In the third part of our aim to find the best performing players of the 2019/20 Eredivisie campaign, in this data analysis, we will take a look at those responsible for scoring: wingers and strikers. Similarly to the previous articles, those with at least 900 minutes played in the last Eredivisie season will feature in the selection for the three places up for grabs: two in the wide-areas and one in the centre. Another important factor is that in modern football, positions are not carved into stone, most of the players play in different areas of the pitch not only through a whole season but even through a single game – this is why some would feature in the midfielders’ and the forwards’ part at the same time. In this regard, the positions were adjusted by the minutes played there throughout the season.
Like everything in football, positions and roles are changing continuously, and the basic tasks/requirements of the attackers have also become very different in the past few decades. Traditionally, the wingers’ main territory was the wide-area, close to the sidelines, running up and down on the flanks in the vast majority of the games. These players were responsible for getting as many balls into the penalty area as possible and find the tall teammates inside. Today, these tasks are shared with (or even assigned to) the full-backs, while wingers tend to cut inside more or even drop back to the midfield to gather the ball and start the attack from a deep position. No need to look further than Lionel Messi, the shining example of this inverted winger role, acting as the conductor of the orchestra from deep areas. In modern football, a class winger must contribute to the goals directly, create dozens of opportunities, shoot from distance and dribble effectively.
In parallel, the general prototype of the central forward has transformed a lot. It has become closer to an agile, dynamic, flair player, with great skills and superior shooting ability. With the birth – or rather the rise – of the ‘false-9’ role in possession-oriented, ball-playing teams, the central attacker often serves as an extra man in the midfield to create superiority there, instead of spending most of his minutes in the opposite penalty area. This means that there is less emphasis on crosses and long balls, or at least they are less frequently addressed to the striker itself. Of course, physical presence (strength, power, stamina) is still a basic requirement, as it is inevitable for winning duels either on the ground or in the air.
Taking into consideration all the above, we identified the following attributes and statistics as the fundaments of the analysis. For the sake of getting the most accurate results, wingers will not be separated by sides – left-wingers and right-wingers will be investigated by the same measures./
Wingers: Goal contribution; Opportunities created; Shooting; Dribbling; Crossing
Strikers: Goal contribution; Conversion rate; Shooting; Offensive duels; Aerial duels
2/a: Goal contribution
Undeniably the most important responsibility of the wingers is contributing to as many goals as possible – should it be by scoring them or by assisting the teammates. Let’s start the evaluation with these figures – simply by adding up goals scored and assisted, and naming it goal contribution. In the following chart, the size of the bubble indicates the total number of the goals the player was involved in throughout the season, while the colour reflects the same figure for 90 minutes.
Outstanding performances from several wingers. The winner is Feyenoord’s Steven Berghuis with 21 goals which, in his case, means a 0,84 goal contribution figure per 90 minutes. Ajax magician Hakim Ziyech was closely following with 18 goals (0,97 per 90) but the competition was vigorous: Bryan Linssen from Vitesse, Gyrano Kerk from Utrecht, Oussama Idrissi from AZ and Quincy Promes from Ajax were all racking up numbers and had a realistic chance to finish at the top.
2/b: Opportunities created
Directly being involved in a goal is undeniably the most visible measurement of performance but by far not the only important one. As we all know, football is a low-scoring game in which certain factors and attributes – such as the quality of finishing – can be decisive in themselves. The number and the quality of the opportunities created throughout a game, however, can provide a bigger sample and therefore tell a lot more about individual performance. As good-quality chances are mostly created inside the penalty area, in the next chart we take a look at how many passes the players delivered there, and more precisely how many were measured as key passes.
Hakim Ziyech sticks out like a sore thumb: his 11,41 passes to the penalty area and 1,61 key passes per 90 minutes are around twice as good as the second-best figures – Oussama Idrissi’s 5,69 and Steven Bergwijn’s 1,09. On top of that, Ziyech averaged 0,65 assists per 90 minutes which is another unmatchable performance. Mitchell van Bergen, third-best in penalty area passes and key passes per 90 minutes, also deserves full recognition.
No need to say that aiming at the target effectively is a must-have for wingers – this is something that does not change over time. The quality of a shot is determined by plenty of things: the distance from the goal, the position of the player with the ball, the position of the surrounding players without the ball, the speed of the attacker (if running) or the rhythm in which he/she receives the ball. Most of these are extremely hard to measure in numbers, hence the best we can do is compare the players based on their accurate shots – the ones that reached the surface of the goal (excluding the posts).
