Different types of Attacking-Midfielders; a thought starter

Disclaimer; this post isn’t about Ozil. Much.

Mesut Ozil is killing it this season.

With over 15 assists already, the German international is on course to hit and surpass Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists in a Premier League season (anyone else unsurprised that this is another Arsenal player under Wenger who holds this accolade?) – But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the stick that Arsenal’s record signing got in the first season and a half he spent in North London. As the narrative goes, Mesut was not a big game player nor was he the type to be prolific in front of goal.


This tweet by Simon Brundish got me thinking; how long should different types of players be given to make an ‘impact’?

Let’s examine another player alongside Ozil; Alexis Sanchez. Arguably, he also counts as an attacking-midfielder and I’m sure it cannot be argued that his debut Premier League season was better than Ozil’s.

Where Ozil played 2150 minutes in the Premier League, scored 5 goals and registered 9 assists (a scoring contribution of 0.586 per 90) in his first season, Sanchez played 2953 minutes, scoring 16 goals and 8 assists (a scoring contribution of 0.732 per 90)

So Alexis had a higher impact; but ultimately, they are two very different attacking midfielders. Where Ozil is a ‘creator’ and a orchastrator, Alexis is perhaps more direct. Let’s see if this hypothesis holds.

Alexis took 3.5 shots per game, made 2.3 key passes and attempted 3.3 dribbles per game. Conversely, Mesut’s first season yielded 1.2 shots per game, 2.9 key passes and 1.7 dribbles.

Already we can see Ozil’s emphasis on creating chances than attacking a full back, and perhaps this is why he tended to play narrow for Arsenal even when placed on the wing.

But the secondary factor is this; where Alexis’ game relies upon getting the ball, attacking individually, receiving and letting shots fly, Ozil needs to have the movement, space and time to pick out the passes he wants to make. And this would require the players around him to also understand his game.

The purpose of this post is Liverpool’s #11, Roberto Firmino. As a rule of thumb (which stems from probably a comfort with multiples of 5), pundits refer to a great midfield player as someone who posts 10 goals and 10 assists a season.

In Ozil’s three seasons with Real, he averaged about 6 goals and 15 assists per season.
Alexis at Barca in his three La Liga seasons averaged 13 goals and 8 assists per season.

So where does this leave Bobby Firmino? In his last 3 seasons at Hoffenheim, he averaged 9 goals and 8 assists a season – so perhaps a bit more balanced than the examples examined above. Last season, he took 2.9 shots per game, made 2.1 key passes and 4.2 dribbles – which actually points him to be closer to Sanchez than Ozil in this comparison – his scoring contribution was (in 2918 minutes played) 0.524, with 7 goals and 10 assists. These came in 33 starts, and was slightly down from his previous season. Another factor to his slow start at Anfield could be starting every game two seasons back to back, and representing Brazil at the Copa America this summer.But I am no sports scientist and cannot speculate on this in an informed manner.

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Using just one example of comparing Ozil and Alexis (given their 3 season stints in Spain prior to joining Arsenal), this could be a reason why Firmino is taking time to bed into Liverpool.

From my understanding, attacking midfielders can be ‘a Sanchez’; a direct runner, who takes a lot of shots, is good with the ball at their feet. Or, they could be more of ‘an Ozil’; less shots, more creativity, with an emphasis on assisting than scoring. The latter I feel requires a few things.

  • Understanding the role; making sure that the role and all the tasks a player has to complete on the pitch are understood and being met – and that they are comfortable doing so
  • Cohesion with teammates; for Ozil, players need to trust that if they make the run, Ozil can find them, and similarly that if they are to utilise his creativity, the man needs space. This positional understanding, trust & chemistry are important to ensure moves look as fluid as they can.
  • Acclimatising mentally & physically; this includes on and off the pitch. On the pitch, the pace, space and movement need to be adapted for the environment an attacking midfielder finds themselves, and off the pitch, the club should ensure that the player is in the right state of mind to perform and ‘hit the ground running’

In this vein, I feel that though Firmino may not have sparkled, his passing networks and interplay with his team-mates will increase similar to Ozil’s has, and he possesses the ability to run at full-backs and contribute in a way that Sanchez can. It’ll be interesting to see how Klopp utilises and changes the use of the Brazilian midfielder.


