What should Stoke City manager Michael O’Neill and fans expect from great scoring hopes Sam Clucas and Tyrese Campbell this season? Leading football data analyst Mark Taylor crunches the numbers for a scientific prediction.
“And Smith must score…” may lack the perfect progression of “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over… it is now”, but it remains a classic piece of football commentary.
For those who weren’t following football in the immediate post Waddington era, Smith was Gordon Smith.
His chance came in the last minute of extra time during the 1983 FA Cup final for Brighton against Manchester United with the scores level.
The commentary concludes with, “and he hasn’t scored and Bailey has saved it”.
United won the replay 4-0.
Fast forward to 2020 and strikers are no longer evaluated entirely on the outcome of their attempts at goal.
The art and science of goal scoring has borne the full brunt of statistical analysis and a striker’s contribution has been broken down into two major concepts.
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Firstly, the ability to consistently get into a good scoring position (as Smith did at Wembley) and secondly, the rate at which chances are finished (which Smith failed to execute).
Football analytics has also collected a large body of historical data and there is growing evidence that the former skill, being in the right place at the right time, is the most readily repeatable talent possessed by an attacking player.
Whereas, the second skill, putting that chance into the net, differs only slightly between professional players.
Therefore, finishing an opportunity is much more prone to randomness, even over a whole season and a clinical striker’s golden touch in one year may appear to desert him in another or more frequently he merely sinks back into the pack.
Sam Clucas and Tyrese Campbell combined to be Stoke City’s most prolific goal scoring duo in the 2019/20 Championship season.
Clucas (11 goals) and Campbell (nine goals) were major factors in Stoke comfortably securing safety after spending much of the first half of the season at the foot of the table.
Both fully passed the test that Smith appeared to flunk 37 years ago.
Clucas sometimes gloriously chipping the ball into an unguarded net from near half way and Campbell adding a regular array of goals of all types to his exciting wing play.
From the stand point of 1983, Stoke City’s pair passed with flying colours. They scored goals, lots of them.
In short, their outcome was excellent.
However, looking on from a more data rich 2020, let’s investigate their so-called process or how often they got into excellent scoring positions.
Here’s the shot map for Sam Clucas from 2019/20.
The orange dots are Clucas’ 11 goals.
There’s one lurking by the halfway line as Michael O’Neill turned the season’s tide at Barnsley.
The blue dots are shots or headers that the keeper saved or Clucas missed the goal & the greyed-out circles are the goal attempts of the remaining Stoke City players.
The size of the circle correlates to the quality of the chance.
Larger circles are easier to score, while small dots are less likely to end with the net bulging.
Unlike Smith on that May afternoon, Clucas scored with virtually every ‘big chance’ he was presented with, as well as half a dozen of the lower quality ones.
Here’s Tyrese Campbell’s shot map, again from all Championship games from 2019/20.
Campbell played fewer minutes – 1,600 minutes to Clucas’ 3,900 – but his is a similar profile to Clucas. Clinical with all his ‘big chances’, including a penalty kick and very dangerous from distance.
We can see how many goals a Championship striker may score from the chances they attempt by adding up the size of each bubble.
Typically, each shot map would result in six goals being scored, rather than 11 for Clucas and 9 for Campbell and that raises a red flag for next season, particularly for the former.
Eighty per cent of players who turned blue chances into orange goals with the efficiency demonstrated by Clucas and Campbell in 2019/20, saw their dead-eyed shooting return to more worldly levels in the following season.
High profile misses, such as Gordon Smith’s and the reaction of pundits, has given rise to the myth that some players are clinical and others aren’t.
But with a few exceptions, Lionel Messi for instance, most players have similar levels of finishing ability and hot or cold streaks are just random fluctuations around this norm.
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It is a scorer’s ability to latch onto chances that distinguishes them and more playing time should see them improve the quantity of chances they attempt to finish, which bodes well for Campbell.
But the rate they finish those chances bounces around, sometimes to their profit and sometimes not.
Hope for the best, but expect Clucas and Campbell to score fewer long range efforts and even miss the odd big chance in 2020/21.
It happens to four out of five players who’ve been as “clinical” as the Stoke duo were in 2019/20
They won’t have suddenly become poor finishers, they’re just experiencing the natural regression towards a conversion rate that is more in keeping with the quality and quantity of the chances they’re attempting to convert.