Over the last week or so, I covered two methods in which we should judge forwards for their goal production. Rather than just looking at goals and assists, I argued that we should look at shots on goal rates and chances created rates – following the process that leads to goals instead of the fickle nature of goals themselves. Right after I’d done that, I did some work for Barca Blaugranes combining the two statistics to try to find all around forwards in the game – forwards that will produce both with their passing and with their shooting.
Today I want to do that again, but this time I want to do it with the future in mind. If you want to find the best overall forward in today’s game, you’re inevitably going to end up with Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Luis Suarez at the top of the list – probably in that order. Instead, I wanted to take a look at some more unheralded forwards. Forwards that still have a potential to prove to Europe. To do this, I looked for forwards 23 years old (or young) that had played at least 250 minutes this season and fewer than 1,500 minutes last season. Basically I wanted forwards that were good enough to play at least a few minutes per match now but that weren’t good enough to be an undisputed started a year ago. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a good way to weed out the guys like Neymar – who’ve already shown why they’re so revered.
Those parameters left me with 52 players from Europe’s top five leagues. 52 forwards that look to be at least decent down with time to turn their talent into stardom. The next step was to run the numbers. I looked at their shots and shot on target rates as well as their chances created rates. Here’s what those players look like on a graph:
You’ll notice one dot hanging out in the upper right hand corner – that’s the really good corner. That’s the corner for guys who create shots via passing well while shooting really well, too – and there’s one guy up there. His name is Alvaro Morata – forward for Juventus – and he’s got a really bright future.
At just 23 years of age he’s already consistently putting the ball on target over 55% of the time. Over the last four years (roughly 2,700 minutes), he’s averaged a 59% shot accuracy – resulting in 2.30 balls being put on target per 90 minutes by young Spaniard. On top of that, he’s becoming more of a creative player under Max Allegri.
While in Spain, he was your standard target man – and his numbers reflected that. In 2012/13, he averaged just 0.89 chances created per 90 minutes with 2.70 shots per 90 minutes. The following is Morata’s heat map from his match against Osasuna, provided by whoscored.com.
While he’s mobile throughout the match, he clearly stays located centrally – which only the occasional variation from the norm. He was a very central player who didn’t create very much for others. The player who received the balls with his back to the goal and shot – and he did that well, averaging 4.16 shots on target per 90 minutes in 2013/14 – which prompted Ted Knutson to write about him being a future star.
When he moved to Italy, though, Allegri had different plans for him. His passing distances and averages both went up, and while that results in a drop in shot accuracy he still maintained great rates of putting the ball on target. To this point in the 2015/16 season, Morata is averaging 2.20 chances created per 90 minutes while putting the ball on target with 55% of his shots (and over 2 times per 90 minutes). His role has changed, and that’s led to a slight decrease in his shooting ability – but it’s raised his value exponentially. Take, for example, his match against Cessena last season.
Morata moved all over the pitch, scoring one goal and assisting the other in Juve’s 2-2 draw. Allegri taking advantage of Morata’s mobility has turned him into a complete forward – one capable of beating you with a pass or shot, while possessing the ability to dribble into space or receive the ball with his back to the goal to create space for others.
Morata is slowly building into a rare hybrid of strikers, and it’s making him incredibly valuable with each passing match. With the exception of 2013/14 – where he averaged over 8 shots per 90 minutes – Morata’s rate of directly influencing shots on target has climbed every year – which is a great indication for his future.
Morata’s ability to create plays and space for others while remaining a consistently accurate striker bodes well for whatever team he plays for, and his consistent improvement suggests he’s got the potential to be a star. While he hasn’t “broken out” in terms of goals or assists, his style and abilities continually put him in position to be a great, great player – one that’s going to be very good for a very long time.