There’s arguably no skill in football quite as important as the art of finishing.
The likes of Lionel Messi, Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo have established themselves as three of the greatest players of the modern era in large part thanks to how reliable they are when chances fall their way. But not this year.
Whether a player was any good or not has long been a pub debate, but nowadays a complex algorithm can put a precise number on how good footballers are at finishing chances.
Using expected goal (xG) data from FBref.com, we’ve taken a look at the 10 players in Europe’s big five leagues – Premier League, Ligue 1, Serie A, Bundesliga and La Liga – that are most underperforming when you compare the number of actual goals scored to their rate of expected goals.
It’s worth taking this with a pinch of salt. There are all kinds of reasons that a player might not have scored a chance – and sometimes it’s just down to bad luck, with an opposition defender making an unbelievable last-ditch block or the goalkeeper making a miraculous save.
By and large, the xG figures are useful in seeing which players aren’t scoring as many as they perhaps should. There are some big and surprising names in here…
The Napoli forward is bound for MLS outfit Toronto FC this summer. There’s every chance that the 30-year-old waves goodbye to his hometown club with the Scudetto.
He’s contributed seven goals in their Serie A title charge, but he might have scored more, having registered a rate of 10.3xG.
The debate about whether Manchester City should have signed a proper centre-forward to replace Sergio Aguero rages on, and will ultimately come to define their season.
Brazilian striker Jesus is certainly a useful player for Pep Guardiola’s squad, as his seven Premier League assists testify. But he’s not the dead-eyed finisher they arguably could do with – just two league goals this season (from 5.3xG).
Which brings us nicely to…
Kane has looked back to his absolute best in Tottenham’s recent victories over Manchester City and Leeds United, dropping deep and looking like one of the world’s best playmakers while getting into the box and looking one of the world’s most potent centre-forwards once again.
But he’s taken time to get up to speed, having looked totally off his game during Nuno Espirito Santo’s brief time in the Tottenham dugout.
The England captain has scored eight Premier League goals from 11.3xG in 2021-22 so far and is on track for his worst return since he was on the fringes back in 2013-14.
Brentford have been sliding down the table in recent weeks, with their profligacy in front of goal one of their major issues. Ivan Toney (with six) is the only Bees player to have scored more than three goals.
Mbuemo could certainly be contributing more. He’s underperforming his expected goals by a rate of 3.3 – three league goals have come via 6.3xG.
Austrian striker Onisiwo has an incredibly ordinary return of 17 goals in 122 appearances for Mainz.
With three goals from 6.4xG this season, you can perhaps see why.
Whisper it, but it looks like the eternal Portuguese icon may finally be slowing down.
He made a promising start after his return to Manchester United, but has scored just one goal in 10 matches since the turn of the year – and has been as culpable as anyone else as Ralf Rangnick’s Red Devils have dropped costly points due to their inefficiency.
The 37-year-old’s nine league goals this season have come from 12.5xG, and he ranks behind Brighton’s Neal Maupay for non-penalty goals per 90 minutes. Not the romantic reunion he envisaged.
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The former Chelsea striker has been one of Roma’s best players this season, justifying why Jose Mourinho was so keen to bring him to the Olimpico.
His return of 12 Serie A goals this season is more than respectable, putting him back in the England conversation, but he might have scored even more.
Those 12 goals have come via 15.7xG – only Ciro Immobile ranks above him for expected goals in the Italian top flight, and the Lazio striker has notched 19 goals.
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You don’t need to look at xG to see that Messi isn’t up to his usual standards during his debut season at PSG. He’s averaged 33 league goals a season since 2008, but his tally so far in 2021-22? Just two.
The Argentina international is still finding chances – 6.6xG in Ligue 1 – but he’s dramatically underperforming in terms of finishing.
A stark stat for a player that has consistently overperformed his xG numbers with spectacular finishing over the years.
Lionel Messi league goals vs league xG
11-12 +12.5 👀
12-13 +17.1 👀⭐️
14-15 +10.9 👀
16-17 +11.4 👀
18-19 +12.0 👀
21-22 -4.0 🚨
2021-22 is first time in the holy xG era that Messi's goal total is below his xG
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) January 26, 2022
The 22-year-old Lorient forward is not a household name, but he’s got a knack for getting into dangerous areas.
He’s registered 8.3xG in Ligue 1 this season – a fair bit more than Messi – but that’s only actually resulted in three league goals.
The talisman of Lille’s miraculous title victory last season, Yilmaz scored 16 league goals to fire the underdogs to the summit of Ligue 1 ahead of PSG.
Turns out that was something of a freak season, with the Turkey international – who had spent the majority of his career as a journeyman in the Super Lig – regressing to the mean this year.
Yilmaz is still getting chances, ranking sixth in the French top flight for expected goals, but he’s scored just four goals from 9.3xG. That perhaps explains why the champions currently sit eighth.