While you were paying attention to things that mattered like who won matches and who lost, some under the radar storylines are bubbling along that might eventually impact teams in important ways.
Can Gabriel Jesus Score?
This seems like the most absurd question in the world. He’s averaging 0.49 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, so clear he can score. That’s a pretty good, if not absolutely spectacular number. For player that have played over 1000 minutes in Europe’s big five leagues this season, he’s narrowly in the top 50. That’s…fine. It’s probably even good enough to be the back up on perhaps the best team in Europe. It’s also significantly behind the man he backs up, Sergio Aguero who clocks in at 0.71 non-penalty goals per 90.
Expected goals, on the other hand, tells a much much rosier story. Jesus’s xG per 90 is at a whopping 0.70, that’s the fourth best total across Europe’s big five leagues, and a whisker ahead of Aguero’s 0.69. Jesus is also just 22 years old. Aguero is, of course, now on the wrong side of the 30. So, if the only thing that matters is xG then expect Jesus to be inheriting the reins of the attack any year now.
There are of course, mitigating factors here. Jesus is generally a substitute and generally plays against weaker opposition than the first choice forward, so his numbers probably get a bit of a boost. Everybody on that City machine reinforces everybody else, a training dummy parked at the penalty spot could probably put up a positive xG total. It’s nice to be the tip of a spear wielded by the likes of David Silva and Raheem Sterling. But still, there’s no denying that Jesus’s underlying numbers are excellent.
But, boy does that kid miss a lot.
Does it matter? From an analytics perspective it does not, the best bet is to play the kid, let him shoot through the yips and expect, as the numbers suggest, that he’s about to be a superstar. But, part of the reality of leading the line at the very top of the game is that if you haven’t proven you can do it, you don’t get a lot of time to prove you can do it. People (and coaches) remember the misses, the pressure mounts, fans get restless and eventually you become Alvaro Morata (who to be fair has never had xG like Jesus’s, but who has also, to be fair, never gotten to play striker on a team quite like City), and everybody just kind of agrees that while the numbers are fine, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery.
For now, Jesus has the luxury of being a backup, but if he does eventually get the job then he’s not going to have the luxury of all these whiffs going basically unnoticed.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Other Star Forwards
Luka Jovic gets the most attention, and well he should. He’s averaging 0.56 xG per 90, the 11th best total across Europe’s top five leagues, and it doesn’t hurt the old hype-o-meter that his actual goal scoring rate of 0.73 non-penalty goals per 90 is ahead of that pace. But, it’s not happening in a vacuum and the team’s other two main attackers, Sébastien Haller and Ante Rebić are right there with him with 0.40 and 0.42 xG per 90 and 0.48 and 0.52 non-penalty goals respectively.
While Jovic does a little bit of everything his teammates have slightly more defined roles. Haller as the more traditional forward gets the bulk of his shots from point blank range. He’s ruthlessly disciplined and almost always fires from 12 yards or closer.
Rebić on the other hand is as often a playmaker behind the striker partnership ahead of him as he is a striker himself. Consequently his output is less about efficiency, he averages 0.14 xG per shot as opposed to Haller’s excellent 0.21, and more about volume, he takes 2.93 shots per game as opposed to Haller’s 1.93.
Jovic, given his age and production, has garnered much of the hype, but the story of Eintracht Frankfurt’s season is that they have three attackers all of whom are 25 or younger, all of whom are putting up strong numbers and all of whom are outperforming those numbers. Either by strong planning or dumb luck, the team has put together the perfect attacking unit, one that is young, dynamic, and perfectly complementary. It’s no wonder that in addition to currently being the only German team alive in European competitions (even if only barely) they’re also holding onto fourth place in the Bundesliga and on track to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
The Old Man of Valencia
Valencia have had a fascinating season. It’s not just that they started so slowly and are now coming on so strong, it’s that the team as currently constructed is an interesting hodgepodge of young and old.
The kids, players like Carlos Soler, Gonçalo Guedes, Ferrán Torres (as well as Mouctar Diakhaby further back on the field) provide skill and hope for the future, but it’s some of the old hands who have done much to steady the uncertain ship. Specifically, Kevin Gameiro, less than a month from his 32 birthday continues to put up important numbers leading the line for Valencia.
Despite his age, he’s an active defender. He’s happy to drop into Valencia's shape and harass the opposition as they attempt to enter the ball into midfield.
He pairs that defensive willingness with a lethal nose for goal. He only has four goals this season, though his expected goal total is somewhat higher at 5.41. But, he’s also only taken 27 total shots. He’s one of only six players across Europe’s top five leagues this season who have managed at least 0.33 xG per 90 and over 0.20 xG per shot.
Gameiro has shown to have a perfect set of skills for this Valencia side. He doesn’t need the ball a lot, which allows their younger, more exciting players to feature but he’s happy to do all sorts of dirty work from the striker position that lets them shine. Then, on the rare occasions when he does shoot, he does it from absolutely lethal positions. His game is perfectly suited to letting the kids have the spotlight, because he has enough edge to pounce when the opposition fails to take him into account. If Valencia manage to finish their remarkable second half of the season comeback, and nip fourth place at the wire, it will provide them a Champions League platform to feature their exciting prospects next season, but it will be thanks in no small part to the veterans that they got there.