Obviously, the number of goals scored and assists cannot be ignored when evaluating strikers, but there are many other indicators that are also essential for an in-depth analysis of performance. In our compilation, we rank the best strikers of the 2021/22 Premier League season using classic and advanced statistical parameters. In order to compare the data as objectively as possible, only players who played at least 900 minutes over the 38 rounds were included in the sample.
1. Mohamed Salah
Although it was not Salah’s most productive season in a Liverpool shirt, his performance can hardly be the subject of major complaints. He set a PL record with 32 goals in his debut campaign in 2017-18 (if we count the 38-match seasons), and that is a daunting task not to surpass or even approach, although with the Egyptian’s physical condition, nothing is out of the question. If we look only at the number of goals he scored (23), the 2021-22 campaign was his 2nd most successful season for the Reds, which earned him a Premier League Golden Boot with Son (the third time the Reds’ goal scorer has claimed the accolade). It is rare for a player to have the most goals and assists as well in a season, and Salah’s 13 assists are a feat to be proud of, while nobody could match his 36 Canadian points. He has contributed 0.70 goals per 90 minutes to his team’s success, which puts him ahead of Jamie Vardy (0.69). He is also unbeaten in terms of the quality of his chances, finishing well ahead of Harry Kane (19.57) in terms of xG volume (23.08), which translates into an expected goals per game of 0.70, leaving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (0.64) and Rijad Mahrez (0.61) behind. Averaging 1.09 goal contributions per 90 minutes, the Mersey-siders’ right winger also posted an NPxG+xA of 0.80, making him the clear leader in both categories.
As well as finishing attacks, he also excelled in serving his teammates, with 0.76 successful smart passes, 0.57 successful through passes and 0.85 successful key passes per 90 minutes, putting him in the narrowest elite of wingers and forwards. Of course, for every player, there are shortcomings that shade the immaculate performance. In Salah’s case, one could criticise the fact that although his goal against Chelsea on January the 2nd was his 16th in the league and, in the following 5 months or so he only scored 7 times. Despite this, he absolutely deserves to be ranked number 1 in our list, based on the above-mentioned indicators.
2. Son Heung-min
It would be a shame to leave out the joint-leading scorer Son from such a compilation, as the South Korean has perhaps never shone brighter than in recent months. His 23 league goals are a personal best, and he has never scored more than 20 in the English top flight. With 3,199 minutes played in total, the Spurs star has frustrated the opposition 0.65 times per 90 minutes, the 3rd best in the league. While Liverpool’s striker has taken 6 penalties this season (5 of which have been successful), Son has scored all his goals from open play, which is unique among strikers. If penalties are excluded, the only player to have scored at a higher rate than him was Jamie Vardy (0.69), the Leicester City legend. The wickedly quick Asian outsmarted goalkeepers with incredible efficiency, with a mere 14.38 xG (0.40/90), enough to top the scoring charts. His +8.62 goals-xG metric was only bettered by Kevin De Bruyne (+9.61).
Interestingly, the player, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday, took very few shots, because 25 players has had more than his 2.36 attempts per game. But if we look at the 1.41 which found the net, we can say that of all the strikers, only Patson Daka (67% rate) was more accurate than him (60%). Excluding penalties, his attempts averaged an xG of 0.17, with only Diogo Jota (0.19) and Raheem Sterling (0.19), having higher values (measuring the average value of the quality of scoring chances). Son’s goals were not the only reason for his praise, as his xA of 8.56 was only bettered by Trent Alexander-Arnold (12.42), and his 0.24/90 assist ratio predestined him for 8th place. All in all, he finished the 2021-22 PL campaign with 30 Canadian points and 0.84 goal involvements per 90 minutes: the former is the 2nd and the latter is the 5th highest in the respective rankings.