Squad Development, Signings & a new Season

NB: My glossary of terms can be found here.
At the turn of the year, the Tractor Boys were in a field of glory, after a run of 11 games unbeaten meant they entered the new year in second place, with huge optimism flowing out of Suffolk. Daryl Murphy was in a rich vein of form, scoring left, right and centre, finishing with an impressive 0.71 Scoring Contribution (NPG+A) per 90 (0.577 NPG p90)  – The position of the team was a surprise for all, including many fans who were pleasantly surprised by the teams affluence, and a 32 year old Irishman in the form of his life.

Last season wasn’t to be though, as the depth of the squad showed and financially better off teams such as Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich showed that quality does often shine through and Ipswich fell foul to a regression to the mean. However, this has not dampened any of the hopes of the Blues following who are certain that Mick McCarthy’s men can be surprise promotion challengers once more.

“A play-off squad with an automatic promotion manager”

When Mick McCarthy took over from Paul Jewell, Ipswich were dangerously close to finally slipping into the third tier of English football – And the team just haven’t looked back since. McCarthy’s distinct, defence first functional style of play is sneered at by many, but McCarthy and his trusted assistant Terry Connor are seasoned professionals in navigating the often underestimated waters of the Championship – A league which Ipswich are entering a record 14th straight season in.

What does this season hold for Ipswich?


Transfer Business

Many of the fringe players and free agents signed by McCarthy were released at the start of the window, and perhaps most lamented by many fans was the release of Paul Anderson. I liked Anderson, his creative outputs were good, at 2.34 per 90 and 0.33 Assists per 90. This was linked to the amount of goals Ipswich scored from set-pieces (12 from corners, 7 from crossed free-kicks – The most indirect set-piece goals in the league last year).

The most notable departure was Tyrone Mings, departing for newly promoted Bournemouth for a sizeable £8m, with Ryan Fraser joining the East Anglian side on loan as well as Brett Pitman joining for ‘no fee’. This was an incredible piece of business for all involved; Fraser will be able to kick on from his impressive 2.58 Key Pass + Assists per 90 whilst Brett Pitman featured as a potential  ready-made replacement were Dary l Murphy to leave. (My earlier post regarding this can be found here). Murphy signing a new deal was more of a talismanic move – The Irishman had his best season since scoring 10 goals and registering 11 assists for Sunderland in 2006-07. His form and aerial ability had the likes of Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff reportedly sniffing around – And Ipswich must have been tempted to cash in on an ageing striker. His role this season will be to continue his rich vein of life as a central striker, and develop the game of others around him – as he did with Sears for the latter stages of last season.

Not a lot is known about Jonas Knudsen, signed from Danish outfit Esbjerg but following a pre-season friendly where he made a second half debut against FC Utrecht, he has already endeared himself to fans as a cult hero, as he reportedly has a cannon as a left-boot to match his rocket of a long-throw. Given Ipswich’s aerial ability – 48% of all aerials won, second in the league for total aerials contested (2383) – This addition will only add to the hustle Town’s players will cause in the opposition area.

Add the loan addition of Ainsley Maitland-Niles from Arsenal, a promising young winger who has appeared on the bench last season for the Gunners as well as squad bolstering Giles Coke and Larsen Touré, with the potential for Jonathan Douglas signing later this week and Ipswich’s squad looks to be built upon a solid base, allowing the attacking quartet of Murphy, McGoldrick, Sears and Pitman to feed off the direct style of play McCarthy has brought to Town.

Key Players

The spine of Berra, Skuse, McGoldrick and Murphy is seen as pivotal to build a team around. Berra is suspended for the start of the season, but being dominant in the air (4.49 Aerials Won per 90) and ranking second in possession turnovers (Unsuccessful Touches + Dispossessed per 90) – Berra plus one other of Smith or Chambers is widely seen as the central defensive pairing of choice.


