Being labelled a one-man team is viewed as a negative in football. It’s a slight on the other players in the side and gives the impression team-mates wouldn’t be able to function effectively without the star individual.
However, is it really a negative to have one player who manages to bring everything together? That one person who seems to be the filter for all things good going forward? For all the pretty build-up play a team needs that one attacker who can convert it into attempts on goal.
As long as their involvement isn’t detrimental to the style of a team, there’s really no issue with being reliant on an individual.
There was outrage in October when Pep Guardiola referred to Tottenham Hotspur as “the Harry Kane team” in passing during a press conference.
The Manchester City manager was complimenting Spurs, suggesting they manage to score two or three goals every game, but by name checking the England forward it was viewed as disrespectful to the likes of Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.
But just how wide of the mark was the former Barcelona coach? Here at Football Whispers, we’ve used xG (expected goals) and xA (expected goals assisted) to determine which forward has been the most involved for their respective teams so far this season.
Why have we used those particular stats? Generally, an attacker’s job is to be a key part in as many chances of as high a quality as possible. Over the course of a season, certain players will be more involved in more of their team’s shots than others, either taking them or creating them. They are important to a way a team plays football.
Importance here is defined as the percentage contribution to their team’s xG. For example, if Team X has 20 expected goals, and Player Y has taken shots of five xG and assisted those of five xG, his contribution would be 50 per cent. The higher the percentage the more involved they are.
More often than not, a team’s most influential attacking player is their central forward. This is unsurprising, as most tactical systems are set up to create a goal-scoring focal point.
The Premier League’s most involved attackers
There are a number of surprises in the graphic above but the elephant in the room needs addressing. It seems as though Guardiola’s comment about Mauricio Pochettino’s men being “the Harry Kane” team wasn’t disrespectful or belittling, he had a point.
The England striker is responsible for an incredible 42 per cent of Spurs’ xG this season. However, only two per cent of that comes from xA, showing the 24-year-old is much more ruthless in his pursuit for goals.
Mohamed Salah is a close second with the Egyptian responsible for 38 per cent of Liverpool‘s 57.89 xG. The former Roma man has been a revelation since moving to Merseyside last summer and is the club’s biggest goal threat.
Surprisingly, Richarlison ranks third on the list just shy of Salah’s total and one per cent up on Romelu Lukaku. That’s not to suggest the Brazilian is as good as those two players, just that he’s been heavily involved in Watford’s limited attacking numbers despite a noticeable dip in form in the second half of the season.
It’s a similar story with Stoke City, Southampton, Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town. Like Watford, all four sides haven’t settled on a starting striker for most of the season and this has resulted in wide forwards leading the way for xG involvement – Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has had a hand in just under 30 per cent of the Potters’ xG which shows just how instrumental the summer signing has been.
Liverpool transfer target Dušan Tadić leads the way for the Saints but has been involved in just 18 per cent of their xG. There’s been no continuity at St Mary’s and this has blunted the Serbian playmaker. Not only has he been unable to create openings for team-mates, he’s been unable to get himself into high quality positions with great frequency.
David Wagner has switched between Steve Mounié and Laurent Depoitre, meaning neither player has been able to influence proceedings for the Terriers in the same way as Tom Ince. While at Bournemouth Joshua King has benefitted from more first team minutes than the likes of Jermain Defoe, Junior Stanislas and Callum Wilson.
Brighton and Hove Albion have often been labelled as a one-man team of late, with Glenn Murray getting the majority of the plaudits, but the in-form forward is responsible for just 23 per cent of their xG this season. He’s key to their set-up but not so much so that without him they wouldn’t know what to do.
The Belgian forward has dictated Palace’s season and his inability to convert chances is why the Eagles aren’t soaring high above the relegation zone – he’s only found the back of the net on two occasions despite his xG being close to ten.
As shown on the graphic, he doesn’t create many chances for others so his sole contribution to the team is often his ability to put the ball into the back of the net. A combination of poor finishing and bad luck has plagued the former Aston Villa striker throughout the campaign.
So it appears one-man teams aren’t bad if the player tasked with being the main output for the attack is reliable. It’s when they’re not that it becomes an issue.