A Closer Look At Finishing Ability Part 2: Who are the Best and Worst Finishers Of Easy Chances?

By Andrew Puopolo

On Monday, I took a look at players’ finishing abilities based on chance quality, but wanted to write a second article to dive deeper into this.

Recently, I was watching my beloved Tottenham Hotspur take on Chelsea at Wembley and in the first half Heung Min Son missed a couple of relatively easy chances in the first half before scoring an incredible goal after a great solo run early in the second half. This put the following thought in my mind, are there any players that are very good at finishing hard (low xG) chances, but poor at finishing high XG chances? I was also curious about the converse, which player is the ultimate poacher, who finishes the easy chances that are presented to him but struggles to score difficult chances?

To go about trying to tackle these questions, I used the same methodology from my post on Monday, but broke up each players shots into two datasets consisting of “hard” and “easy” chances. The cutoff xG for this was determined to be .25. The reasoning behind this was not particularly scientific, but the general idea was that if we used the median value for all shots (approximately .05), then there would be very few goals in the “low xG” datasets. If we decided to use the cutoff value that meant that the number of goals in “high” and “low” goal data was about the same, we’d get a cutoff value of around .35 and then we’d have very few shots in the “easy” dataset. Thus, I decided on a semi arbitrary cutoff value of .25 to try to balance the tradeoff between these 2 issues.

For today’s article, we are going to focus in on which players are the best and worst at finishing easy chances. First, we’ll take a look at the 20 players who most overperformed expectation of finishing chances of greater than .25 xG. For this analysis, we eliminated all players who had fewer than 10 “easy” shots.

On this list, we see some players that appeared on our list on Monday (such as James, Fedor Smolov and Andy Carroll) but the list is populated by lots of players who can considered to be streaky. A perfect example of this is Romelu Lukaku, a player who used to bang in the goals for fun at Everton and at the beginning of Manchester United, but when he goes south the team goes south. Dimitri Payet is another example, brilliant for West Ham in 2015/16 but went missing before controversially pushing through a move to Marseille.

The explanation for this could actually be quite simple. The reason why players like Lukaku are known to be streaky is because they need solid chances to score, and when the solid chances come they are poachers and finish their chances. These chances tend to come in bunches (and generally against bad teams, another criticism of Lukaku’s), and if the rest of the team can’t provide service then the goals dry up.

It’s also interesting to note that there are two strikers from AFC Bournemouth who make up this list (Josh King and Junior Stanislas) both appear on this list. Bournemouth are known for being a small club who have become Premier League mid-table regulars over the last 3 seasons, and the ability to finish the chances that are given to them are likely a cause for this comfort.

Now, let’s take a look at the 20 worst finishers of easy chances in Europe.

This list has some similarity with the list we published on Monday, with the presence of Córdoba and Saido Berahino. Also like Monday, we find that the p values increase more rapidly than the good finisher list. This implies that good finishing is more likely an individual skill than bad finishing is a weakness (as in the distribution of players finishing ability is positively skewed). The most prominent striker on this list is Christian Benteke, who went through a very high profile drought last season and during his failed year on Merseyside, and has rarely featured for Crystal Palace this season. Many of these players are midfielders, so are often unaccustomed to being in a position to finish such high xG chances (hence why many of these sample sizes are very small) as these players are better known for other qualities in their game.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I would like to thank everyone for taking time away from watching the festive period football in order to read this. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at which players are the best and worst at finishing hard chances, and there’s a very, very familiar name at the top of that list.

If you have any questions for Andrew, please feel free to reach out to him by email at andrewpuopolo@college.harvard.edu or on Twitter @andrew_puopolo

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