Murphy’s aerial dominance is huge with a win (42% success) off a huge 457 contested aerials; only Rudy Gestede (now of Aston Villa), Igor Vetekele & Atdhe Nuhiu contesting more aerials. David McGoldrick took had a shots per 90 of 3.96 and a conversion rate of 2.1% from within the penalty area – The lowest among strikers who played >1500 minutes. Given the amount of shots he took 96, a surprising 56 came from outside the box – the second highest amongst strikers in the League with only Ross McCormack shooting more frequently from long-range.

An interesting trend I saw within the Ipswich team last season was the obvious difference between shot takes and chance creators (Key Pass + Assists per 90) is very much defined by position. For other teams, this split isn’t as distinct with a few midfielders in the spectrum of creating & shooting – Perhaps an area which the squad needs to strengthen to mount a true promotion challenge – The blank space in between the shooters and creators, the upper right quadrant is where Ipswich can/should look to push on. It’s where I think the signing of Jonathan Douglas will help develop this further, as well as bringing much needed nous and experience to the midfield.


I was interested in this, so I’ve included a the full map with all teams (filtered for players with >500 mins played) just to see trends. I’ve posted the full picture below, but I’ll add a link to the Tableau Public dashboard later.


For notable other Ipswich players, Teddy Bishop is a player who a lot is being made of. When introduced in during October, he was much needed as a player who would fearlessly pick the ball up and look forward. Much of the fanbase enjoyed this, as the common (mis)conception of Skuse passing sideways and backward were continually being bandied about. Of course, as the season progressed the value that Skuse brought as a calm presence recycling and reusing the ball was essential to the run that Ipswich embarked on in the winter of 2014.

My lukewarm tips are Bishop and Pitman to really impress. I can see Pitman displacing Murphy around the middle of the year, and along with the other two strikers, the competition for starting XI spots will be more fiercely contested than ever. Bishop will have a year of experience in this league under his belt, and may be trusted to complete some full 90s this year (according to TransferMarkt, Bishop did not finish a game – Started 23 and was subbed in all of the appearances). Pitman is one player who I saw was a good  looking player, but never thought he would be available for transfer. As a player, I’d position him in the space between Murphy and McGoldrick, which is an awesome idea.


The notion amongst fans is that par for the season will be play-offs. With a bit of squad cohesion and development, there is an agreement that automatic promotion is possible, but the financial muscle and strength in squad depth of other teams might weigh against Ipswich. The Championship as a league which is full of talented players. I won’t attempt to predict McCarthy’s ‘preferred eleven’ as I feel as though each team will be set up differently, for a draw away and a more pragmatic attacking feel to their home performances.

Expect Ipswich to continue their unflattering style of functional football, littered with set-piece profligacy and direct channels of play. The energy and dynamism across all the positions will highlight the hardworking ethos which has been drilled into a team who plays under Mick McCarthy.

UPDATE: Check out the published workbook.

The Football League Awards – The Case for Daryl Murphy, Ipswich Town FC

The transformation and renaissance of Daryl Murphy has been incredible this season.

Aged 32 years old, the Irishman joined Ipswich Town permanently following three separate loan spells with the Blues, and since being moved to a more central position, has flourished. The 6 ft 3 striker is the current top scorer in the Championship this season, and has lit up Portman Road this season with some wonderful performances. Under Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor, Murphy’s finishing has improved and his work-rate is as faultless as it has been in the previous three spells.


Much of Murphy’s career was spent on the left hand side due to his reliance on his left foot (14/24 of his goals have been with his left – 7 headers and 3 with his right foot) and his weaker foot was highlighted when he missed a glaring opportunity to put Ipswich 2-1 up against Brentford last month straight after half-time.

The above graphic from Squawka shows the placement of Murphy’s goal placement – These are more varied than the other two contenders, Bamford and Deeney, and similarly a majority of his goals are taken from within the 18 yard area – with two long shots taken as well (vs. Cardiff and Brighton – I believe?)

Shots however, are where I feel Murphy (and to an extent his injured partner in crime David McGoldrick) fall down – The two have taken he most shots in the league, which could attribute to Murphy’s profilic goalscoring (though some have been goals of real quality)


This moved Murphy’s conversion rate (goals per shot taken) to 15.8% – lower than that of Bamford (16.8%) and Deeney (17.3%) – He is also the main contributor to Ipswich’s goals with 35% of the goals scored in the Championship this season scored by the number 9. This said, his goalscoring has dropped off in 2015 along with Ipswich’s form and the emergence of new signing Freddie Sears. However, this has allowed Murphy to display his other attributes – his aerial prowess through flick ons and wins, as well as his tireless running along the opposition back four. Holding up the ball has meant that he has been able to bring other players into the game as Ipswich move forward.

