How Much Are 25 Ukrainian Goals Really Worth?

Update: I don’t get too much right on here, so it’s probably worth pointing out when I do! In this piece from July 2013, I calculated that Henrikh Mkhitaryan would score around nine goals per season in England. Using the same system would’ve suggested that he would score eight (well, 7.86) in Germany, and he scored nine in his first season with Dortmund. Coincidence? Maybe, it is a small figure after all. But this mightn’t be the worst system to use when seeing what a high scoring player from a minor European league might do in one of the big leagues.

In a couple of recent posts (here and here), I have tried to learn a bit more about Liverpool target Henrikh Mkhitaryan by looking at his stats from the Champions League.

Although the numbers aren’t too impressive, I have had several comments advising me that they don’t matter as he scored twenty-five goals from midfield this season, which renders everything else irrelevant.

But my issue with that idea is that I don’t know how strong the Ukrainian league is, so I have devised a system to try to establish how good Mkhitaryan’s goal tally is in the context of the Premier League.

Rather than simply using UEFA Coefficients (which are calculated by how a nation’s teams perform in Europe, rather than on the overall strength of the league itself) I have used the team ratings on Euro Club Index.

It is an independent site which ranks all 719 top flight teams in Europe using statistical models and results from the last few years (read more about that here, if you’re interested), so theirs seems a reasonable system to use for a simplistic analysis.

I have calculated the average ECI ranking of each team in various leagues to see how the Ukranian league matches up, and here are the scores:

ImageWe can see that the overall standard of the Ukrainian league is pretty weak on average, and worse than such unheralded leagues as those in the Czech Republic and Belgium.

So how can we rate Mkhitaryan’s twenty-five goals against Premier League standards? One way would be to divide 224 (the average ranking of a team in the Ukrainian league) by 25 (the number of goals scored) to get a goal coefficient of 8.96

By dividing the Premier League’s average team ranking score of 84 by 8.96 you get 9.38, which suggests that Mkhitaryan’s achievement of twenty-five Ukranian goals is equivalent to about 9 or 10 in England, where the overall standard is much higher.

The interesting thing is, looking at the standard of teams that the Armenian scored against in 2012/13 also suggests a goal tally in the Premier League of a similar amount.

The below table shows every top flight team in England and Ukraine in ECI ranking order, with a note of who Mkhitaryan scored against:

ImageFor the record, he also scored two Champions League goals against Nordsjaelland, who are ranked 148th (between Sunderland and Southampton).

If we use Queens Park Rangers as the minimum standard of a Premier League team, then Mkhitaryan scored eleven goals against teams who are rated English top flight standard.

So it seems whichever way you use the ECI data (albeit in admittedly simplistic ways), Mkhitaryan’s twenty-five league goals would be worth around ten in the Premier League. Certainly not a bad return from a midfielder, but is it worth £25m?

I probably seem like I’m constantly trying to put Mkhitaryan down on here, but I am simply fascinated by trying to figure out exactly how good he is by using the stats. If over half of the Suárez money is going on one player, then I want to know what he’ll likely achieve for Liverpool.

Based on the various facts and figures, I’m not yet convinced Mkhitaryan will prove value for money, but I’ll be more than happy if he proves me wrong.

Related posts you might like:

Mkhitaryan vs Eriksen: Champions League Showdown – which of the two Liverpool targets has been the best in Europe over the last three years?

Why Do Liverpool Need Mkhitaryan? – I know nothing about the player so checked his stats. They don’t make for pretty reading…

Please check out my other articles, and follow me on Twitter or via Facebook. Thanks.

17 thoughts on “How Much Are 25 Ukrainian Goals Really Worth?

  1. Considering that we’re buying ‘steady improvement’ players to suddenly want to spend £25m on one player just seems a bit left field. Maybe HM is the player that kicks us on however in my ignorance I don’t see it. I’d rather quality central defender (though not for £25m).

    • I’ve thought about it so much, I actually want him to sign to see how he gets on!

      I think a lot of it is down to what Kopology alludes to below e.g. that a lot of what he’s good at isn’t measured by stats (pace, awareness, and so on).

      Perhaps Comolli’s failed statistical revolution has put the club off looking at things so closely?!

      I guess my main issue with this whole transfer saga is that I see people who have never seen him play tweeting that we HAVE to buy him, and if we don’t get him then they’ll no doubt blame Ayre or FSG or whoever!

      I’m sure he’s probably a fantastic footballer, but it will be very interesting to see how he gets on in a major league next season (as he’ll no doubt be in one somewhere, if not with Liverpool).

      Blimey, gone off on a bit of a tangent here 😉 Cheers for reading, mate.

  2. Interesting stuff, and I think your methodology probably provides what will turn out a fairly accurate figure.

    I have a couple of points to add, though, if I may. Having watched Mkhitaryan play a bit (but admittedly not *that* much) I think his USP is not simply the goals he scores, but the fact he also works extremely hard for the team while scoring them. He’s a *very* versatile player who can play as a holding midfielder and on either wing as well as his best position as an AM, but he’s very disciplined, and knows how to time his runs to perfection without leaving gaping holes behind him.

