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Europe's Best Young Attackers

By Colin Trainor | August 12, 2013 | Analytics

In my review of Roberto Soldado last week, I was critical of the fact that the Spaniard had just an average conversion rate based on the chances he attempted last season for Valencia and, as a result, a price tag of £26m was a little steep for the striker.

To attempt to put my claim into context I have pulled together a list of the best young attacking talent from Europe’s Big 5 leagues last season.
By “best” I mean the most efficient converter of the chances they attempted, and I also give a nod to other very important analytical attacking measures.

One of the main uses of such a list is that it creates a great short list for potential transfer targets.  Other than using raw conversation rates with their obvious drawbacks (ie Player A scored 17% of his shots) I’m not aware of any other metric that can be referenced by fans or analysts in attempting to spot the most efficient strikers.
The net result of the lack of such a measure is that I would suggest that all the players that appear on this list are undervalued by the general market as their efficiency is simply not recognised (that’s leaving aside any other skills that the players possess).

Unfortunately, not everyone on the list is likely to be up for sale, so for those players that won’t move this Summer this list serves as a reminder to keep an eye out for them as I expect their value and reputations to increase.

ExpG Eff

I measure player efficiency through a metric named ExpG Eff  This concept has been introduced over the past week by myself and Constantinos Chappas (@cchappas) on this site.  In short, this is a measure we created which objectively measures a striker’s conversion rate based the quality of chances he attempts.
The data we use to create this metric is taken from Squawka, and as they are provided by Opta we only have access to on the ball measurements.  Unfortunately, this means that our ExpG model cannot take into account other undoubtedly important things like defensive pressure, defensive formation, number of attackers or the work that the striker went through to take his shot.

Even taking that these limitations into account, the model’s estimation of total goals for all teams is a very good estimation for the total goals they actually did score, this was shown in Constantinos’ piece last week.

Perhaps I’ll take this opportunity to say that if anyone wants to provide us with some “off the ball” data so we can improve on our model it would be gratefully received!!


What I have done is rank all the young strikers based on their ExpG Eff for last season.  All the players are under 25 and played in the Big 5 Leagues last season.  To ensure that I’m not looking at players who played a handful of minutes I have further filtered down this group to just include anyone who played more than 1150 minutes and who had at least 2.5 Shots Per90.

The List

I’ve then chosen the top 10 players who meet that criteria and thus consistently finished their chances better than the average player.  It’s this group of players that as a scout, a manger or a Director of Football I’d certainly be looking at before I turned my attention to players who put away their chances at more average rates.

As you see from the table below, there are a fewof household names in there, but there are also a few names that I’d wager some readers won’t have heard of before and could represent a great value punt for a lower or mid tier Premier League team at minimal cost with little potential downside.

Top10 Young Strikers

PlayerTeamAgeValue (£m)MinsPlayedShotsPer90ExpG EffKeyPassPer90GoalsPer90GoalsExpGShotsKeyPassInside_CentralInside_Side %Outside %
Cristian TelloBarcelona2210.511792.5192.8261.6030.53472.47733219%55%36%
Luis MurielUdinese2212.513872.7252.1251.2980.714115.177422026%33%40%
Heung-Min SonLeverkusen2112.526892.6111.5910.8370.402127.54782540%17%44%
Adem LjajicFiorentina2110.516224.6051.422.4410.610117.746834422%17%61%
Wissam Ben YedderToulouse234.824932.7441.3791.0830.5421510.88763050%25%25%
Robert LewandowskiBorussia Dortmund2434.525953.4341.3611.1450.8322417.638993368%13%19%
Gaetan CourtetReims241.519982.5231.3490.8560.40596.67561961%20%20%
Christian BentekeAston Villa221628193.3521.3271.6920.6071914.3181055362%16%22%
Nicola SansoneParma214.415662.5291.3261.4940.34564.525442627%16%57%
Stephan El ShaarawyMilan202427793.3361.2741.8140.5181612.5571035633%17%50%

I’ve taken the player valuations from and whilst they’ll not be exact they can be used as a quick reference to let us know that, even if they played in the same city, Lewandowski and Courtet are unlikely to be found in the same restaurants.

ExpG = Expected number of goals based on shots taken

ExpG Eff = Goals / ExpG

The last 3 columns provide a breakdown of where the player took their shots from

Cristian Tello


Tello is a wide player with the result that less than 10% of his shots were from central locations.  He favoured the left wing but when he moved to the other side he was devestating with 3 goals from 5 shots from the right side of the pitch.

