The Championship is seen as a breeding ground for future Premier League players. So in this data analysis piece, I would like to use the available data and statistics to find and shortlist three of the best strikers in the Championship that have played more than 30 games for their team. Therefore we can get more regular starters. Hopefully, we can achieve the goal of finding the best strikers in this analysis that should potentially be playing for the Premier League or to find new upcoming talents that should be transferred to the leading First-Division sides in La Liga or Bundesliga.
Getting the Best
Firstly, the filtration process has allowed us to come to the following strikers as being the best strikers for their teams.
|L. Gregory||Stoke City|
|T. Eaves||Hull City|
|S. Fletcher||Sheffield Wednesday|
|H. Robson-Kanu||West Bromwich Albion|
|K. Moore||Wigan Athletic|
|N. Wells||Bristol City|
|S. Gallagher||Blackburn Rovers|
|F. Diédhiou||Bristol City|
|H. Cornick||Luton Town|
|J. Hugill||Queens Park Rangers|
|P. Bamford||Leeds United|
|M. Waghorn||Derby County|
|A. Armstrong||Blackburn Rovers|
|A. Weimann||Bristol City|
|K. Grant||Huddersfield Town|
|L. Jutkiewicz||Birmingham City|
|L. Grabban||Nottingham Forest|
|J. Collins||Luton Town|
To find the best strikers, the first metric we will be using is non-penalty goals and assists made this season. This is to find out who the most prolific scorers are in the team and to find the players most involved in playmaking for the team. All statistics will be used on a per 90 basis to ensure a fair comparison.
In the above graph, the five main outliers are Mitrović, Wells, Watkins, Smith and Brown. The most efficient scorer is Nahki Wells from Bristol City, with 0.6 non-penalty goals per 90. He also has 0.16 assists per 90, putting him as the most well-rounded striker on the list. Aleksandar Mitrović, the top scorer of the league has the second-most goals per game but has one of the poorest assists per game at 0.03. Jacob Brown, from Barnsley, has the most assists per game at 0.26, but that can be attributed to him having played mostly as a winger, and making the transition to striker later on in the season. Finally, the player to look out for in the future would be Ollie Watkins from Brentford. At the age of 24, he is turning out to be a real gem, working very well with Brentford’s front three, alongside Benrahma and Mbuemo, to score goals.
Next, to find out how clinical the striker is, we will be looking at two important metrics – the xG per 90 and Goal Conversion per 90.
The most lethal striker here would be Nahki Wells, who leads the goal conversion with 25.8% of his shots leading to a goal. His xG per 90 is also low, at 0.38, meaning that he is performing better than expected. Lewis Grabban from Nottingham Forest is also very efficient, with a goal conversion rate of 23.6%. An important takeaway here is something that has been highlighted multiple times by Leeds fans about Patrick Bamford.
Bamford has the second-highest xG in the league with 21.59. This is second after Mitrović, who is the top scorer in the league this season. However, Bamford has only 13 goals. This is very subpar for a player in a team that regularly challenges for promotion spots. Bamford takes the second-most shots in the Championship as well, regularly attempting around 3.42 shots in a game, with only 34% of the shots being on target. He is not that strong aerially as well, with only three headed goals and 0.09 goals with his head.
Even though strikers’ main roles do not involve defensive roles and duties, tactical setups by managers often make them the first defenders when the team loses the ball.
The strongest players defensively would be Jacob Brown from Barnsley and Conor Chaplin, also from Barnsley. This can be contributed to the fact that Barnsley play a counter-pressing system with the strikers having to continuously win the ball back. Matt Smith from Millwall is the weakest of all the strikers defensively, meaning that he either does not contribute a lot defensively or is not adept at defence.
Another important ability of a striker is his aptitude at linking up with the wingers and midfielders to create goalscoring opportunities. This means that they need to be adept at passing the ball and at playmaking.
