Show Them What You’ve Shot

Thundering drives, classy curlers or scrappy tap-ins: The top scorers in today’s leading European football leagues can’t be picky about how they get their goals. But how do last season’s most prolific strikers in Europe’s top divisions compare in the shooting department?

The three top scorers in the most highly rated leagues in Europe in 2012-13 were Lionel Messi (Spain), Robin Van Persie (England) and Stefan Kiesling (Germany) and all three display different characteristics when it comes to looking for the back of the net.

From our data taken from over the last two seasons or so (including the ongoing 2013-14 season), it is clear that Messi’s role at the fulcrum of Barcelona’s attacks is to shoot for goal. The Argentine had over 50 more shots on goal than Van Persie, and over 150 more than Kiesling.

But where do these three players take their shots from?

It is often noted by pundits that Barcelona play without a traditional striker, with Messi often collecting the ball further down the pitch. But we can see that although his movement can be different from a traditional frontman, Messi’s high percentage of shots are from close and mid-range, 64%, showing he is very active in the business area of the pitch too, attempting to convert Barca’s possession into goals.

Van Persie’s data demonstrates his desire to manufacture goals from any situation, displaying the most even spread of the three, across the categories of; close to mid-range; long range; headers; set pieces.

Meanwhile Kiesling is quite clearly determined to utilise the crosses of Bayer Leverkusen’s wingers, with 38 per cent of his attempts on goal coming from headers, more than 20 per cent higher than Van Persie and a huge 32% more than Messi.

After considering the strikers’ favourite methods of going for goal, we will now look at how many times they find the net from each distinguishing method.

Nearly a third of Messi’s attempts to score (31%) from close to mid-range add to his record tally of goals for Barcelona. Not only is this a higher percentage than Van Persie (23%) or Kiesling (22%), it is higher than any of the top 49 players in Europe when ranked according to shot attempts.

Van Persie again supports the theory that he is the best rounded player of the three, with 5% of his long range efforts finding the net, while Messi and Kiesling have no goals from far out to their name.

Kiesling tries more headers than Messi or Van Persie with good reason – he converts more, with 12% of his aerial efforts beating the goalkeeper.

So in many respects, the raw data we have harvested reinforces the perceptions of the three hitmen – Messi the irrepressible genius with a waspish presence anywhere on the pitch, Van Persie a dazzling combination of power, pace and technique and Kiesling the more traditional modern frontman with his formidable aerial ability and clever movement to the front and back posts.

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