His ExpG Eff at 2.83 is off the scale, however some caution is required here for two reasons.  Firstly, he only took 33 shots last season and secondly, Barcelona is the one team that our model struggles to keep up with and so we underestimate their chances of scoring goals.
Regardless of that, scoring nearly three times as many goals as his chances would have suggested is extraordinary.

One other slight negative on Tello is that his Shots per90 is low, in fact he just scraped through the 2.5 threshold that I set.


Look at the kid’s shot placements.
Now we’re left in no doubt as to why he’s got such a high efficiency number.  A small handkerchief could cover the 9 shots that were destined for the bottom right corner.

That arrow like shooting makes up for his lack of defensive work.  However, as with last season, it’s difficult to see him getting a huge amount of pitch time this season at the Nou Camp and perhaps another club would give him the time required to prove himself a little more.

I’m including a highlights reel for each player.

Luis Muriel


Udinese’s Colombian striker has been linked with Man United over the last few days.  I can only hope there is more substance to this potential link up than the Twitter created link of a few weeks ago where Liverpool were reported by some sections of the media to be interested in Muriel.

Personally, I would have bought this guy instead of Soldado (but as you read down through the list he’s not the only one I say that about).

Like Tello he scored more than twice as many goals last season as his shots would have suggested – those returns are super elite.
His shot locations are evenly split between the 3 areas and his 0.71 Goals per90 is a great companion for his 2.13 ExpG Eff figure.

His goal numbers were inflated by some questionable goal keeping, but as well as putting the ball in the net more regularlry than he should, other positives include the fact that he can win his own ball, ride a tackle and beat a defender with his dribbling.

I’ve no doubt the £12.5m quoted in the table above is a little on the shy side, but I’d certainly make a  move for Muriel if the recent £18m valuation quoted is in the ball park.

Heung-Min Son


Bayer Leverkusen beat me to it by signing the South Korean from Hamburg during the summer.

His ExpG Eff of 1.59 is a massively high number as he scored 12 goals instead of the 7.5 that our model would have expected.  Ideally you would have liked to see more creativity as his Key Passes per90 figure is the smallest on the list.

It’s good to see that another club, in the shape of Leverkusen, has identified Son as having tremendous potential.

Adem Ljajic


Apparently Ljacjic is keen to leave Fiorentina.  If there is even a little truth in this then why has he not been picked up yet by any of the Premier League clubs?

His ExpG Eff of 1.42 is much higher than would find on the roster of some teams in England (or elsewhere for that matter).
But as if that wasn’t enough he brings much more than that.

His more than 4.5 shots per 90 is more than 1 per90 higher than everyone else on my list, and he also manages to cram in almost 2.5 key passes in every full game that he plays in.  In total, that’s 7 “key actions” he performs per90.
That figure of 7 key actions is 10th best in last season’s Big 5 leagues.  He’s only tenths of one key action behind Messi, Bale and Totti and just over 1 key action behind Suarez.
As well as Ljajic's elite levels of productivity, his ExpG Eff is only just less than Messi and Bale whilst being superior to Suarez and Totti.

Yet with all that in his locker he’s rumoured to be available for around about £10m.
I know that he, and his stats, will have benefited from playing alongside Jovetic last season but we’re see talking about a very low valuation.

In terms of negatives, as mentioned above he’s fond of a shot, perhaps too fond as more than 60% of his shots last season were from outside the penalty area.  He only scored with 2 of those efforts, but I guess you could say that his conversion numbers are so good that he can shoot from any damn place he chooses.
However, perhaps another school of thought would suggest that with a little bit of coaching some of his more speculative shot choices could be reduced.

Either way, I think he is the stand out value pick on this list and represents a low risk striking option for whichever club manages to grab him this summer.

Wissam Ben Yedder


I have 2 players on my list who currently play in Ligue 1, and according to the Transfermarkt valuations you could pick up both of them (combined) for little more than a bag of Magic Beans.

Ben Yedder managed 2.75 shots per90, but wasn’t as creative as most on this list as he had little more than 1 key pass per90.

It appears that Ben Yedder signed a contract extension with Toulouse last Friday so the French club have been successful in securing his services for another few years.

Robert Lewandowski


The Polish striker is the marquee name on my list, and with a valuation in excess of £30m he certainly won’t fit every club’s budget, but with 0.83 goals per90 he could be safely trusted to do the business regardless of where he plays his football.

