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Luis Suárez scored 40 goals in the 2015/16 Liga in 35 games. Absolutely amazing! Inevitably, comparisons with Messi and Cristiano, the best goalscorers of the last years, have emerged. In order to understand how their goalscoring numbers compare I made a small chart including not just these 3 forwards but all the best goalscorers of Europe’s Top 5 Leagues.

I have considered individual seasons of those players who have managed to score 10 or more league goals in a single season in the Top 5 Leagues during the last 7 seasons. This condition is fulfilled in 723 occasions. Obviously, some players feature multiple times in this list, since they have managed to score 10+ goals in multiple seasons. For these players I calculated the ‘goals/90min’ ratio and then ranked them according to this parameter, from the 1st (Messi; Liga 2012/13; 1.566 goals/90min) to the 723rd (Hugo Rodallega; Premier League 2009/10; 0.271 goals/90min). In the below chart I have plotted Suárez’s, Messi’s, Cristiano’s and Higuaín’s seasons, starting from their personal best to their worst. Why Higuaín is here? Because I noticed that he is the closest to Messi and Cristiano.

starting-from-their-personal-best-to-the-worst

It goes without saying that lower in this chart the better. What we see here is that Suárez’s 2015/16 season (his best) is among the best that we have witnessed. He had 1.143 goals/90min, a ratio that has been achieved only 10 times in the last seven seasons (considering all players in the Top 5 Leagues). But…that is just one season. After this seasons he becomes ‘normal’. To simply put it, Suárez is nowhere near Messi and Cristiano. In order to be comparable with them, he needs at least 2-3 other seasons like this. This is not to under valuate Suárez but just to emphasize that what Messi and Cristiano have done in terms of goalscoring season after season is something so difficult to be repeated.

Higuaín deserves a special mention here. Look at his line…absolutely amazing. He has 3 seasons in ‘Messi and Cristiano level’ and his other ‘worse’ seasons are pretty consistent too. He is probably one of the most consistent and of course underrated goalscorers of the last years.

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The most frequent or flagrant ‘mistake’ when trying to evaluate Messi using stats and numbers is using one single dimension (or criteria) to evaluate a player that has many dimensions (even when considering just his attacking play). In this way, many people have difficulties to understand how different and what an outlier Messi is.

Messi is probably the best goal scorer of the last years, but there are other players who are close and comparable to him in goal scoring terms (the obvious example of Cristiano Ronaldo). In a similar way, Messi is undoubtedly one of the best playmakers and dribblers of the last years, but there are other players also who have similar playmaking (Xavi Hernández; Mesut Özil) and dribbling (Neymar; Franck Ribéry) abilities to Messi. Because of this, when statistically comparing just one aspect of Messi’s play to other players, we understand that he is the best but maybe we fail to recognize how good he really is. What makes Messi so unique is that he has the best possible combination of goal scoring, playmaking and dribbling abilities in one player.

In order to get an idea where Messi position himself compared to the other players, I made three charts. These charts combine numbers of goals scored, successful dribbles and chances created by through ball for those players that managed to score 10 or more league goals in a single season in the Top 5 Leagues since the start of the 2009/10 season. In overall we have 723 data points (please note that one player may feature multiple times in the chart in case he has scored 10+ goals in multiple seasons). All the data are provided by whoscored.com.

Below you have the charts and they are self-explanatory.

Messi-vs-the-rest-of-Europe-(I)

Chart 1 – Goals per 90 min and successful dribbles per 90 min in the Top 5 Leagues during the last 7 seasons.

Messi-vs-the-rest-of-Europe-(II)

Chart 2 – Goals per 90 min and through ball chances created per 90 min in the Top 5 Leagues during the last 7 seasons.

Messi-vs-the-rest-of-Europe-(III)

Chart 3 – Successful dribbles per 90 min and through ball chances created per 90 min in the Top 5 Leagues during the last 7 seasons.

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