Data Visualization & Method
In order to better my analysis of mass statistics and enhance readers' comprehension of the statistics I present, I have taken a page out of MM author C-Trick's book and have visualized BBC's keys statistics using Tableau Public. The graphs and charts are fully interactive, meaning you can isolate the stats you want to see by clicking on the legend or the name of the player.
In order to ensure accuracy and credibility, all the statistics presented are taken from whoscored.com in the form of the fairest available metric: stats per every 90 minutes. While I have picked some stats selectively (in order not to bog this piece down with an overwhelming number of charts) for the most part, a great amount of detail has been given to these stats: goals, shots, assists, key passes, dribbles, and passing in general. For example, each stat has been broken down into separate visualizations for matches played at home and away in order to enhance understanding of BBC's effectiveness in different conditions. Furthermore, statistics like goals and shots taken have been broken down into three sub-sections: zones, body parts, and situation.
Without a doubt the most important function of the BBC is to score goals. As is touched upon here by Kiyan Sobhani, Real Madrid rely heavily on the famed trio to put the ball into the back of the net, and are often left toothless when two more of the BBC are out injured (like at present). But which player in the trio is the biggest provider of goals for Madrid? The basic stats point to Cristiano Ronaldo, as the Portuguese machine's 22 La Liga goals trumps Benzema's tally of 19 and Gareth Bale's tally of 13. But when the stats are broken down into goals per 90 as shown above, it is clear that Bale comes out on top for goals scored at home with an insane 1.7 goals p/90, and that Benzema comes out on top for goals scored away with a lethal 1.1 goals p/90. Ronaldo's stats are by no means poor, as he averages 1.1 goals p/90 at home and 0.7 goals p/90 away, but it is clear that CR7 has not been the outstanding provider of goals for Real Madrid like he was so clearly last season. While part of this is due to Ronaldo's inevitable decline, Benzema's and Bale's rise in form this season is the undoubted reason in the leveling of quality between the front three. Benzema already has more goals in La Liga than he did last season, while Bale has been in the best form of his Madrid career when fit.
With the basic goalscoring statistics covered, it is interesting to see from where and how the front three have been getting their goals. If you isolate the stats to the 6 yard box using the legend, you can see that Benzema has had the most joy from point blank range at the Bernabeu and away from it. The 0.3 goals p/90 (home) and 0.5 goals p/90 (away) scored in this tiny area of the pitch amounts to 25% of his total goals scored at home, and to roughly 50% of his goals scored away from home respectively. These percentages are greater than both Bale's (with the exception of Bale's away goal tally) and Ronaldo's tallies in the 6 yard box and support the theory that Benzema has become a monster in the box. Benzema's healthy 0.2 headed goals p/90 scored (home & away) also supports this observation.
In the penalty area (which excludes the 6 yard box on whoscored), BCC thrive an equal amount at home with the trio acquiring around 70% of their goals in that area of the pitch. Away, BBC's tallies differ wildly as Benzema's penalty box tally is 50% of his total, Bale's tally is 67% of his total (albeit with a small sample size), and Ronaldo's tally is around 86% of his total. When factoring in that Bale and Ronaldo score 0.2 goals p/90 outside of the box at home, and none away from home, it becomes evident that BBC relies heavily on service into the box when playing away from Madrid. While stunted effectiveness from range is expected because of the tougher conditions Los Blancos face, the lack of proficiency from range is concerning. Long-range shooting is often important when trying to break down the tough defenses Madrid have faced away from home. Only years ago, Madrid had the luxury of Cristiano Ronaldo's ability from range as he put stingy teams like Atletico Madrid to the sword with a series of lightning strikes. With Ronaldo's drop in otherworldly ability from outside the box, it is up to Bale to make use of that famed left foot of his and pick up the slack from here onwards. However, it is worth mentioning that Madrid have scored from range away from home in the form in James, making it clear that Madrid don't need to rely on BBC exclusively for pieces of extraordinary magic.
In terms of the body parts that BBC have scored with, it is clear that our trio is becoming increasingly versatile. Cristiano Ronaldo's scoring ability from head to toe needs no introduction, and his position as Madrid's most all-round goalscorer is supported by his numbers in the air and by his numbers with his "weaker foot," which amount to about 30% of his total at home and around 15% of his total away from home. Benzema is similarly healthy in the air and with his left, but it is Bale's improvement in the air that is the real talking point. Those who believe Bale is CR7's replacement will feel more even more emboldened as Bale has replaced Ronaldo as Madrid's primary target in the air. A stunning 47% of Bale's goals at home have been scored with his noggin (0.8 p/90), and 2 out of 2 of his away goals have been scored with his head. While a strategy revolving around crossing can seem to lack creativity and imagination at times, it is clear that thumping a healthy amount of long balls into the box will have Bale frothing at the mouth.