The standout players here are Ollie Watkins, Connor Chaplin and Nahki Wells. The players all have high key passes per game, with Watkins at 0.45, or high crossing like Cornick with 3.9 or are equally talented at both, like Chaplin, with 0.40 key passes per game and 2.58 crosses per game.
This process helped us identify the best strikers in all aspects of the game, including their most important one, like goalscoring, passing and defensive abilities. We can now derive the three best strikers in the Championship, and one player to watch for the future.
Seeing that there are a lot of quality strikers, it has been difficult to come up with a shortlist of only three. However, the three below have been extraordinary in scoring goals, being involved in the goals scored by their team or are equally good at both.
The final players that we have come up with using our data are:
- Aleksandar Mitrović from Fulham
- Ollie Watkins from Brentford
- Nahki Wells from Bristol City and QPR
The top-scoring striker in the Championship and all-round best player for Fulham is the first player in our shortlist. The Serbian ace has scored 23 goals and has one assist to his name in 34 games. He acts as the focal point for Fulham’s attack. One of his strengths is his link-up play, which is shown by his pass success rate of 82.03%. However, the standout ability of his is his finishing and goalscoring. He attempts 3.27 shots on target per game and scores 0.63 goals per game.
The reason as to why Mitrović has so many goals in the first place is partly due to Fulham’s tactics. Fulham play an attractive style of football, with sending the full-backs up to attack and overlapping the wingers. Mitrović is literally the centre of this, waiting in the middle of the box for a pass from the wingers or full-backs to score. The attacking quality of the players around him, combined with his goalscoring quality helps Mitrović have the highest goal tally in the league.
However, a player of his class and ability has weaknesses as well. As Fulham play an aggressive pressing side, Mitrović is susceptible to conceding a lot of fouls as he is generally the first man to press and win back the ball as it would be beneficial for the team to win the ball back in advanced areas. Another weakness of his are his dribbling skills. He has an average of 3.46 dribbles per 90 and has a dribble success rate of 40.2%.
Watkins, the 24-year-old from Brentford, started to play as a striker after Neal Maupay had left last season. However, Maupay has barely been missed this season due to the lethal attacking trio of Mbuemo, Watkins and Benrahma. Thus, Brentford have become the team with the most goals scored this season.
Watkins possesses electric pace and power, and drops into and subsequently exploits the space created by the opponents’ defence. This creates multiple chances for himself and his teammates. He is also very strong aerially, having scored eight goals with his head this season, one of the highest of all players this season.
A reason for Watkin’s tally has to be Thomas Frank’s attacking tactics at Brentford. The wingers, Benrahma and Mbuemo, create space by stretching their oppositions wide and exploiting the space left between them and leaves a lot of space centrally as well, where Ollie Watkins waits as a target man.
But, the part of his playing that requires improvement has to be his defensive contributions this season. Watkins is one of the weakest strikers defensively with a measly 3.3 defensive duels won.
Ultimately, he should be spending one more season at Brentford, where he is making consistent starts and shining for his team. Later, he should be making the step-up to a Premier League team.
Wells, the Bermuda international, who currently plays for Bristol City, was on loan at QPR for the first half of the season. Under Mark Warburton, he turned into a goalscoring menace, slotting in a hat-trick against Cardiff and braces against Millwall and Luton.
Wells can play as both a winger and striker, meaning that he is better than the other strikers at playmaking. As a result, he slots well into teams that generally require a striker strong at playmaking to complement a strong front three. However, he is also very good at defensive contributions as well and is better than most strikers in terms of defensive metrics.
His only considerable weakness would be his aggression as he makes at least 1.71 fouls per game. This aggression, if unchecked, could become a larger problem and even get him booked multiple times.
Now, we have a shortlist where we can find out the best strikers in terms of goalscoring (Mitrović) or strikers that are talented at playmaking (Wells). It is easy to say Mitrović is the best striker in the Championship because he is the top scorer in the league. But, it should be safe to say Ollie Watkins from Brentford has the highest potential and ceiling compared to other strikers who are mostly in their 30s, as he is adept at both finishing and playmaking parts of the game.