We are sure everyone can think of players who were missing from our previous line-up. Fortunately, in the Premier League, you don’t need a magnifying glass to look for sensational players, so the rest of the list will also feature players who have had a very special and prolific campaign too. As in the last analysis, the sample is limited to players who spent at least 900 minutes on the pitch in the 2021/22 PL season, in order to make the data as objective as possible.
6. Kevin De Bruyne
Although De Bruyne on paper occupies the right-sided attacking Nr. 8 position in Manchester City’s 4-3-3 formation, if you look at his average position and his heat map for the whole season, you can see that he often found himself in and around the opponent’s penalty area. The Belgian, who was voted PFA Player of the Year in the 2021/22 campaign, has done some dazzling things last season, so let’s take a look at the numbers that show why he has earnt his place. His 15 goals and 8 assists rank him 6th and 7th, respectively, and only three players have surpassed his 23 Canadian points. As with Mané and Son, it is important to point out that KDB scored all his goals from open play, a feat only exceeded by three players. He averaged 0.57 goals per 90 minutes, making him one of the best finishers in the world.
However, to complete the picture, the 31-year-old has been remarkably efficient in the way he has converted his chances, from a mere 5.39 xG (0.20/90), enough to match the aforementioned volume: his +9.61 goals-xG metric is the best in the English top flight. He attempted 2.74 shots per game, 1.18 of which were on target, and his average scoring chance quality was just 0.07 xG, by far the lowest among players with 10 or more goals. KDB also shone in creating chances for his teammates, with an xA/90 index of 0.30, the 3rd best after TAA (0.36) and Tsimikas (0.30). If that alone is not impressive enough, his 1.24 successful smart passes/90, 1.22 successful through passes/90 and 1.03 successful key passes/90 are all absolute records in the league.
7. Riyad Mahrez
Last season was Mahrez’s 8th PL campaign (4 of which he played in a Leicester City shirt), and it looks like he still has plenty of magic at 31. 1,642 playing minutes is not a lot, but when he got the opportunity from Guardiola, he mostly took it. The Algerian contributed 11 goals and 5 assists to Manchester City’s 6th PL title and although he scored 4 of his goals from penalty kicks, his 0.60 goals per 90 minutes is still some achievement. Without penalties, he has collected 7.25 xG this season, a 0.40/90 ratio, which is exactly the same as Vardy’s and Son’s number. Mahrez is one of those players who doesn’t hesitate when he’s in a good position, as his 3.23 attempts is the 6th and his 1.32 shots on target is the 7th highest.
What simply made his place a no-brainer was the fact that his 0.88 goal contributions is the 2nd best behind Salah (1.09) and if you look at his npG+A/90 ratio (0.66) then only 8 players are ahead of him. On top of that, he also dished out 0.77 successful key passes per games and touched the ball 5.65 times inside the penalty area - the latter is the 8th highest in the list, tied with Mané. Raheem Sterling signed for Chelsea (£47.5m) and Gabriel Jesus for Arsenal (£45m), so if injuries avoid him in the future, the Algerian winger could well bring even more joy to the fans of the Sky Blues.
8. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo has certainly passed his best years and the most productive period of his beautiful career, but he has proved once again that even at the highest level he should not be written off. The fact that he finished 3rd in the Premier League top scoring charts with 18 goals at the age of 36 is certainly commendable, especially as it has not been a particularly stellar season for Manchester United. The Portuguese’s goals per game rate (0.61) is the 4th and his xG (0.53) is the 5th highest in the league. He overperformed his expected goals (15.69) by 2.39, so when you look at his ability to get into promising positions and the quality of his finishes, he’s hardly one to complain about.
Over the years, CR7, who has been getting closer to the opposition’s goal, has operated with 3.63 shots per game, which only bettered by Salah (3.93), although the Egyptian has been a little more accurate (40 vs 45% of attempts hit the target). If we exclude penalties from the sample, the average quality of his strikes (0.13 xG/shot) is not as good as either Jota’s (0.19 xg/shot) or Son’s (0.17) value, but still shows that United’s Nr. 9 did not shoot mindlessly. His 20 goal contributions (0.68/90) was only surpassed by 5 players, so if we look at how Ronaldo has done in terms of finishing, he can hardly be left out of the best strikers’ list.
9. Jamie Vardy
Vardy embodies in one person experience, routine, humility, willingness to fight, resilience, and one could go on for days trying to describe the characteristics of the English striker. The Foxes’ veteran forward only needed 1,954 minutes to beat the opposition goalkeepers 15 times, and all his goals came from open play: his npG/90 of 0.69 is the best in the entire league, so no one has scored at a higher rate. The Leicester City legend has been brutal in the way he has outperformed his xG of 8.67 (0.40/90) by 6.33, with only Son and KDB proving more ruthless. His NPxG of 0.17/shot indicates that he has consistently operated with high quality shots, 50% of those have found the target, a feat only matched by the South Korean (60%) and Emile Smith Rowe (58%) among players with 10 or more goals.
The 8th position in the PL may be a disappointment for the Foxes’ fans compared to previous seasons, but if there is anyone in Brendan Rodgers’ squad who can hardly be blamed, it would certainly be Vardy. How many more goals the striker can add to his current volume (133 goals is the 14th best in the PL all-time scoring charts) is a good question, but it is safe to say that as long as the 35-year-old striker has got the hunger, he will continue to terrify the opposition’s goalkeepers and defenders.
10. Jarrod Bowen
West Ham United’s English winger hasn’t had a bad season in 2020/21 either, 8 goals + 5 assists is a kind of performance that is hard to ignore. However, the 25-year-old striker, who was bought from Hull City in January 2020, has really sparkled in the 2021/22 campaign: not only scored 12 times but also assisted 10 times in the league. Only 4 players have collected more Canadian points than him (22), so it is likely to be only a matter of time before he is heading to a bigger and richer club. Only 4 Hammers have spent more minutes on the pitch than him (3,207), leaving Moyes with little alternative in case when Bowen was having a bad day.
With an aggregate xT of 9.63 (all actions taken into account), he enhanced his team’s goalscoring chances by far the biggest degree (Cresswell follows him with 7.6, and Fornals with 6.94), so it is understandable that the London-based club simply could not replace him with a player of similar quality. All the goals he scored came from open play, averaging 0.34 per game, but his 0.28 assists/90 is also something to be equally proud of. He finished confidently the chances he was given, as he outperformed his xG of 10.33 by 1.67. So, all in all, it will probably be quite a hefty fee for any club that wants to sign West Ham’s probably greatest asset, but if Bowen continues to develop at a similar rate, it is not unimaginable that he could be well worth the big money.
(Cover picture photos: www.premierleague.com )