Explaining the Direct Goal-Scorer – Player Role Analysis

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We are now in the home-stretch of our thousand-piece puzzle to break down the various roles that players adopt in a football team. The goal of this series has been to identify how clubs achieve balance within their ranks, by creating a team of players who hold varying roles. We therefore break down the twenty-six player roles that footballers adopt as part of our Role Continuity Evaluation System, identifying the unique job descriptions, metrics for evaluation and the best of the art in 2022 for each category.

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Today’s article is all about the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ – those who hold the key responsibility of racing in behind an opposition defense and finishing off chances. Here is everything you need to know about the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’.

JOB DESCRIPTION & KEY PERFORMERS

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First, we must give credit where credit is due. The term ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ has been adopted by the wonderful work of Andy Watson – a scout for Blackburn Rovers. Andy’s work on his personal blog provided groundbreaking classifications of player roles for scouting purposes, and was used as a comparison tool to ensure we were not missing any roles within our own Role Continuity Evaluation System. While I considered terms like “Enforcer” or “Wide Warrior (W)” for this player type, Andy’s ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ term perfectly sums up the persona, and could not be overlooked. Both Andy and I use terms that have existed long before the both of us worked in the game, including “Ball-Playing Centre-Half” or “Box to Box Midfielder“. But I must give credit to Andy for coining the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ type, and admit my own regret for not being able to come up with a better term.

That regret won’t last long, because it’s a well-constructed term that can broadly cover the exact range of positions that these players often fulfill. The simple fact of the matter is that when it comes to ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’, the key to everything they do is intensity.

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Think Sadio Mané. He’s incredibly dynamic, but also incredibly direct. Throughout his historic reign as Liverpool’s left-winger, Mané was responsible for finding space in behind the opposition’s back-line to finish-off chances. He was incredibly direct with his movements down the wing, and could often float into the centre-forward’s position as Roberto Firmino dropped deep. Crucially, the Liverpool legend also helped to spearhead one of the best pressing units around, by being the intense, tough tackling, non-stop pressing machine among the front three. Here we see the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’s’ role as twofold. It is not just to get in behind and score goals, but it is also to exhibit intensity in everything they do, particularly in their off-the-ball work-rate. These are therefore not only capable scorers of goals, but some of our most defensively-minded wingers.

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Leeds United’s Brenden Aaronson has served as a perfect example during his time at Leeds so far, prioritizing the hard-working pressing sides of the game, and often scoring goals through his intense running and defending, far more than footballing pizzazz. Between Aaronson and the aforementioned Mané, a central tenet clearly emerges. Our ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ simply never stop running. Not only are these players incredibly intense and quick, but they have the stamina and strength to last an entire ninety week in and week out, whilst giving everything for their teams. If they pop up with an added goal, that’s a massive bonus. But if their contributions are simply running in behind to get shots off, that’s also a massive plus. We would assume that most of the top-scoring wingers would exist under this player type, but goal-scoring is only one section of their role. The ‘directness’ to their play is also a critical component, and one that their teams often rely on to achieve success.

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You will often then see that players capable of playing as ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ frequently dovetail as strikers, such as Mané himself, or the great Kylian Mbappé. Brenden Aaronson’s found a home as a ‘number 10’ in Leeds’s system, despite being much more about running power and intensity than creativity and finesse. Like any of our player types, it’s all about achieving equilibrium.

Many ‘Direct-Goal-Scorers’ are balanced out by an ‘Inverted Winger’ or ‘Dynamic Dribbler’ on the other side – typically someone slightly more dynamic on-the-ball than off-the-ball, and creative inside the half-spaces. For CPL fans, you will be well familiar with the left-footed cutting inside of Marco Bustos, as Joshua Heard races in behind the defense from the left. Tottenham Hotspur have the exact same balance – as Dejan Kulusevski plays in the half-spaces and creates magic on-the-ball, and Heung Min-Son surges in behind.

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It’s also important to reiterate the point that we must have made in all of these articles – these player roles can be fluid, and very few players can fit into a singular box 100% of the time. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is quite a fun dribbler, and also a decent creator from the half-spaces. But his key tasks for Napoli center around running, being direct down the wing, and being that ‘throwback winger’ capable of bullying an opposition defense through sheer speed and strength. The goal of ‘Role Continuity’ is that we can establish a baseline player type to quantify the overarching habits players exude across several matches, and use that to evaluate their performances. We are therefore not bothered by the fact that sometimes the likes of Marcus Rashford or Raheem Sterling will play as a centre-forward. In fact, the role is so unique in it’s style that these players will play in the exact same way, with the exact same set of habits, whether deployed off the left, right or up front.

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We therefore felt it important to not just include wingers within this persona, but those direct enforcers that frequently play up front as strikers – including the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Marcus Thuram. This is therefore our only role that transcends two different positions, due to the recognition that just about all of our players within this persona play both as goal-scoring wingers, and as goal-scoring strikers. In order for a striker to qualify, they must have played the wing position frequently throughout their career (e.g. Aubameyang, Thuram), or the last 365 days (e.g. Mbappé, Werner). We haven’t gone overboard with this, recognizing that the player type is similar to our striker persona ‘Channel Runner’, which tends to typify speedy strikers capable of running in behind. But it’s also quite clear that the way Alex Morgan or Beth Mead play up front is incredibly similar to what they accomplish on the wing – running in behind to score great goals at the vital moment. This cannot be discounted, and we must be able to include those players in one succinct category.