The suggestion is that he had his heart set on a move to Bayern Munich but Dortmund wouldn’t let him follow the same journey that Mario Goetze took.  If that is the case it is hard to see him being interested in anyone else other than the European Champions such is the buzz around the Allianz Arena these days.

However, if he could be attracted to the Premier League then I feel he would be well worth the likely transfer fee.

His 24 goals from 99 shots is almost exactly the same conversion rate that Roberto Soldado posted last season, however due to the nature of his shots (including the fact that he had a few headers) he would only have been expected to score less than 18 goals.  That is quite an over-performance by the Polish striker.

His preferred hunting ground is central close to goal with almost 70% of his shots being struck from there.  His productivity is excellent with virtually 3.5 shots per90.

All in all, if a club was after a young proven top class striker then it would be difficult to look past Lewandowski, and I would be surprised if his next move was to somewhere other than Munich.

Although, perhaps a cheeky offer from a Premier League club may persuade Dortmund to let him go this summer instead of waiting until he is out of contract next year and so can move to their great rivals for nothing.

Arsène, Brendan you could do a lot worse..................

Gaetan Courtet


We quickly move down the price bands to reach the Reims striker Gaetan Courtet.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know too much about Courtet (I even failed to find a Youtube highlights reel for him), but anyone with an Efficiency measure of 1.35 (even in Ligue 1) is worth more than £1.5m value that transfermarkt has assigned him.

Christian Benteke


The big Aston Villa striker is the only Premier League player to make my list.

Benteke was there for the taking just a month ago as he handed in a transfer request.  However, he since performed a U-Turn and reportedly signed a 4 year contract which will continue to see him lining out at Villa Park.
Had I been advising one of the big clubs I would have grabbed the Belgian as quickly as I could when he was on the market.

What more could a big club want?
He’s only 22 and proven in the Premier League with 19 goals despite playing little more than 80% of available minutes.  With almost 3.5 shots and more than 1.5 key passes he shone in a pretty tepid Aston Villa attack and still managed to keep his ExpG Eff above 1.30.
Those are great figures.

As well as being an excellent finisher, he’s exceptionally strong and is quick for someone so powerful.

Very simply, this is the striker that Tottenham should have had top of their shopping list this summer.

Nicola Sansone


With just 6 league goals to his name last season, Sansone is the least prolific of those on my list and he’s also one of the quietest as he just crept over the threshold of 2.5 shots per90.
It’s worth keeping an eye on him this season to see if his numbers become any more prolific but his finishing skills certainly caught the eye of our model.

There is one truly outstanding must-see goal in his highlights reel, which would suggest that he has the quality and the skillset to make a mockery of his £4m valuation.

Stephan El Shaarawy


Two players were jointly awarded the Serie A young player of the year last season, and both have made my list.  The distinctively coiffured left sided attacker joins his co-award winner Luis Muriel as strikers that have posted really impressive shooting efficiency numbers.

The rumour is that at least one of Man City and Chelsea have made an offer for the exciting player and the offer was accepted by Milan, but the player himself turned the move down.

It’s easy for me to see why he’s been attracting the attention of top English clubs.
He has almost 2 key passes and 3.5 shots per90.  And like all the players on this list, it’s what he did with his 103 shots that marks him out as being really special; as he achieved an ExpG Eff mark of 1.27.

At just 20 he would have been a great acquisition for either of his potential suitors, but I look forward to watching his progress next season to see if he continues to post as exceptional a set of numbers as he did this season.
I’m sure he will.


Of the 10 players on my list, 4 stand out for me as being truly top class as they managed to achieve more than 3 shots per90 as well as attain the terrific conversion rates required to even appear in this article.

Those four players are Lewandowski, Benteke, El Shaarawy and Ljajic.  The first three named players all have valuations that aren’t far off £30m, but are still probably good value for those valuations.

However if the media talk is to be believed Ljajic can be picked up for close to £10m.
That price is just wrong and I would implore any club to go and spend the money required to capture the Serbian – it’s honestly a no-brainer at that level.

Any club that wanted to send a message out about their intent this season could do so by signing one of the other three big strikers in this list (Lewandowski, Benteke, El Shaarawy).  I have no doubt that their returns will make their transfer fees look small.

The remaining six players on the list all have relatively humble valuations, and I believe they would represent a minimal risk for any club given the finishing skills they have demonstrated.
If pushed and I had to choose one, I’d go for Muriel but I think they’d all provide value at their respective price points.

Article by Colin Trainor