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I analyzed Messi’s shots with Barcelona, trying to see what (if anything) is different from one season to the other, mainly focusing in the last three seasons. A map of his shots (penalties excluded) for each of the 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons is shown in the following image:

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Figure 1 – Map of Messi’s shots with Barcelona (2014/15 to 2016/17)

After an initial and general observation, these maps look very similar to each other (as they probably should… we are talking about the same player) and the preferred shooting zones are basically the same.  If we have a closer look at the distribution of these shots within these zones we might start to notice differences between one season and another. Maybe the main difference is the intensity of frontal shots and shots made within the penalty area, which seems to be higher in the 2014/15 season compared to 2015/16 and 2016/17. To see what these differences are I built histograms of how Messi’s shots are distributed according to the distance from the goal (Figure 2).

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Figure 2 – Distribution of Messi’s shots with Barcelona according to the distance from the goal (2014/15 to 2016/17).

These histograms may be helpful in comparing shots from one season to the other. We can notice, for example, that the percentage of shots taken within the distance of 10m (or 15m) is considerably higher in 2014/15 than in 2016/17. The reverse is true for long-range shots.

The data presented above can serve as indicators about the quality of shots taken and about the possibility for Messi to penetrate through defenses (by means of dribbling and combinations with team mates) and to make short-range shots, which of course have a much higher probability to be converted into goals. For instance, Messi converts into goals 42.5% of the shots within a distance of 10m, 29.2% of the shots within a distance of 15m and only 9.5% of the shots beyond 15m.

Now, talking about comparing shooting ranges, I built some shooting-range distribution curves (If you think of a better name…please suggest :D) which I think are clearer than histograms, especially when you want to compare three or more series of data (i.e. three or more players, various seasons of a certain player or other combinations).

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Figure 3 – Shooting-range distribution curves for Messi, Cristiano, Suárez and Benzema.

These curves are a visual representation of how a player’s shots are distributed according to the distance from the goal. The horizontal axis show the distance from the goal while the quantity of the shots taken within a specific distance is shown by the cumulative percentage in the vertical axis. Curves in the upper-left part of the graph area (Figure 3) indicate players that take relatively more short-range shots (e.g. Benzema, Suárez)  and curves in the lower-right part of the graph area indicate players that take relatively more long-range shots (e.g. Cristiano). Messi’s curve lies somewhere between Suárez and Cristiano, indicating that he takes less long-range shots than Cristiano but also less short-range shots than Suárez.

Messi’s shooting-range distribution curves for the last three seasons and for his career are shown in the following image:

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Figure 4 – Shooting-range distribution curves for Messi (2014/15 to 2016/17 and career).

As we can see, in the 2014/15 season Messi took more short-range shots, not only compared to 2015/16 and 2016/17 but also compared to his entire career average curve. The differences between various seasons become more perceptible if we consider separately a part of the above graph. For example, Figures 5 and 6 show Messi’s shooting-range distribution curves for distances up to respectively 10m and 15m.

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Figure 5 – Shooting-range distribution curves for Messi (2014/15 to 2016/17 and career) up to 10m.

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Figure 6 – Shooting-range distribution curves for Messi (2014/15 to 2016/17 and career) up to 15m.

The above highlighted difference between the considered seasons is probably one of the various factors that prevented Barcelona from repeating the outcomes of 2014/15. It is clear that creating the possibility to take a lot of short-range shots doesn’t solely depend on the player who is shooting (his ability to dribble) but also on the help he gets from his team mates and the opponent’s approach, his positioning, etc. Hence, although they provide some good information, shooting-range distribution curves should be cautiously interpreted in order to avoid reaching premature conclusions.

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I prepared an analysis or evaluation on the most well-rounded (i.e. complete) attacking players in the European top 5 leagues for the 2016/17 season. The used approach is the same as the one I have used in this piece about Messi. Please refer to that text, as I am going to explain just the main points here.

I have considered all those players with 10+ league goals in the 2016/17 season, 115 players in total. These players are compared to each other in terms of four aspects of the attacking play: goals scored, successful dribbles, chances created, and chances created by through balls. The main idea behind this is “well-rounded attackers are considered those players who perform relatively good in all the considered aspects”.

The range of values that these 115 players have is as below:

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Fig 1 – Range of values in goals, dribbles, chances created and chances created by through balls for the 115 players with 10+ league goals in 2016/17 (top 5 leagues).

As in the above cited article, I used the percentile rank in order to “bring these four metrics at the same scale”. The higher the percentile rank, the better (and vice-versa). Below I am posting graphs of various players, so we may get an idea how they compare against each other and against all the 115 considered players.

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Fig 2 – Messi is (obviously) the most complete attacker for 2016/17 (look at his numbers!).

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Fig 3 – Alexis Sánchez, Dries Mertens and Keita Baldé are the closest players to Messi.

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Fig 4 – Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo compared to Messi. It looks like if you add Cristiano’s goal-scoring numbers to Neymar’s dribbling and play-making numbers, you get someone close to Messi.

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Fig 5 – Messi, Suárez and Neymar for 2016/17.

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Fig 6 – Neymar, Dybala and Coutinho seem to have some very similar numbers.

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Fig 7 – Morata, Lewandowski, Kane and Werner.

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Fig 8 – Agüero, Lukaku and Diego Costa.

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Fig 9 – Lacazette, Mbappé and Boudebouz.

 

 

 

 

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