The style that Ipswich have played this season of long forward passes and organised pressing/hard work has suited the attributes of Murphy’s game and this has been evidenced in his excellent season. The ITFC Player of the Year is a a front-running contender in the race for Championship Player of the Season, but Troy Deeney is arguably more deserving due to his prolific nature for the past three seasons. This said, without Murphy’s impact and influence, it could be argued that Ipswich – on their shoestring budget – would not be contending at the level they have found themselves this season, surrounded by teams with far better squads and finances.

The Football League Awards – The Case for Patrick Bamford, Middlesbrough FC

Patrick Bamford. Where to start with this guy.

Chelsea spent £1.5m on the then 18 year old after just 12 minutes of first-team football for Nottingham Forest, following scintillating displays in the FA Youth Cup – scoring 9 goals over two rounds (four goals in a 5-1 win at Southampton and five in the previous round – a 9-1 hammering of Wigan) meant the London club spent big on a prospective attacking midfielder or striker – a ‘centre forward’. Since moving to Chelsea, the youngster has been on loan at MK Dons, Derby and finally a season long loan at Middlesbrough which has lead to his nomination for both Young Player of the Year as well as Championship Player of the Year.

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Slightly different for Bamford, given he’s been farmed out on loan by the youngster-averse Chelsea FC – But he has excelled in the league, wherever he has been. Bamford is a player who thrives in the box – His pace, good feet and excellent finishing makes him a formidable asset to have. Boro have utilised him often behind a striker, and Bamford often overlaps to chase onto a flick on. Karanka’s system of patient, calm football means opponents are worn down before Bamford pulls his pacy party trick out of the bag – He twice made Tommy Smith of Ipswich look a fool as he cleverly outpaced the New Zealander to slot home two very good goals.

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Like Deeney, Bamford does a lot of his work within the 18-yard box. He loves to finish into the bottom right hand corner, as his two goals against Ipswich showed. Leadbitter, Reach and Lee Tomlin have all assisted 3 Bamford goals each, whilst Bamford himself has contributed to 5 goals in addition to his 17 (unsure why Squawka are only showing 16 in 36.. Dubious goals?)

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Bamford’s contribution of 17 goals is 27% of the total of 64 goals scored by Boro this term, and the Chelsea loanee has contributed 25 key passes, and taken 93 shots.

So, Patrick Bamford has played the least amount of minutes than the other two nominated for Player of the Season. Bamford has no doubt shown glimpses of real talent, and for me should be given a run in the Chelsea side (He probably won’t) but his inconsistent use as well as wider contribution to the team has been arguably less so than other players within the Championship. Many fans and players may feel slightly hard done by the inclusion of Bamford in a top 3 for the second tier of English football – but none will doubt the talent the youngster has.

The Football League Awards – The Case for Troy Deeney, Watford FC

It’s that (um, let’s say interesting) time of year again where managers choose their players of the season for the Sky Bet Football League Awards *fanfare*. These are always interesting as there are so many people who are put out and/or disapprove of the choices. This year has been no different (but I’ll delve into that in a later post)

First, let’s look at Watford’s Tory Deeney (arguably the favourite to win the award) For the past three seasons, Deeney has been Mr. Watford – Now the captain, he has had another excellent season for the Hornets.

Deeney signed in 2010, and this has been his goalscoring output since;

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(Source: TransferMarkt)

The striker has scored around 20 goals a year for the past three seasons, and aged just 26 years old, it could be argued he is at the peak of his powers. A strong striker who looks to bring others into play, Deeney has positioned himself at the top of the Championship and contributes heavily to the wider team.