At first sight, Ziyech stands out of the crowd again: with 4,95, he had the most shots per 90 minutes – however, only 36,96% of those were on target, which is below the league average (40,66%). Apart from the Moroccan, only Steven Berghuis (3,50), Bryan Linssen (3,46) and Quincy Promes (3,25) tried more than three shots per 90 minutes, from whom the latter being the most effective with a 56,14% accuracy.
With modern wingers spending more and more time on the ball, often cutting inside from the wide positions, aiming to shoot, create an opportunity, or open up space for the teammates, dribbling is something of an inevitable tool, almost a requirement for these players.
AZ Alkmaar winger Oussama Idrissi comes out clearly as the most prolific dribbler of the league: a 63,9% success rate from 8,97 attempts per 90 minutes is a brilliant performance from the Algerian. Luis Sinisterra also won his dribbles with great effectivity (60,16%) but attempted much less dribbles on average (6,82) than Idrissi. From another perspective, Sylla Sow (11,45), Chidera Ejuke (10,37) and Dennis Johnsen (9,93) turned out to be the most active and productive dribblers, but with quite poor success rates – 43,2%, 43,15% and 35,82% respectively.
As mentioned earlier, crossing as responsibility has shifted from the wingers towards the full-backs in modern football – nevertheless, it is a vital element of the game for all those playing in the wide areas. Of course, getting dozens of balls in the mixer does not tell enough of the performance of the player alone so the accuracy of these attempts must be measured also.
Heerenveen youngster Mitchell van Bergen rises above the others with 6,29 crosses per 90 (from which an average 0,91 was addressed into the goalie box, the second-best figure of the league) and a 37,35% accuracy – a remarkable performance from the Dutchman. No surprise that Hakim Ziyech is excellent as ever (5,22 crosses, 36,08% accuracy), along with Waalwijk’s Darren Maatsen and Zwolle’s Dennis Johnsen who both exceeded the Ajax star in quantities (5,54 and 5,34 respectively) but were much less effective in execution (31,08% and 30,56%).
3/a: Goal contribution
No need to explain: the first and foremost figure that determines the performance – and therefore the value – of a striker is how many goals they are involved in. Similarly to the wingers’ part, the size of the bubble indicates the total goal contribution, while the colour shows the per-90 data.
Dusan Tadic, involved in 23 goals (0,9 per 90 minutes) leads the way. The Serbian talisman has fit into the Ajax system perfectly, playing mostly in a false-nine role, sharing the creative responsibilities with Hakim Ziyech. Probably the biggest surprise in the list (and the whole 2019/20 campaign) is Cyriel Dessers from Heracles – the Nigerian-Belgian striker ran the season of his life, being involved in 20 goals (0,73 per 90) and thereby finishing as the top scorer of the league, gaining a slight victory over AZ’s rising star Myron Boadu.
3/b: Conversion rate
We have already talked about how significant finishing, as an attribute, is for an attacker. Just like the creative players – mainly wingers and attacking midfielders – are required to create as many opportunities as possible, are the strikers required to convert these chances to goals. Let’s take a look at the conversion rates of the Eredivisie strikers.
36-year-old Klaas-Jan Huntelaar does not seem to stop anytime soon: his 33,33% conversion rate is league-best and exactly twice the average of all strikers. However, as the colours of the bars indicate, Twente striker Haris Vukcic (28,21%) and Alkmaar’s Myron Boadu (26,42%), managed to score more goals with a similar effectivity: 11 and 14 respectively, compared to Huntelaar’s 9.
If we said that wingers are required to aim at the target frequently, what should we say about strikers? Although the role of the central forward can vary from team to team, shooting is a basic element of the game for an attacker – and that has barely changed throughout the long years. In the below graph we compare the strikers based on the quantity and the quality of their shots throughout the season, and as an extra dimension, to visualize the effectivity of these shots, we also include the number of goals scored: the larger the player’s badge, the higher the figure.
