We obsess over them, count them, objectify them, youtube them, and idolize their scorers - and not without good reason.
Goals are the currency by which football operates. For all our fawning over pre-assists and vertical passes, goals are the direct actions that win games - it’s as simple as that.
But are all goals created equal?
The surface-level answer is “yes”, since every goal is worth a unit of 1 (except for away goals, but let’s ignore them since they bear little relevance to my article). But when you take into account the order in which goals are scored, one finds that some goals contribute more to the attainment of results than others.
For example, Ronaldo’s winning goal against FC Barcelona in last season’s El Clásico at the Camp Nou, was a crucial strike that moved Real Madrid from potentially gaining one point to winning three points. That sort of goal importance contrasts with his last minute goal against Real Betis in 2016/17, which added to Madrid’s 5-1 lead, but had little to no effect on the outcome.
Such contextual information makes it easier to analyze a players’ importance to his team’s results, especially when the types of goals are broken down further: winning goals, opening goals, equalizing goals, go ahead goals that aren’t winners, goals that end up being cancelled out, goals that secure a lead by 2, goals that secure a lead by 3, goals that secure a by 4, etc.
Obviously, this methodology is not perfect, since there is some overlap between the categories (opening goals can be winning goals and goals that end up being cancelled out can be opening goals and are go ahead goals that aren’t a winner), but it still provides an excellent way to explore and identify Real Madrid’s most important goal scorers.
However, before we get all technical, it is important to look at the basic statistics to get a sense of perspective.
Basic Goal Scoring Data: La Liga & UEFA Champions League
As can be seen above, Cristiano Ronaldo is the standout goal scorer in La Liga, as he tops the Real Madrid charts with 10 separate strikes. Next in line are Alvaro Morata and Gareth Bale, neither of whom can manage more than half of the Portuguese’s total.
In terms of goals per 90 minutes (p90), Mariano flies above everyone else with an inflated figure of 2.6, virtue of his 1 goal in only 25 minutes of league play (small sample size alert!).
When a greater sample size is accounted for, Ronaldo once again sits at the peak, with an imperious 1 goal p90, while Morata sits second with a figure of 0.7 and Benzema comes third with a figure of 0.6.
In the Champions League, Karim Benzema claims the mantle of top goal scorer with 4 strikes to his name. He is trailed by Morata, Bale, and Ronaldo, who all have braces.
Goals p90 pushes Morata to the top with a figure of 1.3, but Benzema still manages to come away with an impressive 0.9 p90.
As for the other two, Bale manages an impressive one goal every other game, but Ronaldo sits at a poor 0.3 p90, putting into perspective his seemingly equal (at least with Morata and Bale) goal contribution in the Champions League.
Basic Goal Scoring Data: Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, & Club World Cup
In the La Liga competition of “lesser” importance, the usual suspects are missing due to their lack of game time. In their place, bit-part players have taken their chances with aplomb, as Real Madrid took apart Cultural Leonesa 12-1 on aggregate.
Mariano has enjoyed himself the most, netting an impressive 4 goals with an insane ratio of 3.08 p90 (small sample size alert!), followed by Asensio and Morata.
The UEFA Super Cup saw Real Madrid field its best eleven (with the exception of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo), and it shows on the stats sheet, with Asensio, Carvajal, and Ramos all notching goals en route to a narrow 3-2 victory over Sevilla in extra time.
The same can be said for the Club World Cup, where Ronaldo and Benzema ripped apart Club América and Kashima Antlers to gift the title of best team in the world to Los Blancos.
In-Depth Goal Scoring Data: La Liga
Now that you’ve got an overview of the basic data, it’s time to look at things more closely.
As one might expect, there is a wide breadth of game winners in Madrid’s squad, and that is demonstrated by the distribution of players in the winning goals category.
Nevertheless, it is clear that one player stands above everyone else - Cristiano Ronaldo. With three winning goals, cultivated against Atlético Madrid, Alavés, and Sporting Gijon, the Portuguese forward has shown that his battle for the Pichichi is founded on more than just fluff.
Combine that with his 2 unique opening goals (his winner against Atlético Madrid counts as an opening goal), both of which were later cancelled out, his 1 equalizer, and his 1 goal that secured a lead by 2 (effectively putting the game beyond reach of an opponent), and you realize that Ronaldo has been scoring the vast majority of his goals in crucial moments.
Only 3 of his 10 La Liga strikes had little impact on the scoreline, with 2 of them securing a lead by 3 and the other, which occurred against Real’s 6-1 win over Betis, securing a lead of 5.
Bale, Morata, Sergio Ramos, and Benzema are a level below Ronaldo’s impact, but they still rack up impressive numbers.
The Welsh forward has managed 2 opening goals that finished as winners, along with one equalizing goal, and another that secured a lead by 2. He had only one fluff goal, which secured a lead by three, with a strike against Real Sociedad in the 93rd minute.
Morata has much the same profile as his fire-breathing teammate, with 4 of his 5 goals contributing to hard-fought victories (the highlight being his winner against Athletic Bilbao in the 83rd minute).