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The above shot positioning, taken from Squawka, highlights his finishing prowess from ‘good’ areas within the box. The fact that Deeney finds himself in so many good positions is a tribute to his attacking movement and ability to harrass defenders. Watford’s number 9 likes to take long shots, 33/110 being from outside the box, but he is yet to score from this range. The striker is also fairly creative, and has contributed 8 assists as well as 58 ‘key passes’.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 13.20.23Above are the goal appearances from Troy Deeney, again from Squawka, and 13 of his goals have come from his right foot, scoring just 3 headers. 44% of Deeney’s shot have been on target, and he has missed one penalty.

With the likes of Ighalo and Vydra often around him, the Watford attack has often terrorised defences – especially after the turn of the year. His combination play with both Anya and Guédioura has lead to six of his goals (3 assists each for Anya & Guédioura), and Watford have scored 87 goals this season – just 2 less than top scorers Bournemouth with three games to go.

His contribution to the team is the same as his strike partner Ighalo – Both scoring 20 goals amounting to 23% of Watford’s goals this season – Deeney, however, has had a hand in 28, whilst Ighalo has only registered 2 assists to add to his 20 scored.

This could be a big step for Troy Deeney, as he is being touted by many as one who would want to ply his trade in the Premier League to see if he can perform at the highest level – As Charlie Austin has, as previous winner Danny Ings has shown. So, should Watford miss out on promotion again, it will be interesting to see which managers and clubs take a risk in the prolific striker. But this season, Deeney can be proud of his performance as he has had an excellent season overall.

Confidence crisis or minor blip?

This season, for Ipswich, has been one of over-achievement; entering 2015 in an automatic promotion place, with many fans truly believing that this was the year where the longest-serving Championship side would finally not only gain promotion, but even challenge for the title.

Good spirits over Christmas saw the Blues embark on a terrific run of games, with a unbeaten record stretching back three months – the Boxing Day performance against Brentford and the following victory against Charlton exhibited a side which were well drilled, organised, hardworking and most importantly, gelling excellently as a unit. For me, this was a luxury – Ipswich have, and had, no right to be challenging the likes of Bournemouth, Middlesborough, Derby for the automatic berths. Yet with solid defensive displays and tireless work from the midfield and attack, there they were.

Yet, on the horizon was a hiccup – A loss against Derby, followed by a replay against Premier League Southampton proved a stumbling block and Ipswich now find themselves with just 1 win in the last 5. So what’s gone wrong? In this post, I’m going to compare the shots taken by Ipswich in *that* run in December vs the last 5 games.

Shot dominance is a good indicator of profligacy, as the more shots that a team takes shows the amount of ‘chances’ created. I’ve also looked at the locations of the shots, but not included screencaps. It’s worth looking at the dashboards on WhoScored by clicking the scoreline or match report for more detail of each fixture.

Delightful December

December was a key run of games for Ipswich, with the British festive period busy given the packed schedule; against Leeds, Bolton, Middlesbrough, Brentford and Charlton. The Tractor Boys ended December with 13 points from a possible 15.


Despite going down to an early goal, Ipswich picked up their game and began to dominate after pulling a goal ahead.


Ipswich really should have won this game, but from memory, Andy Lonergan had an incredible game in goal from Bolton. Quite notable is the fast starts after half-time but also after kick-off.


The game against Middlesbrough was one of the most assured and organised games I’d seen Ipswich play. From the off they quelled the Boro attack, and only from corners did the Northerners look dangerous.


This was a massive advert for Championship football. Two teams flying high, and Ipswich were 3-0 within half an hour, with Murphy scoring a fantastically fast goal. Slight stagnation after the third goal in terms of  shots taken, which Brentford capitalised on but a great win with the best scoreline in football.


This game saw a huge attendance turn out under the lights at Portman Road, as many of the returning faithful saw Charlton stifled, again through organisation, assured football and good finishing. Another game with almost 20 shots taken, but in this game, efficiency of chances taken was key.

Faltering February

I’m not quite sure what the issue has become – is it confidence? Are key players struggling with the mentality and exhaustion of the excitement and buzz of the new year? 2015 has not started well at all for Ipswich, and in a key run of games, the Tractor Boys have found themselves missing that final slice of talent, luck whatever you want to call it in the home straight.


This game, for me, was ridiculous. Reading scored fairly early on, and Ipswich seemed to respond well. However, there were far too many pot shots from range, and the calmness and patience that we had seen (for instance vs Charlton) somehow disappeared. Deserved more, but quality was not on show.


