Strikers Teemu Pukki, Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick managed to score 29, 23 and 15 Championship goals respectively in 2018/19, but can they continue that form into the Premier League? This article will investigate the last 20 promoted forwards to score 15 or more Championship goals and the extent to which this can help predict how the trio will fare next season.
As the table indicates, all 20 players performed worse in the Premier League than in the previous Championship season. Charlie Austin was the only player to score more goals, but his goals per game ratio still dropped as a result of playing four additional matches.
A drop-off is obviously expected given the step-up in quality, but by how much? One way of doing this is by finding an average regression value, by dividing the combined Premier League goals per game ratio of the 20 players by that of the Championship.
The outcome of this is a value of 0.482 – essentially, Championship strikers have on average performed around half as well in front of goal upon making the step up to the Premier League.
With this in mind, Pukki, Sharp and McGoldrick’s 2018/19 performance and prospective 2019/20 data is shown below, based on the average drop-off of those 20 players.
Therefore, if average data of the last 20 promoted strikers was to continue, Pukki, Sharp and McGoldrick would be set to score 12, 11 and 6 goals respectively over 38 appearances. But football is never as simple as that and it is important to look at the players and teams individually when looking to make a prediction.
As a club, Norwich have established a clear football philosophy and culture over the last two years and the methods of technical director Stuart Webber and manager Daniel Farke are unlikely to veer too far away from those that got them promotion. Their attacking style, moderate spending, promoting youth from within and backing the players that were so successful in 2018/19 will continue. That is all positive for Pukki, who will not be starved of service and will be trusted to deliver the goods as the lone striker, as long as he continues to perform well.
Considering these factors make it easy to see why certain strikers struggled to make the same impact in the Premier League. There is no better example of this than the top goals per game ratio player from the sample – Dwight Gayle in 2016/17.
Newcastle were a dominant force in the Championship that season, controlling the majority of their games and creating plenty of chances in the process. Fast forward a year and Rafael Benitez adopted a more pragmatic, defensive style, stifling opposition attacks with a well organised defensive unit.
It was a very effective style and saw Newcastle survive comfortably in both 2017/18 and 2018/19, but it did not suit Gayle. As a natural poacher, the regularity of chances created resulted in an incredible rate of goals in the Championship. But upon entering the Premier League, that rate declined and combined with Benitez preferring a target man as his main striker, only 23 of Gayle’s 35 appearances were from the start. That combined with limited service made it difficult to score goals anywhere near as frequently and he was subsequently loaned to promotion hopefuls West Brom in 2018/19, scoring another 23 goals. It is not necessarily that Gayle can’t score more regularly in the Premier League, but the system must not leave him isolated, which is harder to do in such a competitive league and with two up front formations largely unfavoured.
In Pukki’s case, it does not appear that either service or game time will be under threat, although the latter may not be initially evident with fixtures against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City by mid-September.
Meanwhile at Sheffield United, Chris Wilder has adopted a unique 3-5-2 system, featuring overlapping centre-backs as additional attacking threats. With two striker slots available, there is a degree of security of starts for at least one of McGoldrick and Sharp, even with new arrival Callum Robinson who has just joined the club from Preston. But like Norwich, the majority of the promoted players should be given the chance to establish themselves as first-team regulars in the Premier League, with performances then dictating how long that remains the case.
The two clubs do differ slightly in their attacking play. Whilst Teemu Pukki is a talismanic figure in his own right, Norwich were more able to rely on goals from other areas of the pitch as midfielders Mario Vrancic, Marco Stiepermann, Emi Buendia and Onel Hernandez scored ten, nine, eight and eight respectively. Only Mark Duffy (six), was able to breach five goals at Sheffield United, aside from the two strikers.
That is no coincidence either, given that a feature of Farke’s side in possession is the combination play between Pukki and the attacking midfielders, whilst Wilder’s setup is streamlined to funnel a greater proportion of chances to the two main goalscoring threats. This helped Sharp to match Pukki’s non-penalty xG per 90 of 0.48.
Therefore, whilst the data of 20 previous promoted strikers is relevant, the individual circumstances of players and teams must be taken into consideration. Clubs that stick to their principles like Southampton following promotion in 2011/12 certainly do no harm in bettering the average post-promotion goalscoring drop-off suffered by strikers. Even in less successful sides like the relegated QPR team of 2014/15, Charlie Austin managed 18 Premier League goals because the attacking element of their system was focused around picking out their main goalscoring threat at every opportunity. Consequently, only Sergio Aguero managed more than Austin’s 130 attempts that season.
This provides cause for optimism when it comes to predicting the output of the current crop of promoted strikers. Arguably, the most important aspect of both sides is the stable managerial situation, containing an ingrained, unbreakable philosophy, which sees Sheffield United funnel chances towards Sharp and McGoldrick and Pukki benefit from the high volume of shots Norwich are able to create.
Thus, the main challenge to Pukki, Sharp and McGoldrick’s ability to score goals in the Premier League is their long-term game time. Josip Drmic and Callum Robinson have been recruited to provide competition for places but it is likely that the pair will have to wait for their chance to benefit from their club’s attacking play. Therefore, there is every indication that Pukki, Sharp and McGoldrick will be able to reach or potentially surpass their respective 12, 11 and six goal predictions based on the simplified form of past promoted forward data.