• Expected goals is a metric that measures the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored, using information from similar shots in the past.
• Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino departed the Premier League in a blaze of glorious finishing, scoring twice as many goals as expected as a squad player in his swansong season (11 goals from an xG of 5.5, which means the number of goals a player is expected to score).
While scoring goals isn’t just about taking your chances, it is pretty integral to the job.
Great goalscorers consistently get good chances through their movement, anticipation and all-round ability, but great finishers also make the most of what they get.
By looking at how well the Premier League’s top attackers have matched up against their expected goals (xG) numbers since the start of last season— excluding penalties — we can see who has scored goals because they had abundant high-quality chances and who has actually been the most clinical.
Expected goals is a metric that measures the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored, using information from similar shots in the past.
Nearly one million shots from Opta’s historical database are used to measure xG on a scale between zero and one, where zero represents a chance that is impossible to score, and one represents a chance that a player would be expected to score every time.
Penalties are not included in the calculations because they are significantly easier to score than the average chance, only one player per team usually gets to take penalties and winning penalties isn’t just down to the penalty taker but tricky team-mates and clumsy defenders.
Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino departed the Premier League in a blaze of glorious finishing, scoring twice as many goals as expected as a squad player in his swansong season (11 goals from an xG of 5.5, which means the number of goals a player is expected to score).
Taiwo Awoniyi’s blisteringly hot form in front of goal currently puts him among the league’s best finishers, although the Nottingham Forest striker has only played around 18 full games’ worth of minutes so far since the start of last season.
Erling Haaland is not only getting excellent chances but has arguably been the best finisher since joining the Premier League last summer. While Firmino and Awoniyi have outperformed their xG more, Manchester City’s Golden Boot winner has maintained his excellent finishing over far more minutes of football.
Harry Kane had one of the most clinical seasons of his Premier League career before leaving Tottenham for Bayern Munich, scoring 50 per cent more goals than expected last season (25 non-penalty goals from an xG of 16.6).
Evan Ferguson’s numbers are already up there with the best, although it’s still early days as the 18-year-old Brighton striker has only played just over 1000 minutes in the Premier League.
At the other end, the all-round ability of Arsenal strikers Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah and their supporting cast has seen both get a lot of quality chances, but neither have been particularly sharp in front of goal.
Liverpool’s number nine Darwin Nunez is also getting an elite level of chances but has not yet been clinical at taking them, outside of his recent laser-focused finishing at Newcastle.
However, going back to just the start of last season isn’t enough time to know if a player is actually a top-tier finisher or just on a hot run of form.
If we go further back and see how the Premier League’s top attackers have done in the competition since September 2020, we get a far more accurate and confident look at their finishing ability.
Results in this chart are far less spread out than in the more recent study as it tends to hold true that the longer time goes on, the closer a player’s goal numbers will match their xG.
While the longer-term evidence shows Firmino’s farewell finishing streak last season was a one-off, Gabriel Jesus has not been as clinical as many other goalscorers even going back to his time at Manchester City.
The likes of Awoniyi, Ferguson, Nketiah and Nunez are too early into their Premier League careers to appear on this graphic - we have set a minimum requirement of 2700 minutes of action — so it is still too early for us to really know how accomplished they are as finishers at this level.
While Haaland’s numbers are obviously the same since he only joined last summer, he has already played enough football to show that he is a statistical freak and anomaly, outscoring his already-outstanding xG numbers by 8 goals so far (34 non-penalty goals from an xG of 26.1).
Outside of the recent arrival of Haaland, Tottenham’s Son Heung-min has arguably been the best finisher in the Premier League over the last few seasons.
As both the chart and the table here show, Son has scored at around the rate of Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah despite getting far fewer chances, netting 15 more goals than expected since the start of 2020-21 - beating all other players in that regard.