A statistical look at Manchester United's strike force

Chris Brunskill

Manchester United's quartet of strikers is unmatched in the Premier League. One of them is the most efficient goalscorer in the league and it's not who you probably think it is. Here's a statistical look at the lethality of strike force.

After this tweet from @OptaJoe on Sunday on Javier Hernandez's (Chicharito) prolific strike rate this season, it got me curious how the other strikers on the Manchester United squad compare. My interest was further piqued after reading this wonderful piece by We Ain't Got No History on Romelu Lukaku and after Danny Welbeck's positive performance versus Liverpool. Goals aren't everything, of course, but meaningful metrics have yet to be established that can accurately gauge how much a certain player contributes in an attacking move prior to a goal being scored. Below is a look at Premier League goalscoring and shooting statistics for each of United's main four strikers -- Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Chicharito, and Danny Welbeck -- and also a brief discussion on the insight those numbers might tell us.

Robin van Persie

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

van Persie

19

3

1756

17

6

82

35

103.2

4.20

42.7%

* GS = games started, SB = substitution appearance, MIN = minutes played, G = goals scored, A = assists, SH = shot attempts, SoG = shots on goal, Min/G = minutes played per goal scored, SH/90 = shots attempted per 90 minutes played, SH acc = shots on target accuracy

** This table is for the current 2012/13 season

Quite obviously, those are impressive statistics for the Premier League's best player and leading goalscorer. He's currently on pace to score 29 league goals and that would likely result in him winning all of the player of the year awards again this season. For comparison's sake, he's been much more efficient, in regards to scoring goals, than Liverpool's Luis Suarez -- his main competition for the golden boot and player of the year. The Uruguayan has an impressive 15 goals and he scores he scores a goal every 125.8 minutes. He does, though, attempt 5.87 shots every 90 minutes and his shot accuracy is just 34.1%.

How does van Persie now compare to his prolific 2011/12 season for Arsenal? Here are the numbers:

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

van Persie

37

1

3334

30

9

174

82

111.1

4.70

47.1%

As you can see, the numbers are very similar to this season's return. Thus, I think it's reasonable to anticipate van Persie continuing with his current phenomenal form for the remainder of this campaign. It really is incredible how good the Dutchman has been these past two years. If Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo weren't aliens, van Persie would certainly be in the discussion for best player in the world. He, along with Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao, Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Napoli's Edinson Cavani, are certainly rivals for being the world's best No.9.

WAYNE ROONEY

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Rooney

12

2

1086

7

7

52

23

155.1

4.30

44.2%

* 2012/13 season

Rooney is a man that wears many hats for United. This season, he's been deployed in mostly deeper roles -- typically as a No.10 but at times in central-midfield as well. The England international has shown a willingness to mix it up in the center of the park. Thus, it's hardly surprising that his goalscoring rate doesn't compare well to van Persie's (not that many others compare well either). He does shoot plenty, though, as his 4.30 attempts per game is marginally more than the Dutchman's.

Rooney's 2011/12 statistics are interesting:

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Rooney

32

2

2839

27

4

157

70

105.1

4.98

44.6%

Last season, Rooney played what was maybe a 'nine-and-a-half' sort of role -- especially when partnered by Welbeck. He dropped deep to the collect the ball in the space between the opposition's lines, but he was much lazier with his defensive responsibilities. In addition, he was actually quite poor for many months when he dropped deep as he sputtered countless attacks with either a poor touch or a bad decision. He did, though, do generally well to finish his chances. His goalscoring numbers were somewhat aided by being United's chief penalty taker.

Going back a little further, it's interesting that his 2011/12 numbers are comparable to Rooney's 2009/10 season -- a campaign when he genuinely was a world-class No.9 (a 'false 9' is a more accurate description). He often led the attacking line in a 4-3-3 or it was Dimitar Berbatov that played in behind him in a 4-4-1-1. Wazza scored 26 league goals then with a strike rate of a goal every 104.7 minutes.

JAVIER HERNANDEZ

Perhaps the most stunning statistic is that Chicharito is currently bagging a goal every 75 minutes in league. For comparison's sake, amongst the other top ten league scorers, Manchester City's Edin Dzeko is next with a goal every 89 minutes while van Persie is third with a goal every 103 minutes. The Mexican international has been an assassin.

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Hernandez

5

8

598

8

2

30

16

74.8

4.51

53.3%

* 2012/13 season statistics

It's been a terrific season for Chicharito and because of the tremendous strike force options at Sir Alex Ferguson's disposal, he simply hasn't played as much as he deserves. He uses the threat of his pace and clever movement to be a nuisance in behind the defense while this also creates space underneath for the likes of Rooney, van Persie, and Shinji Kagawa. He's lethal in the box (all career 31 league goals have occurred there) and this is evident by his efficiency. It's nice to see the Mexican striker in-form again after struggling a bit last season:

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Hernandez

18

10

1476

10

2

47 22

147.6

2.87

46.8%

* 2011/12 season statistics

Chicharito was a revelation during his debut season in 2010/11. His strike is incredible this season, and it was a tad disappointing during the last one, but perhaps his 2010/11 is a reasonable expectation for a return rate. Here are those statistics:

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Hernandez

15

12

1486

13

1

54

24

114.3

3.27

44.4%

* 2010/11 season statistics

DANNY WELBECK

The 22-year-old is a tremendous talent and he's been lauded for his all-around ability: he's very athletic, his movement is extraordinary, and his ability to combine in the attacking third is impressive. He has, though, failed to be a consistent finisher at United. Here are some of his league statistics for this season:

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Welbeck

7

8

753

1

3

23

5

753

2.75

21.7%

Those are obviously shocking numbers. For Welbeck's sake, it's too bad that there are no reliable metrics to determine his worth in the build-up of attacking moves. Undoubtedly though, his finishing ability must improve if he's ever to become a top-class striker. A few goals will instantly improve his strike rate.

Last season, the youngster was fairly solid in his first full-time opportunity with United's first-team. He has a good understanding with Rooney and some of his combination play was sublime at times. Still though, he simply didn't score enough.

TBB

GS

SB

MIN

G

A

SH

SoG

Min/G

SH/90

SH acc

Welbeck

23

7

2018

9

4

80

34

224.2

3.57

42.5%

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