MEASURING DIRECT GOAL-SCORERS

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Within our Role Continuity Player Evaluation System, players are first measured by what they are expected to do in their position and role first, accompanied by a secondary role. We utilize statistics to help measure performance, but go far beyond that to incorporate the eye test in analyzing player IQ, awareness and tactical understanding. We can then congregate data to more adequately assess their level of “directness” and “goal-scoring”, alongside their intensity, positioning + movement, and how they contribute to both attacking and defensive phases of the game. So with that, here is how we measure our ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’.

1. ATTACKING THREAT & IQ

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The ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ should be one of the most threatening players on the pitch in any given situation. We would therefore be remised not to assess their ‘attacking threat and IQ’ above anything else. This includes…

  • Decision making on runs in behind, including ability to receive progressive passes
  • Decision making on dribbles, carries and forward thrusts (including dribble %)
  • Decision making in transitional moments, and ability to link play in the attacking half
  • Expected threat (possession-value added)
  • Successful attacking actions %
  • Attacking duel %
  • Creation from open play, set-pieces and crosses
  • Shot on target % + Goal conversion %
  • xG + xA

It’s worth reiterating that ‘threat’ illustrates not what a player contributed in a match, but the success of those contributions. We can therefore adequately assess not just what a player did, but the impact of those actions.

2. ATTACKING CONTRIBUTION

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After establishing threat and IQ as a baseline, we then measure actual attacking output. This includes sheer statistical values that allow us to gain an even greater sense of how successful players were in carrying out their attacking endeavours, and fulfilling their role. This may include their total number of…

  • Shots + shots on target
  • Goal contributions (goals + assists)
  • Goal and shot-creating-actions
  • Dribbles + carries
  • Touches in the attacking third
  • Successful attacking actions + successful attacking duels
  • Key passes, through passes + passes into the penalty area
  • Passes and carries into the final third
  • Fouls won + fouls won to fouls conceded percentage

3. DEFENSIVE IQ + CONTRIBUTION

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As intense, physically adept warriors, ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ must be capable of leading their team’s press, and contributing positively on the defensive spectrum. This includes…

  • Tackle % and decision making when tackling
  • Pressure % and decision making when pressuring
  • Dominance in defensive duels, + combined % of duels won across thirds
  • # of successful defensive actions and defensive duels won
  • Aerial % + aerial duels won
  • Positional awareness and positional discipline
  • Awareness of own strengths vs. strengths of teammates
  • Discipline (e.g. fouls, bookings, and positional discipline)

Unlike other wing types, we care slightly more about the sheer numbers that our ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ put up on the defensive end, since we expect them to be leaders in the clubhouse. Not every winger will contribute to the extent of an Anthony Gordon or Brenden Aaronson, but we still expect that they remain active in pushing and probing whenever out of possession.

4. POSSESSION & DISTRIBUTION

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As the players often ending moves rather than starting them, ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ do not have to be as technically gifted as other wing types. They don’t have to touch the ball all that much, and it’s the impact of those touches in the final third that truly matter. Nevertheless, we can evaluate one over another by how successfully they complete their basic tasks – such as successfully passing the ball to a teammate, or ensuring they don’t find themselves dispossessed. As part of our ‘Possession & Distribution’ score, we measure…

  • Control (touches, miscontrols, dispossessed, passes received %)
  • Passing % + forward passing %
  • Progressiveness (i.e. prog. passes and prog. carries)

5. ABNORMALITIES

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‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ may also be given additional boosts or redactions for any abnormalities that they perform in a match, including the following…

  • Defensive contributions leading to a goal (GCA-Def.)
  • Penalty kicks won, or given away
  • Errors leading to shots or goals
  • Own goals
  • Red cards

While these metrics may affect a player’s rating in a given match, they don’t tend to change a player’s score over the course of a season, unless repeatedly conducted.

So with that, based on the five key evaluation metrics, let’s jump into what you’ve been waiting for – the very best ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ in the world of men’s football as of 2022.

TOP 20 DIRECT GOAL-SCORERS

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When assessing ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’, we’re scanning for wingers with a high shot volume, who display intensity and directness into everything they accomplish. For the first time in this series, we used Wyscout data rather than the services of the StatsBomb-less FBRef, and took into consideration statistics from just the 2022-23 season. Here is how our formidable front-men stack up in 2022.