3. Harry Kane
As we have established in the case of Salah, it is true to say that this was not Kane’s greatest season of his carrier. Despite the fact that, by his own incredibly high standards, there are plenty of faults with his 2021-22 performance, he still played brilliant football compared to the others. His 17 goals (0.44/90) are 4th, his 9 assists are the 7th highest in the league, and his 26 goal involvements are bettered by only two players (Salah and Son). The quality of his chances (xG of 19.57) should have allowed Spurs fans to enjoy his scoring spree even more, but the English striker was not as effective as in previous years. Without any penalties, he has an xG of 16.53 (0.43/90) in the league, the 2nd best behind the Egyptian, together with his 129 attempts (3.32/90) and 56 shots on target (1.44/90). His attempts were of relatively low to medium quality at best (0.13 NPxG/shot), as only KDB (0.07) and Wilfried Zaha (0.08) - of the 10 players with the most goals scored - shot from lower quality chances.
Kane is not only among the elite of strikers in the narrowest sense of the word because of his goals. He is also a unique player because his passing skills, and also because he is not afraid to take on the demands of the Nr. 10 role. His 0.59 successful smart passes per game is the 3rd highest after KDB (1.29) and Salah (0.76) among players with at least 10 goals, while his 0.62 successful through passes is the 3rd highest after City’s Belgian star (1.22) and Bruno Fernandes (0.89). The English striker has 3.83 touches inside the opponents’ box per game, which is far fewer than either Salah’s (7.08), Sterling’s (6.38) or Jota’s (5.71) number. This also shows that he has now perfectly combined the classic Nr. 9 and Nr. 10 roles, and that the Tottenham player is a kind of Nr. 9.5 that terrifies most of the PL defenders.
4. Sadio Mané
Mané, who left for Bayern Münich a few weeks ago for £27.5+7.5 million (the latter amount will be transferred to Pool’s account by the Germans if various conditions are met), finished 5th in the scoring charts with 16 goals, and if only goals from open play are taken into account, he is the 3rd best goalscorer after Son and Salah (he took no penalties this season). He has outsmarted goalkeepers about as often as you would expect from an average top league striker based on the quality of his chances, his xG of 15.28 (0.45/90) is the 5th highest in the league. His 2.68 attempts and 1.16 shots on target per game are not very high for a player in his position, but his NPxG/shot of 0.17 is a brilliant indication that he has not experimented aimlessly, but has tried to fire from promising positions. His xA of 3.74 is far from outstanding, but still more than what Ronaldo (2.44) or Vardy (0.79) can boast. His 5.65 touches inside the penalty area are the 8th highest in the entire league, meaning that the Pool left winger was always lurking in the immediate vicinity of the opposition goal. In addition to the above-mentioned objective indicators, Mane was also mentally strong, which is hard to quantify, but he showed in the African Cup of Nations final and, in the World Cup qualifiers that he can handle the pressure. All in all, that’s good enough for 4th place for us, and although it won’t be easy for Klopp to replace him, Luis Díaz and Darwin Núñez are both excellent players, and the question is when will they be able to show their huge quality in the world’s toughest league.
5. Diogo Jota
In 5th place on our list there is a player that perhaps few expected to be there, but based on the data it is no coincidence that he was selected. With 15 goals, the player, who signed from Wolverhampton in September 2020 for £41+5 million, has been having his most successful PL season by far, and has also provided 4 assists. Like Mané, the Portuguese scored all his goals from open play to finish 4th in that category. However, one thing you can’t really exclude him from a line-up of this kind is his ability to get into really good shooting positions. His xG of 16.43 is the 3rd highest in the league, while his NPxG of the same volume is also the 3rd highest, with a ratio of 0.58/90, which is ahead of everyone else. His NPxG+xA/90 of 0.73 is the 2nd highestafter Salah (0.80), ahead of Gabriel Jesus (0.69), Eddie Nketiah (0.65) and Son (0.62). Jota is a classic centre forward, a real ’poacher’, a true Nr. 9: he is excellent at getting into good positions, always operates with high quality attempts (0.19 NPxG/shot), great in small and tight areas and very good inside the opponent’s penalty area (5.71 touches/90), always looking for the perfect opportunity. His 2,537 minutes is a good indication of how important he has been in the Reds’ squad, but with the arrival of the previously cited Colombian and Uruguayan, the 25-year-old Portuguese will need to roll up his sleeves if he is to play a similarly dominant role for the Merseysiders’ in the coming seasons.
(Cover picture photos: www.premierleague.com )