Luis Suarez has scored a lot of goals when his team already has the lead. Credit: Getty Images
Who is the best striker attending the World Cup in 2014? Which strikers score the most goals per match? How many chances do they need to score a goal?
Does scoring a lot of goals in European league football necessarily mean you will score a lot of goals at a World Cup?
Does the best striker always win the Golden Boot?
The people at 21st Club and GoalDifference.com break down all the statistics to give you an answer.
Who Were The Best Strikers In Europe This Season?
The data below shows which strikers scored the most goals per 90 minutes in the top 5 European leagues this season (England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany):
However some players may have their records boosted by being their clubs designated penalty taker. The table below shots the records after removing penalty goals:
Both Lionel Messi and Diego Costa have now dropped out of the top 6 due to their records including penalty goals. They have been replaced by Mario Mandzukic and Ciro Immobile.
As well as being boosted by taking penalties, some strikers may benefit from playing on stronger teams. For example, it is often said that it is easier to score when your team is already leading by two or more goals. The opposition team pushes forward and leaves more space at the back. Twelve of the 31 goals Luis Suarez scored for Liverpool this season came when they were leading by two or more goals.
The table below shows only goals score at "close" score lines, e.g. leading by one goal, tied (drawing) or losing by one goal:
The World Cup is often tight and low-scoring, in particular during the knockout stages. A player who is able to score goals in tight matches may prove to be pivotal. For example, Diego Costa scored 11 times in narrow one-goal victories for Atletico Madrid this season.
Finally, do some players just get more goal scoring opportunities than others? How many shots does it take for each player to score their goals? The table below shows non-penalty goals by shots attempted:
Here we see some new names including Alexis Sanchez of Chile who scored 19 goals from just 66 attempts for Barcelona this season.
Does being a great goal scorer for your club in the league necessarily mean you will also score goals at a World Cup?
The people at 21st Club have compiled a list of the top scoring players in the big-5 European leagues immediately prior to the last three World Cups (i.e., 2001-02, 2005-06 and 2009-10).
The following players scored 26 or more goals for their club in the season prior to a World Cup:
As we can see, having a great goal scoring season for your club team does not necessarily lead to a player scoring a lot of goals at a World Cup.
In fact, 24 players went to the last three World Cups having scored 20 or more league goals that season. They scored just 36 goals between them.
So What Does It Take To Be A World Cup Top Scorer?
Perhaps to be a top World Cup goal scorer is less about skill and more about opportunity?
1.) Time played
The 11 players in this table all scored at least five goals at a World Cup (1998-2010). These players played an average of 564 minutes each to score their goals. The least minutes any of them played was 428 by Gabriel Batistuta in 1998.
It seems that to be top goal scorer a player needs to appear in at least five matches.
2.) Goal-scoring opportunities
For the 2010 World Cup it was also possible to collect data on how many shots each player attempted:
Thomas Muller scored five goals from just 13 goals attempts at an unsustainable rate of 38.5 percent. Apart from Muller, each player needed at least 27 attempts. The other players' conversion rates are more in line with those we saw in the top-5 leagues.
To be top goal scorer you need to have teammates who can create lots of opportunities.
How many goals did previous World Cup top scorers score for their clubs the season immediately prior to the tournament?
The 11 players who scored five or more goals at the last three World Cups had scored an average of 15 league goals the season before.
In 2002, Brazil’s Rivaldo and Ronaldo scored five and eight goals at the World Cup after only scoring eight and seven goals each for their clubs.
In 2010, Wesley Sneijder scored more goals at the World Cup than he had in a whole season for Inter Milan.
So Who Will Be The Top Scorer?
We have seen that to be top scorer you need to have opportunity. You need to play enough minutes and get enough opportunities to score goals.
Undoubtedly there is skill to scoring goals. Some players are able to convert chances at a higher rate than others over the course of a long football season.
However the World Cup is, at most, only seven matches long. If you are able to convert at an exceptional rate for just a short period you may be able to outperform even the best strikers.