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Three seasons of game-changing goals from the best of the best ... and Fernando Torres

Lars Baron

We've talked game-changing goals several times before, so the concept should be familiar by now. If you're new or need a refresher, here's your required reading/pre-work. Though there is one new idea, a percentage to reflect just how many of his team's total GCGs (and GCG+s) the player in question scored that season ('Team%').

The idea today is to evaluate the game's premier scoring talents over the last three seasons to see who ends up at the top of the game-changing pile*. Hopefully this information can then serve as another data point when talking, debating, and comparing all these world class strikers (and Fernando Torres).

Three seasons may sound a bit arbitrary, but it meshes well with the rise to dominance for many of these strikers - whether that be scoring goals (Cavani) or causing debates (Torres). It also strikes a nice balance between sample size and my work load.

FERNANDO TORRES, 29 (Liverpool, Chelsea)

Let's start with the boy we know and ... love ... so much. Scorer of the least celebrated and most unremarkable 20+ goals ever this past season, Torres has struggled for much of the previous three years and the numbers reflect that very well:


This last season shows marked improvement - although one could argue the only way was up after that miserable first year and a half at Chelsea - as when he did score, he tended to score goals that mattered. Since we're not really worried about opposition strength or manner of competition right now, we can proudly declare that more than half of Fernando's goals changed the game and less than a quarter of his goals came at garbage time or in matches that were already decided.

That being said, Chelsea did not rely on Torres at all in terms of total production, his contribution percentage in the teens lowest among all examined in this roundup.

ROBIN van PERSIE, 29 (Arsenal, Manchester United)

At the opposite end, especially in his last season at Arsenal (44% !), we have the Dutch striker:


Spoiler alert: at the 20+ GCG level, nobody really comes all that close to 70% (i.e. scoring that many important goals) and van Persie has now done it twice! Remarkable how annoyingly good he is at this sort of thing, even more so once you consider that he plays alongside equally annoying (in terms of scoring late, deciding goals) Javier Hernandez.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC, 31 (FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain)

Unsurprisingly, one player who does come close - if we include the goals scored at +2 and -2 (i.e. GCG+) - is the elder statesman of this roundup, the one and only Zlatan:


Consistently above 80% on the GCG+ with totals at or near 30 game-changers. It's a rather exclusive club, this 30/80, although we'll have to add another member right now...


That's right, El Matador, himself.


Cavani's consistency is quite remarkable. Right around 20 GCGs (~60% of his goal total) and right around 30 GCG+'s (~90% of his goal total) each of his last three seasons. He doesn't just score a lot, he scores a lot when it matters.

There could be an argument that Napoli has less overall talent than most other teams mentioned in this article - note as well that he has 40%+ of all of the team's game-changing strikes as supporting evidence - but Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik are no slouches by any means and Cavani's numbers compare favorably to another world class striker who has been surrounded by a similar level of talent.

RADAMEL FALCAO, 27 (FC Porto, Atlético Madrid)

While Falcao also displays remarkable consistency - even through switching teams - it is at a slightly lower level when compared with the Uruguayan:


So while game-changing goals is just a simple statistical concept and by no means should it be taken as anything definitive, Falcao shines just slightly less than Cavani. Add in the versatility (and the perfect hair) and the urge to see a proper Spanish-speaking striker in the correct shade of Blue becomes all that much greater.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI, 24 (Borussia Dortmund)

Before we move on, let's look at the youngest of the bunch and the third of this summer's highly coveted strikers.


Lewandowski has only been first choice at BVB for a couple seasons so his 2010-11 numbers are not really relevant. His last season is quite comparable to Falcao however. In fact, it's almost identical despite being relied on much less by the team overall.

LIONEL MESSI, 26 (FC Barcelona)

Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are on another level all by themselves so it would be silly to compare them to anybody else but each other.


Once you score beyond a certain amount, it becomes harder and harder to truly keep affecting the game. So when Messi scores four or five in a match, unless Barcelona also give up as many, only a few of his strikes will actually affect the win probability in any decent measure.

Still, nearly half of his ridiculous amount of goals have been game-changers in two out of the last three seasons and this past season he even broke the 80% mark for GCG+. No wonder we're hearing fresh worries about Messidependencia - just imagine what these numbers would look like if we found a way to include assists (primary and secondary).


Similar story in Madrid as in Barcelona:


Certainly that first season in the table is none too impressive, with just 14 of his 53 goals being classed as game-changers, but his last two could be considered on-par with much of what Messi has accomplished. In fact, Cristiano Ronaldo's 28 game-changing goals in 2011-12 match Robin van Persie's record total from his last season at Arsenal.

Raw totals are nice and all but let's attempt to bring the playing field into one cohesive picture and look at minutes-per-GCG. This should also un-bias the extreme goal totals of the Messis and the Cristianos a little bit.


The two rightmost data points are cut off because they are literally off-the-charts bad. AT the other end, the ten best are mostly a trio of repeating names: Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Cavani.

Expanding to include the AGCGs:


Still dominated by the duo in Spain but there's that sneaky Edinson Cavani once again sliding into third place there. Sign him up!

* all minutes and goals data from Soccerway

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