The Final Third
We’re almost done. Now we can look at who’s making an impact in the final third. After talking about players rather than teams after the first section, the final third gives us a chance to talk about both.
Repeating the beginning from the beginning, the below graph shows npxG and shots per game. How much of an outlier Barcelona are is scary. They average over 4 non-penalty xG per game. It makes the graph mostly useless.
A version without Barcelona:
At least excluding Barcelona, there looks to be a smaller disconnect in the top right quadrant as the defensive version. PSG and Bayern have a bit of breathing space, but the likes of Juventus, Roma, AC Milan, Manchester United and Arsenal all look closer to the elite clubs than they did in defence. Even the likes of Paris, Sassuolo, Real Sociedad, Hoffenheim and Bordeaux don’t look miles away.
To try and gauge how teams create in the final third, I plotted how many deep completions they make vs the percentage of deep completions that were crosses. The top teams likely skew the averages and it may be a case of sample size, but it’s interesting how there are a lot more teams in the bottom left than the top right.
Paris being the team with the lowest proportion of crosses is interesting. Seeing Chelsea quite low is also somewhat of a surprise, given the aerial prowess of Sam Kerr. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to see Everton with the highest percentage of crosses given the army of wingers they’ve assembled. They bought Hayley Raso in January 2020, but after losing Chloe Kelly they added both Nicoline Sørensen and Claire Emslie in the summer, before loaning Alisha Lehmann in January.
Roma are another team that are quite cross-heavy, particularly among those who make a lot of deep completions. But after looking at some player data and some clips, it’s not surprising. They possess two exciting wingers, with the pick of the two being 22-year-old Annamaria Serturini.
I thought I stumbled across her at first after looking at players with a similar output to Chloe Kelly, at least that’s what I remember doing, but looking again, she isn’t that close. She’s 12th closest and first in Serie A (with over 900 minutes), but that doesn’t seem close enough to have jumped out. Thinking back, it might have been looking at her xG and deep completion figures. She’s made the 7th most deep completed crosses per 90 in the five leagues. More impressive though, she’s contributed almost 1 expected goal per 90, with an almost even split between xG and xA. She has 0.94 npxG + xA per 90. 0.52 npxG and 0.42 xA. The graph below shows how impressive her figures have been in these two metrics, especially considering she’s only 22-years-old playing for a good, but not quite elite, side.
I haven’t watched a lot of her, but from what I’ve seen, she looks like a typical exciting winger. She offers a lot of width and runs in behind, not looking to hesitate at the chance to cross the ball or cut inside and take a shot of her own. She’s scored a couple of goals cutting in from the right, but her recent goal against San Marino was one of my favourites from the ones I’ve seen. There’s not much to it, Lindsey Thomas runs with the ball down the right and plays a cross that Serturini gets on the end of. But, it’s not only fun seeing the two wingers combine, it’s a great run from Serturini to get in front of the defender and shows an ability to get into good goalscoring positions. As the graph below shows, she generates a lot of shots but doesn’t have a great npxG per shot. But, in her defence, an average npxG per shot seems okay for a wide attacker who takes a lot of shots.
I imagine it’s become obvious by this point, but Roma are a side I’m looking forward to checking out. From the data, they’re active off the ball and hard to progress against. Their full-backs get forward and 20-year-old Angelica Soffia looks a big talent at the back, though she didn’t feature earlier on. Add in a pure playmaker like Manuela Giugliano and two exciting wingers and they have a lot of ingredients to be a fun team to watch.
Speaking of exciting wingers, the biggest outlier this season has been Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen. This should come as no surprise. Everywhere I’ve looked there’s been Barcelona outliers. But it’s still impressive to see something like the graph below.
Then, she has a pretty even split between deep completed crosses and deep completed passes. Like with Rosa Márquez, some come close (or just edge her) in either category, but no one is in the same ballpark for the two combined.
Hansen’s recognised as one of the best players around, playing for a team having a monster season, so the above shouldn’t be too shocking. But it’s always satisfying seeing a player completely on their own in that top right corner.