I questioned the Ipswich run of form before the Birmingham game, and though that pre-Norwich, this was a good omen. Another very fast Town start, assured dominance, scored again, then again, then again but Birmingham still responded (which would not have helped the Blues’ goal difference) Unfortunately, this seems to be a ‘port in the storm’ – Ipswich took more than 20 shots again.


I was in Munich for this game, and didn’t catch much, just the final 10 minutes – Which was enough. Norwich had already decided they’d had enough, and were keeping the ball as the Town midfield chased shadows. I compared this to the Norwich home game earlier in the season. The games were remarkably similar, in terms of the Canaries’ dominance as well as the shots from range from Ipswich.


This was a strange game. Ipswich took a long time to get going, and the game turned into a flurry of goals after the 65-70th minute. A missed penalty from Murphy cost ITFC a point.


And finally, Brentford. A much more even game than some let on; Brentford had quite a few breakaways in the second half, and deserved the goal in the first half an hour. Ipswich could have tucked the three points away through Murphy, but the Irishman will pick himself up.

Shot locations + Dominance

For me, I think that the locations of the shots that are taken is an issue; build-up play is often rushed, and the team is trying to score in different ways than the way Ipswich set up in the first half of the season. There is definite talent in the team and it’ll find it’s way to the fore.

Next steps

There are a lot of fans who have blamed Tommy Smith, Jay Tabb et al for the woes of Ipswich, bemoaning the lack of Paul Anderson, Teddy Bishop. But Tyrone Mings has dropped off in my eyes, as has Berra. I think that the workmanlike abilities of Tabb are missed when he’s not in the team, than when he’s in. David McGoldrick’s injury (which might come out the wrong way) came at a good time for him. He’d dropped off in terms of goalscoring, and looked devoid of confidence. I understand his role as foil for Murphy, but the acquisition of Sears, N. Hunt etc in my eyes pushed McG down the pecking order. The challenge is to pick himself up and make himself indispensible to the team – as the much maligned Cole Skuse has done.

The run in for Ipswich is amongst the hardest, and the team will need to rally together and embody the graft, hardwork and cohesive organisation which has shone throughout this campaign, and I think there is a huge opportunity which remains to gain promotion this season.

Top (29?!) Scorers & Scoring/Creative Contributions (after 24 games)

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Just data dropping this here, few quick comments;

Daryl Murphy of Ipswich leads the way with 17 non-penalty goals and 1 assist – a scoring contribution behind only Hugo Rodallega and Kenwyne Jones, who have more assists that Murphy (DM has played more minutes, registering a goal every 121 minutes, whereas HR Goals per Minutes played is 177 and KJ’s is 143)

Michail Antonio and Bakary Sako love the ball at their feet – both have attemped over 100 dribbles already, with Sako more successful with 57% completed to Antonio’s 44%. Both have gotten goals and assists from the wing, leading to admirable scoring contributions of 0.709 for Antonio whilst Sako’s 0.378 is fairly average for this division.

David Cotterill has been a key figure in Birmingham’s very weird season – amongst the bright sparks are also Demarï Gray; but Cotterill’s goals (6) and assists (6) as well as being a creative force with 74 key passes (next closest is the equally strong Grant Leadbitter with 50, who has enjoyed a great season of penalty scoring – 7 dispatched) the highest in the league.

Britt Assombalonga shone initially for Notts Forest after a (relatively) big money move from Peterborough, but has simmered down in recent times. 20 out of 68 shots have been on target, a joint lowest in this list of 29 of (what a coin-ki-dink) 29%. The most accurate shooter/efficient shooter is Clayton Donaldson, who’s hit the target 90% of the time he’s taken a shot (19/21 taken)

Mentions also for Rudy Gestede who I am a huge fan of, for the annoyingly consistent Chris Martin and also for the surprisingly wasteful David McGoldrick who has taken the most shots in this list (85, one more than Daryl Murphy) but has put just 25 on target (29%) (The exact same ratio as Assombalonga) (Worst of all is Glenn Murray though, who’s loan spell at Reading has now finished – but his 19 shots on target from a possible 65 is huge.)