Bale v Walcott – The Real Story

Never ones to jump on a bandwagon, Differentgame thought we’d join in the Bale v Walcott debate. The popular perception is that Bale is growing into his superhero powers – strong and fast with a shot like a cannon. Walcott remains the sidekick – swift and lithe but ultimately a bit too puny to win battles on his own.

To compare the two we can SPAM both players over the last 3 Premier League seasons to find out more about their goalscoring exploits. The graphic below shows how many shots it takes each of them to score from each area:


They’re both pretty similar in the box. Walcott is that bit more efficient – particularly in the wide areas. While it’s Walcott people (including us) want to see given a go as a full time striker, there’s a really good case for Bale being converted too.

What sets them apart is their ability from distance. Walcott, bless him, is still trying his luck after 80-odd games while Bale is around league average from distance from both open play and direct free kicks.

What? Bale’s average? He’s got a shot like a cannon! Well, he has this season at least:


This season Bale is twice as good as the average from shots outside the box. It’s impressive and he may even be the best in the league this year from distance (we don’t know, we haven’t checked everyone) but does it tell the full story?

What’s the pay-off for all those shots blazed high and wide? Could the ball have been used better? How many goals would Spurs have scored if he’d been less selfish? We don’t know – it’s just another thing that needs measuring as we slowly start to quantify football. What we do know, however, is that Bale is roughly as good from outside the box as QPR is as a team. Sounds a bit less superhero now, doesn’t it?

If we plot Bale’s open-play shots from outside the box over the last three seasons we can see the recent spike in terms of goals:

In a previous post we looked at how good different keepers were at stopping open-play shots from distance. Looking at which keepers the Welshman has beaten might give us a further little clue as to how much of his recent form might be down to luck or skill. The roll call is Sczcesny, Foster and Jaaskelainen – all below average over the last two seasons in keeping shots from distance out. Bale has been smashing away for nearly 90 games to finally get above the league average.

We think free kicks are a different story. For these, Bale has started to use the same technique as Cristiano Ronaldo uses to strike the ball. On top of this we have a “thing” at Differentgame about how poorly keepers are lining up walls and positioning themselves behind them. It’s only an inkling at this stage and something we’ll investigate further when time allows.

Plotting all the shots of both Bale and Walcott game by game we can see that Walcott has consistently been a good finisher while Bale goes through dryer periods:

Again this is against popular opinion – Walcott has always been seen as the flake – falling to pieces when it comes to delivering the killer touch. This is obviously errant nonsense.

We can see that it’s Bale who flat-lines for longer periods, regressing back to around league norms on numerous occasions over the last 3 seasons. Granted, Bale has netted 4 more goals over a similar period, but he should – he’s had well over a hundred more shots than Walcott. Bale “should” have scored 24 goals from his shooting positions in the last 3 seasons. He’s actually scored 32. Walcott “should” have scored 18 times – he’s actually got 28.

Bale has had to net 7 in his last 7 to get anywhere near Walcott’s level. Considering it’s likely Bale would fetch two, maybe three times the fee Walcott would on the open market, I leave it up to you to decide where the value currently lies.

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4 Responses to Bale v Walcott – The Real Story

  1. Goalimpact says:

    Thanks, great analysis! It adds to the picture I had made up in my mind, but couldn’t underpin with data.

  2. Pingback: The SPAM Player of the Season | differentgame

  3. Pingback: Introduction to Soccer Analytics – The Guys I Follow | Mixed kNuts

  4. schmeet1 says:

    Very interesting!

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