Breaking down the Premier League's intense Golden Boot chase

Breaking down the Premier League's intense Golden Boot chase

The race for Golden Boot honors is in its home stretch and there are some familiar faces contesting the Premier League’s distinction for top scorer.

Last year’s winner, Mohamed Salah, is in the hunt, as is the holder of the prior two, Tottenham’s Harry Kane. The top dog from the 2015-16 campaign, Sergio Aguero, is also in the mix.

Joining that trio are Liverpool’s in-form Sadio Mane, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Raheem Sterling. Sterling, despite being four goals adrift of Manchester City mate Aguero, has hat-tricks in two of his last five matches for club and country.

Here’s what the scoring table looks like as the league returns from the international break:

Player Club Goals 
Aguero Manchester City 18
Kane Tottenham 17
Salah Liverpool 17
Aubameyang Arsenal 17
Mane Liverpool 17
Sterling Manchester City 15

A bona fide logjam near the top, with a quartet of world-class forwards all just one goal behind Aguero. But the above chart provides little substance when forecasting how these six scorers will finish.

David Price / Arsenal FC / Getty

One metric that can help project who will win the Golden Boot is Shots on Target, though this statistic reflects volume more than a player’s shooting accuracy. Instead, let’s divide Total Shots by the number of shots that actually hit the target to determine which of the six forwards challenges opposition ‘keepers most efficiently.

Player Total Shots On Target % On Target
Sterling 42 32 76%
Salah 80 51 64%
Kane 72 43 60%
Mane 58 34 59%
Aubameyang 56 31 55%
Aguero 73 37 51%

Suddenly, the tables have turned on Aguero; the clinical Argentine sits at the bottom with 51 percent accuracy. Sterling is tops, landing more than three-quarters of his shots on goal despite having nearly half of Kane’s total efforts. Aubameyang has posted the fewest efforts on target, an unsurprising return considering the Gabonese attacker is often forced to split time with Alexandre Lacazette or play out wide when both feature in the starting XI.

Julian Finney / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Let’s dig a little deeper. A glance at each player’s minutes-per-goal (Mins./Goal) in the league this season tells a different story, with Aguero again atop the rankings. Notably, Mane and Salah have both slid down the scale, with the latter’s metrics largely skewed by a stretch of seven goalless matches on the spin in all competitions.

By dividing each player’s minutes remaining (assuming all six play the full 90 minutes in each of their sides’ final league fixtures) by their respective minutes-per-goal rates, we determine Projected Goals.

Player Mins. Played Mins./Goal Projected Goals
Aguero 1933 107 6.73
Aubameyang 2209 130 5.54
Kane 2247 132 5.45
Sterling 2149 143 5.03
Mane 2456 145 4.34
Salah 2649 156 4.04

This is where the two jewels of Jurgen Klopp’s three-pronged attacking crown suffer most; Liverpool have played one match more than Manchester City, Arsenal, and Spurs. This means Salah and Mane both have 630 maximum minutes remaining while the other four players each have 720.

Assuming all six forwards play every remaining minute of their respective teams’ matches (and yes, that’s a risky bet considering all four clubs are still contesting European competitions) and that they all maintain their current goal-scoring clips, each player’s Projected Goals should help determine who wins the Golden Boot.

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Unfortunately, linear projections have their faults, so we should use another statistic, Expected Goals (xG), to delve deeper. This advanced metric weighs the probability of a specific player scoring. For this exercise, we’ll use’s xG values.

In the chart below, xG +/- is the difference between actual goals scored during the 2018-19 campaign and xG. A negative value in this instance actually indicates a positive showing – the player is scoring more frequently than expected.

Player xG xG90 xG +/-
Mane 12.72 0.46 -4.28
Sterling 12.54 0.52 -2.46
Kane 15.20 0.61 -1.80
Aguero 17.52 0.80 -0.48
Salah 18.36 0.62 +1.36
Aubameyang 18.68 0.76 +1.68

Here, Mane leads with a -4.28 standard. That number makes sense; the Senegalese star isn’t a traditional No. 9 and thus takes lower-percentage shots compared to tap-in specialists like Kane, but he’s nevertheless scoring with regularity. At the other end of the spectrum, Aubameyang and Salah are slightly below expectations.

Sadly, xG is not foolproof either; it puts emphasis on the average shot taken – not the finishing abilities of the individual player.

Despite an abundance of statistical analysis and projections, predicting who wins the 2018-19 Golden Boot is not an easy task. Cue a torrid and unexpected run of form from Watford’s Roberto Pereyra that includes a seven-goal showing on Matchday 38 versus West Ham to snatch top goalscoring honors.

And the winner is…