Rank #Player TeamxG + xAGoal %Def. Duel %
1Kylian MbappéParis Saint Germain0.8820.765.2
2Vinicius JuniorReal Madrid 0.6515.657.8
3Sadio ManéLiverpool0.8718.050.0
4Serge GnabryBayern Munich0.7918.062.9
5Heung Min-SonTottenham Hotspur0.5610.456.0
6Raheem SterlingChelsea0.4417.246.8
7Khvicha KvaratskheliaNapoli0.6616.456.0
8Marcus ThuramMonchengladbach0.6622.661.7
9Marcus Rashford Manchester United0.5214.653.7
10Jarrod BowenWest Ham United0.3215.650.0
11Timo WernerRB Leipzig 0.6721.473.6
12Gabriel MartinelliArsenal 0.5611.652.5
13RicharlisonTottenham Hotspur0.449.5554.2
14Domenico BerardiSassuolo0.4313.351.6
15Ferran TorresFC Barcelona0.6014.747.7
16RodrygoReal Madrid0.8513.545.3
17Ademola LookmanAtalanta0.7628.653.6
18Miguel AlmirónNewcastle United0.3422.971.9
19Giacomo RaspadoriNapoli0.4918.961.9
20Martin TerrierRennes0.4723.957.7

It’s worth noting that Heung Min-Son’s goal conversion is uncharacteristically low this season, especially by his insanely high standards. He’s hitting a bit of a slump for what seems like the first time in his career, scoring in just 2 of his appearances so far this season for a total of 5 goals. Ademola Lookman comes out as a surprise leader in goal conversion this season, whilst boasting an impressive xG + xA of 0.76 per 90. Miguel Almirón also snuck onto our list for his wonderful start to the 2022-23 campaign, including an immaculate 72% defensive dueling rate.

There’s a few players on the list who are only borderline within this player type, as Vinicius Junior could be considered more of a ‘Dynamic Dribbler’; and Domenico Berardi an ‘Inverted Winger’. But by nature of this role encompassing two different positions, we’ve established quite a formidable list of players who perfectly exemplify the role.

PERFECT PROTOTYPES

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Among the twenty names listed above, these are the ten most prototypical ‘Direct-Goal-Scorers’. To rank high on this list, a player should boast a pure sense of directness, goal-scoring, intensity and rough-housing. They should also test lower on behaviours associated with other player types, such as playing more of a creative role in the half-spaces, or frequently using skill and trickery to beat opponents. Here are the names!

Rank #Player TeamShotsDef. Act.PP Rec.
1Sadio ManéLiverpool2.583.6110.4
2Heung Min-SonTottenham Hotspur2.483.686.14
3RicharlisonTottenham Hotspur2.455.156.59
4Gabriel MartinelliArsenal2.115.766.78
5Giacomo RaspadoriNapoli2.634.106.36
6Martin TerrierRennes2.525.837.97
7Marcus RashfordManchester United2.483.715.74
8Serge GnabryBayern Munich2.755.386.83
9Marcus ThuramMonchengladbach2.963.575.50
10Timo WernerRB Leipzig 2.882.5311.8

Since this player type was created with the “Sadio Mané’s of the world” in mind, we have to declare the Bayern man to be the perfect prototype of the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ persona. He’s incredibly direct down that left-wing, and loves running in behind the defense to score great goals. Heung Min-Son, Marcus Rashford and Timo Werner all exhibit the same kind of traits, along different degrees of the spectrum. Werner is an exceptional perceiver of space, Rashford is quite excellent in the press, and, in a normal year, Son is absolutely clinical in front of goal. So when trying to find a suitable replacement for the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ in your club, these are the players to model and marvel after.

CONCLUSION

When on their day, ‘Direct Goal-Scorers’ can be some of the most entertaining footballers to watch, with a sense of raw intensity beating inside their heart every step of the way. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has shown everyone exactly that this season at Serie A leaders Napoli, but the likes of Sadio Mané and Serge Gnabry have demonstrated their goal-scoring exploits for years. Within the Red Bull model of counter-pressing and the Pep Lijnders styled ‘Intensity’ of it all, we may see more defensively-minded wingers under this umbrella in the future, even if their directness does not extend to goal-scoring heroics. Brenden Aaronson is already one such player, and the likes of Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almirón have historically been credited for what they offer off the ball more so than in front of goal. The ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ is therefore not just a groundbreaking mover and shaker in the final third, but an active member of any team’s defensive set-up. All phases of the game are important to the role, and the commanding directness of the player in charge makes them one of the easiest to balance out.

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We must close by reiterating once more that this player type transcends two different positions, due to the fact that the vast majority play both up front and on the wing, to equal effect, and with the exact same set of traits utilized in both casting calls. A player like Kylian Mbappé or Sadio Mané can then be used in either position depending on the match, bolstering their impressive speed in behind wherever they play.


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So there it is! Explaining the ‘Direct Goal-Scorer’ within our Role Continuity Evaluation System. Be sure to check out more from this series as we detail all twenty-six roles, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon! 👊⚽

More in this series…
-> Explaining the Shot Stopper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Sweeper Keeper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Wide Warrior – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Inverted Fullback – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Wing-Back – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Ball-Playing-Centre-Half – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Stopper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Sweeper – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Midfield Destroyer – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Anchor – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Deep-Lying Playmaker – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Shuttler – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Box to Box Midfielder – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Tempo Setter – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Midfield Maestro – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Creative Ten – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Inverted Winger – Player Role Analysis
-> Explaining the Dynamic Dribbler – Player Role Analysis

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Explaining the Midfield Maestro – Player Role Analysis

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