    In terms of his scoring record, however you rate the Ukrainian league (and I’d argue it is definitely stronger than at least the Czech league) no player had scored 25 goals in over 20 seasons. Not even strikers. The top scorer in previous seasons scored 14, 17, 17, 17, 19, 13, 15, 14 and 18, taking us back to 2003, so 25 is almost a freakish total, even for a striker!

    The second highest scorer last season got 17 goals, so when you consider Mkat got his from midfield, it does suggest he is a cut above the rest of the league to say the least. Perhaps if other Shakhtar players were scoring highly too it would suggest they are just far stronger than all the others and Mkat is benefiting from having far better players around him, but their second top scorer was Alex Teixeira on just 10 goals.

    Mkhitaryan doesn’t only have a good scoring record for Shakhtar, either. He has also scored 11 goals in 39 games for Armenia including strikes against Denmark, Rep of Ireland, Italy and two against Slovakia. All stronger teams than Armenia who are ranked 89th in the world. 11 in 39 wouldn’t be bad for a midfielder in the Brazil side, let alone the Armenian!

    Having said all that, I think your predictions are about right, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Mkhitaryan scored between 10 – 15 goals from midfield a season in the Premier League. Is that worth £25m? On it’s own, perhaps not, but when you consider those goals would be on top of a huge work-rate and great all-round technical ability, there aren’t that many players around who would give you all that available for less than £25m.

  3. I like the analysis, but as we discussed on Twitter.. adding 8 more games to account for the difference in teams in the EPL would probably yield a number closer to 15.

    • Mulitplying his theoretical PL goal tally of 9.4 by 38/30 to account for the extra games gives a tally of 11.9, suggesting he’d bag about 12 goals.

      All in theory though of course! Thanks for reading.

  4. Excellent article and idea, Beez. I don’t think you are putting him down, you are being thorough in your research on a player than may not be worth the £25m others believe he is.

  5. As you said, I too want him signed just so we find out. Obviously we will never know how he copes with leaving thr home comforts of Eastern Europe, and how he copes in England. I still want him, at much less but if we can cough that so be it. We seem to have invested enough scouting him, and that does not even include you!

  6. Another way to look at it is he scored 11 goals in 12 games against teams of premier league quality or better. That makes him sound pretty awesome, even if those teams are closer to the bottom that the top of the league.

    Personally i doubt using coefficients is a useful approach for an individual player, although it could be useful for comparing a group of players. Although I would like like to see it benchmarked with a few random players who have moved to the premier league recently. My guess is that goals wont scale on a 1:1 basis with coefficient since the coefficient hasnt been designed for this purpose. But i also feel it is highly dependant on the individual player, some players seem to be able to step up from a lower league and score just as regularly while others will go from free scoring to getting next to no goals at a higher league. You see this in players moving up from the championship.

    Your approach is a bit like using BMI to judge how healthy someone is, it’s useful measure of the health of a population but doesn’t account for the rower that is 20st of pure muscle (hope that’s Mkhitaryan if he signs).

  7. I’m one of those who are desperate for us to sign Mkhitaryan without knowing too much about him (or in reality, nothing before our reported interest in him). The reason is, we simply haven’t been scoring enough goals from midfield. Ok, Gerrard scored 9 but take away the 4 penalties and he’s down to 5 along with Henderson. Obviously Courtinho got 3 in half a season but if we could add a 10 goal midfielder then we’re gonna really improve.

    Again, I don’t know that much about Aspas or Alberto but I’m excited that we seem to be targeting players with winning mentalities. Papadopoulis looks unlikely now but he’s another one who appears to give 100% every game. There are some in the current squad who simply don’t do that. My impression is Mkhitaryan is another one of these players and it’s exactly what we need. It does appear though, that he’s more than someone who gives a 100% and scores a few goals. I’d go as far as to say he could be the catalyst that takes us from 7th to 4th.

    I promised myself I wouldn’t look at players on You Tube this summer until they’d put pen to paper but I’m currently checking Twitter every 5 mins looking for news on where we’re up to with Mkhitaryan. I’ve got it in my head now he’s the touch of class who can bring everything together. He just seems a class above players we’ve been linked with of late.

  8. It’s an interesting approach. It would be relatively easy to work out how effective it is by looking at players who moved from various leagues to the Premier League and seeing if their goal tallies match what this method would predict.

  9. I’m usually a big fan but I’m going to have to disagree with near everything here.
    As ArmeniaSoccer says, this doesn’t account for the extra 8 games within the Premier League. However, more importantly you suggest that he would have scored 11 goals more against better than QPR opposition. Which, whilst true, accounts for just 12 games and he would score 35 goals in the season at that rate.
    Furthermore, you can’t use a model like this without proving it with previous signings for us/the PL.

  10. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    I think this exercise had to go down as a well-meaning-but-ultimately-flawed effort!

    I didn’t take account of the fewer games in the UPL, but also it wouldn’t be right to extrapolate his form against PL standard teams, when he didn’t play anyone of top six standard.

    Back to the drawing board! Thanks for reading.

  11. Pingback: 2013 Review (and a Thank You!) | Bass Tuned To Red

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