Moving on, I thought it’d be fun to see what young players have been most productive around Europe. The below graph shows npxG and xA for those 23-years-old and under. (This version only includes players with over 900 minutes. It’s quite a lot for younger players, but I didn’t want to have to keep saying “but it’s only from a small sample” about a few players.)
For creativity, 20-year-old Bayern youngster Klara Bühl leads the way. Bayern have three players well placed on this graph. Klara Bühl at the top, then Sydney Lohmann has the 3rd highest npxG per 90 and Lea Schüller the 2nd highest. For npxG + xA per 90, the three are all in the top five across the five leagues. That looks like three great players to build an attack and midfield around.
You can say the same for PSG. I haven’t talked about the French league much, but it looks to be home to plenty of young to peak-age attackers putting up great figures. PSG have Marie-Antoinette Katoto with huge figures. Bühl is 2nd to Katoto for npxG + xA per 90 for U23 players, with Katato contributing a huge 1.10 per 90, compared to Bühl’s (still massive) 0.95 per 90. 21-year-old Sandy Baltimore has the 2nd best xA per 90 for the young players but hasn’t been as productive in front of goal herself.
Outside the top clubs, Serturini shines again. The Italian winger has the 3rd best npxG + xA per 90. 23-year-old Clara Matéo from Paris looks like a goal threat, as does Frankfurt’s Laura Freigang. Ebony Salmon, playing in a relegation battle with Bristol City, also has great figures. For creativity, there are more promising players on what feels like a never-ending list of young Spanish talent. Both Eva Navarro (Eva Maria on the graph) of Levante and Nerea Eizagirre of Real Sociedad have strong xA figures. Venezuelan attacker Deyna Castellanos from Atlético Madrid also has strong creative figures. Then, like her team, Kamila Dubcová from Sassuolo has popped up with good numbers across a few metrics.
Reducing the minute limit to 450 makes a significant change at the top. Évelyne Viens, on loan at Paris from Gotham, becomes the most productive player. But she did turn 24-years-old in February, so shouldn’t be here. Juventus duo Andrea Stašková and Annahita Zamanian also pop up in good positions. As do Hoffenheim’s Paulina Krumbiegel and Man City’s Lauren Hemp.
Missing out on this age cut-off are the 24-year-old trio at Bordeaux who are all putting up huge numbers. The main attraction would be Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw. The Jamaica international has 1.16 npxG + xA per 90 this season, second only to Viens. First in the league if you want a larger sample of minutes. Bordeaux are third, so they’re still strong, but producing more than Katoto (or any Lyon attacker) for a less dominant side is a huge achievement. But it’s not only her. Maëlle Garbino has contributed 0.90 npxG + xA per 90 and Katja Snoeijs 0.69 per 90. Looking at the team graphs, Bordeaux are almost the opposite of Roma. Where they’re both quite similar for npxG performance, when anything becomes more about style, they almost always go to different halves of the graph.
Though there’s plenty more that could be interesting and this isn’t the tip of the iceberg, I think it’s almost time to call it a day. Before finishing though, here’s the attacking version of the counterattack graph. (Still requires 10 games in the sample, but I forgot to add it in)
West Ham are a huge outlier. I wish there was xG as well as shots. They’re able to turn counters into shots at a strong rate, but there’s a chance it’s because someone hits it from 25+ yards every counter. Chelsea and PSG (and Arsenal, though I don’t know where to class them now) are the only elite clubs in strong positions for both quality and quantity. Roma and Barcelona have turned a higher percentage into shots, but don’t have many counters. Valencia don’t look interested in counters at all.
Finally, we’ll end with another example of a recurrent theme. The Barcelona outlier. Asisat Oshoala has put forward huge attacking numbers. She has 1.38 npxG per 90. Her xA isn’t as impressive at 0.15 per 90, but it still places her over an expected goal and a half contributed per ninety minutes. But most incredible is her shot quality. It’d be easy to assume she’s taking shots from here, there and everywhere as Barcelona dominate. But that’s not the case. Viens has come close in quantity from a much smaller number of minutes, but no one is closer to the combination of quality and quantity. It takes something pretty incredible to make the xG performance of players like Sam Kerr, Vivianne Miedema, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Bunny Shaw look normal.
Again, with this section being graph-heavy, a summary doesn’t seem necessary.