Who is the most inefficient attacker?

With the Ballon d’Or shortlist just published the debate around the best players in the world has surfaced once again. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are expected to continue their domination of the award and you would get long odds on anybody outside of those two winning it for the first time since 2007, when Kaka lifted the trophy.

My colleague Sagar Jilka is following me with an in-depth series looking at the underlying metrics of the players on the Ballon d’Or shortlist later this week, but before that I just wanted to have a bit of fun and look at who the most inefficient attacker in football is (well, football covered by StrataBet’s 22 competitions at least.)

I had no preconceived ideas about who this might be before diving into the data, though the social media derision aimed at Edinson Cavani of PSG gave me inkling over the type of player I might expect to see! A high profile miss against Arsenal in the Champions League and an even worse one in the Ligue 1 grudge match with Marseille do little to fight the Uruguayan’s cause, and I was keen to see where he ranked on the list of the most inefficient attackers in football.

To begin with I just wanted to see which attackers had missed the most Great Chances (~40% conversion on average) or Superb Chances (~75% conversion on average) in all games between 1st July 2016 and 31st October 2016. During this period a total of 2,617 Great Chances or Superb Chances were missed, while 2,322 were scored. This gives an overall conversion rate across both chance types of ~47%, which is about right given the numbers of each.

Indeed, only 128 of the 2,617 missed chances were Superb and of these only five players across all leagues missed more than one (all missing two each). Unsurprisingly, given what we know about the conversion rates of the league in general, two of the players are in the MLS (Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo) and both have spent unsuccessful times at Premier League clubs:


Of the attackers that missed Greats one man stood out on his own in front of the pack and that man was our old friend Edinson Cavani. This means that for once it appears that the eye test is backed up by the data. He has missed 15 Great Chances in the 1,135 minutes he has played in Ligue 1 and the Champions League this season. That averages out as a Great Chance missed every 75 minutes, so it’s no wonder he looks like he misses a lot…


There are some other notable players on the list, however, Ballon d’Or contender Cristiano Ronaldo and Bayern Munich’s star striker Robert Lewandowski to name just a couple! This shows that everybody misses chances and that simply getting into positions to have them is also a real skill – although missing near enough every chance will naturally not see the player in question start a lot of games.

To continue I also wanted to look at a few other things thrown up by the data, which brings me on to conversion rates:


As you might expect, the higher profile attackers have now disappeared from the list, leaving just those players who continuously miss very presentable opportunities. It is again no surprise to see that two MLS players head the graphic. I must make special mention of Will Bruin of Houston Dynamo, who has missed all seven Great Chances to fall his way and is one of the reasons that they failed to make the play-offs.

However, let’s leave poor Will alone for a moment and look at the actual conversion rates of the higher profile attackers to see how much difference there is:


While Cavani, Lewandowski and Ronaldo have relatively similar conversion rates Messi continues to show he is from another planet by posting a ridiculous 100%, albeit off fewer chances. Interestingly on Cavani this table shows that he has more Great and Superb Chances than Lewandowski and Ronaldo combined, which naturally owes to PSG’s strength in Ligue 1 and the way they are set up to play to serve the lone central striker. However, it also highlights why he has become so known for missing opportunities.

To expand the investigation I also wanted to have a look at which teams and leagues were more notorious for missing high quality chances:


Swiss Super League side Sion are out in front as the side with the most Great or Superb chances missed per game, averaging an enormous 2.23. Although currently 12 points behind Basel and in second place, if they can bring that rate down and finish just one of those chances on average per game they may at least make the title race more interesting.

Real Madrid and PSG are the other teams of note to feature here, but it is key to state that all the sides missing the highest number of Great or Superb Chances per game are actually doing quite well. Indeed, all of them sit in the top three in their respective leagues, which shows just how powerful chance creation metrics are in terms of predicting future performance.

As Sion and Young Boys both feature on the above graphic it is no surprise to see that the Swiss Super League is the StrataBet competition that has the most Great or Superb Chances missed per game (0.60 on average). The English Premier League has the lowest at 0.34, which breaks down to roughly an average of one every three games being missed. With just less than one being created per game this is comparatively low, with only the Swedish Allsvenskan seeing fewer clear chances on a per game basis.


To conclude, I feel that a proviso is needed to confirm that this is just a bit of fun and I am in no way saying the players and teams mentioned within this piece are “bad”. All the data indicates is that they have missed some very presentable chances over the last four months, but as the saying goes “you have to be in it to win it.” As conversion rates are fairly uniform across all leagues, players who have missed a higher-than-normal number of Great or Superb Chances could well revert to the mean and go on a hot streak if the opportunities keep coming their way.

I remember that people used to talk negatively about Andy Cole, saying that he needed five chances to score a goal, but if a player is still scoring 30 a season that’s probably a heck of a lot of chances he’s getting! Of course at the time those numbers were plucked from thin air, but these days using StrataData we can easily see which players have the most high quality chances and the most frequent chances.

This leads me to a reminder to finish off…

The offer remains for any budding data scientists out there who are frustrated with a lack of football data access. We are looking to expand upon the partnerships we have with @AnalyticsFC and @zorba138 in order to expose more people to our unique StrataData offering.

We can offer full API access in return for regular written content using elements of the data itself, which can be posted on external websites or on any form of social media. If you are unable to interrogate our database using Python, R or are unfamiliar with MongoDB then we would also be open to providing subsets of league, team and player data in Excel spreadsheets or any other desirable format.

So if you would be interested in working with us, then please get in touch with me on Twitter (username below) or via davew@stratagem.co.

Thanks for reading!

Dave Willoughby (@donceno)

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