Another Look at Lukaku

Well, Everton have shocked everyone by spending £28m on Romelu Lukaku. It’s fairly clear that the kid can score goals. I just wanted to use this quick post to see how he goes about it.

The graphic below shows his Premier League shot map from last season. Yellow dots are goals, blue dots are shots that were saved and black dots represent shots that were blocked or off target:

Lukaku dots copyAll but one of Lukaku’s goals was from the centre of the box. What also strikes me is the lack of shots on target from anywhere left of centre. I wanted to see if this was just a season blip or whether it was the case at WBA too. This is the graphic:

LukakuWBADots copyIt’s obviously not a blip. The higher ratio of shots on target from the right side compared to the left is even plainer to see here. Once again there are no goals in the box from left of centre.

There’s a few things here. Firstly, get practising, son, or select your shots better. Secondly, there’s issues with regards to how he should be played. Looking at his average touch position for WBA, it was often to the left of centre which would seem to make it more likely that he would end up on what appears to be his weaker side. His average touch position for Everton is continually to the right of centre and his shot distribution looks better for it. My mind wanders back to the 3-0 drubbing of Arsenal where Lukaku was posted way out right and wonders whether this should be repeated more often.

Photo by Erik Drost at

I have written previously on how just maintaining a league average scoring rate over multiple seasons (adjusted for shot volume and location) puts a striker into the elite bracket. The good news here is that Lukaku, despite having an excellent per 90 minute strike rate, is still not meeting his expected goal tally.

This means there’s room for improvement and he is in no way ‘overperforming’ in the way that Jelavic massively was when he first arrived, or like Michu did in his first season in England. The only way Jelavic or Michu could have maintained their early goal tallies would have been to dramatically increase the number of shots they were taking.

To illustrate this I can run a simulation to see the probability of Lukaku’s goal return from the shots he had last season:

LukakuSimLukaku scored 15 goals and we’d expect the average shooter to get 15 with the same chances. If we add up the probabilities of each bar from the green one onwards, we can see that there’s a 58% chance that the average shooter would match or better this goal tally given the same opportunities.

In 2012/13, Michu got 18 goals when he would be expected to get just 12 in that first season he had. If you moved the green bar to 21 goals for a similar 6-goal over-performance for Lukaku, you can see how much the chances of a similar return would diminish next time round. Hopefully this goes someway to explaining the amount of one season wonders we see. Learning about probability is definitely one of the best things I’ve done when it comes to football!

If you want continually high goal returns you better post big expected goal numbers. You do this by shooting a lot from good areas. The good news for Evertonians is that Lukaku does this. At his current expected goals rate, Lukaku is a 20 goal a season man if he plays the full amount of minutes. There are few 21 year olds in the top leagues who can say the same.

To me it is quite astonishing that the big boys have passed up the opportunity to sign a player who is seemingly as near to ‘guaranteed goals’ as you can get and who clearly has room to improve in all aspects of his game.

Follow me on Twitter @footballfactman

%d bloggers like this: