can give a lot of insights into the true value of a goal scorer as well as uncovering some interesting stories of player impact. Analytics FC’s TransferLab platform has a number of interesting advanced metrics of this nature to explore, including Assist Importance. Maybe looking into the most Clutch Assist providers in the game would be an interesting article for the future!

For information on our data services, including our data scouting platform, TransferLab, visit analyticsfc.co.uk.

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