With 4,32 shots and 53,33% of those on target, PSV’s Donyell Malen was the biggest threat to the goal in average, and the size of his badge suggests that these figures were paired with a high goal-scoring rate as well: his 0,79 goal per 90 minutes made him the second most productive striker in the campaign. In this regard, he was outpaced only by a certain Klaas-Jan Huntelaar: the experienced Dutch managed to rack up an impressive 0,88 goal-per-90 figure in the 18th season of his senior career. Cyriel Dessers (2,95 shots, 55,56% accuracy) and Myron Boadu (2,26 shots, 56,6% accuracy) also provided reliable and consistent performances, just as we have already seen.
3/d: Offensive duels
A good striker must always fight for the ball, overcome all obstacles, and get closer and closer to the goal. However, offensive duels do not necessarily have to be in the attacking third – they can happen anywhere on the pitch and can include any type of actions after which the ball remains with the attacking team. Offensive duels are not the same as dribbles (but can include them), therefore in the next chart, we illustrate the average number of dribbles with the size of the players.
Sparta Rotterdam’s Halil Dervisoglu leads the way ahead of some heavyweights like Dusan Tadic, Cyriel Dessers or Donyell Malen: the young Turkey international can show up a league-best 16,72 offensive duels per 90 minutes, absolved with an impressive 37,55% success rate. From the size of his badge on the chart, it is also transparent that he attempts the most dribbles among the strikers: his 6,98 per-90 figure is way better than the second-best (Dessers with 5,35) and more than twice as good as the Eredivisie strikers’ average (2,91).
3/e: Aerial duels
As mentioned in the first part of this article, the general style – or the philosophy – of football has been through an immense change in the last few decades. Crosses and long balls are not as common as before, or at least not in the same manner, which obviously leads to less activity in the air inside the penalty area too. However, few would argue that heading is still a basic, rather a must-have skill of a striker, should he be used as a false-nine, a second-striker or a traditional target man.
If we take a look at the players’ average number of aerial duels and compare it with how often they are successful in them, a quite surprising name comes out on top: Ragnar Ache seems to be the most effective striker in the air in the 2019/20 Eredivisie campaign, which is perfectly represented by his 10,37 duels per 90 minutes and his 47,73% success rate. The size of his badge, in this case, means that he managed to convert his aerial dominance to goals very effectively, scoring 0,18 headers in average, only topped by the persistent Donyell Malen (0,22).
Despite the unprecedented and utmost unfortunate circumstances, the 2019/20 Eredivisie season will be remembered as one with plenty of outstanding performances from the teams and players. For us, only three forwards could make the final cut but all the rest of the candidates deserve full recognition for their performance.
Oussama Idrissi, Cyriel Dessers and Dusan Tadic were the strongest candidates for the final trio – if a few more rounds would have been played in the season, probably they would all be in the starting three. The performance of PSV‘s Donyell Malen and Steven Bergwijn was also excellent but they both played only the half of the season – the former due to a serious injury, while the latter signed to Tottenham in January. Dutch youngsters Calvin Stengs and Cody Gakpo also managed to show why the demand is so high for them across the European top leagues.
They all proved their worth and potential in the 24 games played in the 2019/20 campaign but three stars have emerged above everyone else:
Nothing less than the best player in the league. It is obvious that the Moroccan has already outgrown the league and it will be interesting to see whether he will be able to prove his worth of €40 million in the Premier League next season, now as a member of Chelsea. Apart from his 19 goal contributions this season, Ziyech’s superiority in almost all aspects of the game is clearly visible in the below radar: not only is he way above the average, but also ranks first in per-90 goal contributions, shots, passes to the penalty area, and key passes.
Another well-known face in the Eredivisie, another star at his peak – the 28-year-old Dutchman deserves much more recognition based on his overall performance, and not just because of the last season. Berghuis finished as the top scorer of the league with 15 goals and also supported his teammates with 7 assists – safe to say he was the key player of a surprising Feyenoord team that reached the third place in 2020. Apart from dribbles, the winger was miles ahead of the league average in the most important statistics.
At only 19 years of age, the Dutch centre-forward is already one of the most confident, consistent and prolific players of the league. With 14 goals and 8 assists, he finished among the top scorers of the season and led the Alkmaar team to a glorious second place on the table, level on points with Ajax. Apart from the goal contributions, he has a lot more to offer: as visible in the below graph, Boadu is outstanding in conversion rate, shooting success rate, and passing accuracy. No doubt that the striker has room for improvement, mainly in aerial and offensive duels, but if the future is bright for anyone, it is for Myron Boadu and AZ Alkmaar.