While that is impressive, Sergio Ramos is the prime example of raw clutchness. It seems that he either scores important goals or doesn’t score at all, as demonstrated by his 2 winning goals and 2 equalizing goals (the latter of which is a team high) against Osasuna, Villarreal, Barcelona, and Deportivo La Coruña.
Such a crucial packet of goals has proven to be especially important in the absence of the prolific and clutch scoring we saw from Benzema last season.
While it’s harsh to deem Benzema’s goal scoring record as bad, when he has 4 goals in only 640 minutes and 2 go ahead strikes, Karim’s current contribution pales in comparison to what we saw from him in 15/16 (essentially 1 goal every match along with the most winning goals in La Liga). Combine that with his smattering of lukewarm performances in terms of his link-up play and playmaking, and it’s clear that we need to see a big improvement (in relation to his own standards) from the French forward if Real Madrid are to hold their lead at the top of the table.
In-Depth Goal Scoring Data: UEFA Champions League
Having criticized Benzema in the previous section, it’s only fair that I acknowledge his much better form in the forward’s favorite competition - the Champions League.
He stands as the outright top scorer with 4 goals, 1 of which has been a winner, and the rest of which have been cancelled out (not his fault). Only Alvaro Morata has managed another game-winning goal, which speaks to Madrid’s frankly average performance in the Champions League (three draws: two 2-2 results against Dortmund and one 3-3 result against Legia Warsaw).
It perhaps also speaks to Ronaldo’s relative underperformance, as he holds only 2 goals in a competition that he usually dominates. While both of his strikes have been important (a free kick equalizer vs. Sporting and an opener vs. Dortmund), he hasn’t reached the quantitative level that would usually turn draws into victories for Madrid.
Bale has also been less than excellent, as he’s managed only two openers, both of which came against Legia Warsaw (one match was a blowout, resulting in a goal for Asensio, Lucas Vázquez, and Morata).
Thus, it goes without saying that Real Madrid will need both Ronaldo and Bale to raise their form if Los Blancos are to do the impossible and retain the Champions League trophy.
In-Depth Goal Scoring Data: Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup
Just as it was in the Basic Goal Scoring Data section, the usual suspects are nowhere to be seen for obvious reasons. This gave a chance for the reserve players and substitutes to have some fun and inflate their goal scoring figures, something that the categories puts into perspective.
Many have been calling for Mariano to replace Benzema in Real’s starting eleven due to his 5 goals across all competitions, but such a decision would be questionable considering most of the Dominican’s goals are fluff. Aside from his one opener, the rest of his goals build on a lead (his goal that secured his side’s lead by 2 was actually by much more due to the nature of the aggregate scoreline) against a third division opponent. While the 23 year-old should be praised for taking his opportunities, none of this is evidence of his superiority over Benzema.
In fact, goals in all these “smaller” cups should be looked at more critically for a variety of reasons.
One is obviously sample size, since competitions like the Super Cup only last for a single match. Again, while Carvajal’s, Asensio’s, and Ramos’ strikes should be commended, they are not alone indicative of any kind of trend (unless when paired with other data, which in this case, you can use to affirm that Ramos is indeed a clutch dude - 3 equalizers and 2 winners across all competitions so far this season).
The second, is more obviously quality. While the level of opponents in the Copa del Rey does increase dramatically as teams progress through the stages of the competition (Real Madrid will play Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla in the round of 16), Real Madrid essentially play the equivalent of 3rd or 4th division teams in the Club World Cup. Despite the seemingly narrow 4-2 victory over Kashima Antlers, Real Madrid smashed them by the reckoning of expected goals and it was clear that Los Blancos were barely even trying.
So while Benzema and Ronaldo should surely be credited with carrying their team over the finish line, their stats have to be put into perspective so that their performance across the breadth of the entire season does not get overstated.
But as mentioned before, conclusions can be drawn from such matches if it corroborates with the general trend. In Cristiano’s case, his clutch 16/17 statistics probably means that his hat-trick against Kashima Antlers had less to do with flukiness and more to do with his ability when Madrid need him most.
Ronaldo has unsurprisingly been Madrid’s most important goal scorer this season. Even excluding his performance in the Club World Cup final, he has managed the most winners in La Liga, two openers, and an equalizer for good measure. These numbers haven’t exactly translated into the Champions League group stages, but relative to the performances of the rest of his teammates, he still reigns supreme when all things are considered.
Sergio Ramos has probably been the second most important, thanks to his 4 match-saving goals in the league and his equalizer in the UEFA Super Cup.
Morata, Bale, and Benzema all tie for third, with the former providing crucial goals in La Liga in the UCL in limited minutes, the Welshman shining in the league, and the latter ripping up Europe’s premier competition.
But perhaps this ranking hides the more poignant conclusion that can be drawn from the above data, which is that Madrid possess a strength in depth unrivaled in their modern history, especially in goal scoring.
(All La Liga and UCL statistics taken from whoscored.com; all Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, and CWC statistics taken from transfermarkt.com; Vizzes made with tableau)