Finishing Study: Why Do Barcelona and Real Madrid Overperform Expected Goals?

Article at Washington Post:

In the weighted average, these 50 players scored about 52 goals above expectation for Real Madrid or Barcelona, and they scored about 41 goals above expectation for other clubs. This result suggests that most—perhaps 75 to 80 percent—of the “superteam” effect is a relatively simple equation. Real and Barca spend large amounts of money to buy players who are excellent finishers as well as being elite in other aspects of the game, and there is nothing surprising about guys who cost over $50 million clinically dispatching a few extra chances. They do the same playing for Udinese, Arsenal or Valencia.

While this is broadly true at the population level, there is one striking exception. Gonzalo Higuaín has simply been a different kind of player since leaving Real Madrid for Napoli two years ago. He had been one of the most deadly finishers in La Liga, scoring 75 non-penalty goals from 263 shots, beating his expected goals (58 xG) by nearly 20. For Napoli Higuaín has scored 27 of 191 shots, exactly matching his 21 expected goals. Indeed, Higuaín accounts for a significant amount of the variation between “superteam” finishing and “other club” finishing. While greats like Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have maintained finishing rates around their career averages, this is not true for every player equally.

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Breaking Down the Champions League Semifinals (2015)

Washington Post: The keys to Juventus’ and Barcelona’s wins

For Juventus, the key was attacking a Real Madrid weakness. With superstar playmaker Luka Modric injured and defensive midfielder Asier Illaramendi out of favor, Madrid Manager Carlo Ancelotti shuffled his lineup. He played defender Sergio Ramos on the right of a midfield two, paired with Toni Kroos on the left. This pairing had been effective in the quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid, but Juventus seemed to have it sniffed out early.

Kroos was charged with driving forward from midfield while Ramos held the line in front of defense. On the flanks there was a similar pattern. Marcelo attacked from his left fullback position while Dani Carvajal remained mostly in reserve. The effect was a lopsided defense, and Juventus pounced on it from the start. Of Juve’s completed passes into the attacking third, about half were played down Madrid’s weaker left flank, compared to passes down the center of the pitch or on the right flank.