The Intrigue that is Alexandre Lacazette

As of this moment, the top three players in non penalty goals this season in the five European leagues are Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and — wait for it… Alexandre Lacazette. The first two names are obvious, as it’s been almost unanimously established by everyone in football that both Messi and Ronaldo are aliens and of a completely different species from the rest of us mere humans. But Lacazette probably wouldn’t have even been your 50th guess.

It’s been quite the season for Alexandre Lacazette; he’s been the driving force for what’s been a resurgent season for Olympique Lyonnais. After last season’s disappointing 5th place finish combined with their elimination in the Europa League qualifying playoffs, their league performance has been the perfect potion for their absence in European football this season.

Of course it hasn’t been all peaches and cream. Lyon were in 17th after four weeks, and only in 10th after eight weeks. While their rivals Olympique Marseille were flying high and scoring goals for fun at times, Lyon were going through the motions. It seemed that if Lacazette wasn’t scoring, they wouldn’t have any shot. But after their matchup with Lorient at home in the Stade de Gerland, their season has never been the same.

It’s fair to say that Lyon are currently the most attractive team to watch in Ligue 1 (Sorry, Zlatan). As Marseille have petered out over the past several weeks, it seems like Lyon have grabbed their second wind after a couple of disappointing results versus Saint Etienne and Bastia, and Lacazette has been the catalyst. Of course he’s not alone, as he’s been flanked by his partner Nabil Fekir, a dynamite left footed forward who’s also played behind Lacazette as a #10 on a number of occasions. The duo have been giving Ligue 1 defenders fits whenever they’ve been paired together in the front two.

But even with that, this season has been all about Lacazette. He’s been the total package as a striker. He’s quick, with the ability to shake off defenders when they’re attached to his hip. He’s strong with a powerful shot and can run in behind defenders with speed and precision. His conversion from a winger into a forward in a 4-1-2-1-2 has helped spark an evolution in his game.

Laca P

His shot rates have improved, which isn’t too big a shock. Moving Lacazette into a more central position on the field has helped greatly with that, and his ability to give Lyon the necessary width in that role is so invaluable for a team that relies heavily on the likes of Henri Bedimo and Christophe Jallet for that.

Another way of visualizing his progression as a player would be from using Radars plots. Ted Knuston has been a pioneer for popularizing radar plots on Statsbomb and both he and @SamiHernia, have created radar plots which the public can use. Apart from being visually attractive, they are able to tell us how players do relative to the minimum and maximum boundaries set, which is much more fun to look at than scrolling through tables.

Here was Lacazette last season:

Radar

And this is Lacazette’s current 2014-2015 season:

Radar 2There’s much more room covered this season on the radar compared to last. Over at Backpage Football, I delved into my pseudo ExPG data findings in Ligue 1.

In addition to the other rate stats, I attached Lacazette’s pseudo’s ExPG’s per 90 for this season and last. Obviously, besides the boom in his conversion rate and non penalty goals per 90, his added increase in key passes assists and dribbles completed are signs of his maturity as an all around striker.

Of course the thing rearing its ugly head is how much Lacazette is over-performing relative to what the expected goal data is suggesting. In every season there are gonna be players who over-perform what we calculate their expected goal data no matter the model used. Hell, Lacazette over-performed last season as well. But this is on another level.

I was curious as to seeing how much he’s over performing relative to others. I have the 12 top strikers in Ligue 1 this season according to total NPG’s goals scored.

ExPG

The black marks are the non penalty goal marks players are producing this season and the blue columns are what their expected goal data should be. For the most part, the players on this list are to varying degrees surpassing it. Even so, Lacazette’s is quite something. There’s a difference of 0.482 above his expected goal count, which is nearly double the difference of Zlatan’s gap between his pseudo ExPG data and his NPG.

Clearly I’d be lying to you if I said that I thought Alexandre Lacazette will keep this type of pace up throughout the season, but you never know with these type of things. Perhaps the best comparison would be the 2013-14 iteration of Liverpool and Luis Suarez’s individual season (I’m gonna need a minute).

The two almost mirror each other so well: two shot generating strikers (though in comparison to Suarez, Lacazette’s numbers look tame) who are scoring a considerable amount of goals in relation to what they should be, playing on a team that is doing the same league wide. Luis Suarez delivered one of the best seasons in the EPL era (I’m gonna need another minute here) while Lacazette is doing something similar in Ligue 1.

We know about how Liverpool outdid their shot data by a considerable margin, and Lyon are doing the same. Lyon are 10.43 goals above their pseudo ExPG data this season, by far the biggest gap in Ligue 1 this season.  Our first instinct is to say that this is unsustainable, that regression is going to happen. It’s logical to think this way. I do believe that Lyon and Lacazette will both regress a bit from their form right now. Just look at Andre-Pierre Gignac and Marseille for an example of this.

But once in a while these things don’t happen, leaving us perplexed and having to recalibrate our way of thinking. Liverpool were pretty much a slip and a choke job away from winning last season. Manchester United’s 2012-13 performance has sparked dozens of data based columns on how United managed to win the league title despite very suspect shot metrics (which United are currently mirroring now, albeit without the title winning prospects). Once in a while teams catch lightning in a bottle and pull these kind of magic tricks on us.

Whatever the case may be, Alexandre Lacazette is having the season of his life and he’ll be in high demand in the summer. At just 23 years old, Lacazette is just entering the prime years of his career. Though his performance this season has been no doubt been with the beneficiary of some luck, this is a quality striker who’s improved in almost every season.

The big question is whether Lyon will be able to keep their man if EPL teams sniff around him this summer. That’s something I can’t answer. Would a 20-25 million pound transfer be an overpay for him? Perhaps. There’s risk in paying that much money for someone who could see a considerable drop off in his goal scoring rate next season, even though his added increase in shots is a promising sign. Plus putting him in a league like the EPL with a quicker pace in comparison to Ligue 1 can help add to his already increasing totals in shot volume.

It appears that Olympique Lyonnais have unearthed another gem from their academy, and their latest superstar might just singlehandedly take Lyon to their first Ligue 1 title since 2007-2008.

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About Moesquare

Marseille supporter, #FancyStats supporter. Troller of all things Twitter. I write words and hope they make me sound SMRT
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