Such versatility from BBC in scoring positions is also evident in scoring situations. While BBC obviously rack up most of their goals from open play, they also score their fair share of goals from set-pieces, and the likes of Bale and Ronaldo obviously benefit on the counter. But this versatility is stunted somewhat when away from home. Benzema's 1.1 away goals p.90 have all come from open play and Bale's 0.3 away goals p/90 have all come from set-pieces. Only Ronaldo seems to be proficient in all scoring situations, netting: 0.3 away goals p/90 in open play, 0.1 goals p/90 on the counter, 0.1 goals p/90 from set-pieces, and 0.2 goals p/90 from penalties. However, considering that Bale only has 2 away goals, it is difficult to conclusively make the claim that BBC is more one-dimensional in scoring situations away from home.
There is an old adage that says, "if you don't shoot, you don't score." While nearly every striker in world football constantly repeats this proverb to themselves, it is often difficult to actually do it. But luckily for us, BBC have no problems when it comes to shooting. Ronaldo in particular enjoys himself in this regard, shooting more than anyone on his team, taking 6.8 home shots p/90 and 5.5 away shots p/90. Benzema shoots the second most out of the BBC with 4.2 home shots p/90 and 4.8 away shots p/90, and Bale comes third, with 4.1 home shots p/90 and 3.7 away shots p/90.
In terms of accuracy (excluding blocked shots), Benzema leads the way at home, putting a clinical 76% of shots on target, way ahead of of Bales accuracy of 58% and Ronaldo's accuracy of 53%. But away from home, Benzema has managed only 50% of his shots on target, the same as Bale's and better than Ronaldo's accuracy of 43%. These numbers, combined with BBC's weaker goalscoring numbers away from home, support the belief that BBC, and indeed Ronaldo, have not been able to maintain a certain level of consistency from the Bernabeu to elsewhere. While it is hard to pin this underperformance solely on the forwards themselves, as Zidane and Benitez both played their part, it is an undoubted fact that Madrid's front three need to show up stronger away from the capital.
In terms of from where BBC shoots, there is nothing surprising to report other than the fact that Benzema takes the least shots from inside the 6 yard box p/90 at home, yet has the most goals from inside that area. Otherwise, the shooting stats are exactly as you would expect, with Ronaldo dominating shots inside the penalty area and with Ronaldo and Bale enjoying the lion's share of shots from outside the box.
This rather predictable set of statistics continues with the situational data showing you that BBC takes most of their shots from open play. However, it is rather surprising that Benzema takes more shots from open play p/90 away from home than at home, perhaps suggesting that Benzema is the focal point of more attacks away from the Bernabeu. But it is questionable as to whether that reasoning is correct considering that this logic is derived from only one simple statistic. Other than this, the other notable trends are that Ronaldo clearly benefits the most from counter-attacks with 0.6 home and away shots p/90 and that Bale and Ronaldo both enjoy significant shooting opportunities from set-pieces.
It is perhaps more interesting to look at from which body part the ball is released towards goal, as a few things can be identified right off the bat. First off, it is clear that Benzema is rather one-footed, taking only 0.9 of his 4.2 home shots p/90 and only 0.2 of his 4.8 home shots p/90 with his left-foot. Thankfully, this has not really hurt Benzema's ability to put the ball in the back of the net as he is Madrid's most efficient shooter and finisher. It is also worth noting, that despite Benzema's weak shooting numbers with his left, he has still managed to accrue an average of 0.3 left-footed goals p/90, the same as Ronaldo's.
Bale is also rather weak with his "other" foot, demonstrated by his low shooting numbers and his low percentage of goals scored with his right. But, the statistics don't do enough justice to how Bale has improved his weak foot in his time at Madrid. While he still may not be taking many shots with his opposite side, the eye-test confirms that a majority of Bale's accurate crosses this season have originated from his right boot. So the Welshman is not as one-footed as the shooting stats would have you think.
But one thing the stats don't lie about is Bale's and his compatriot's ability in the air. The numbers are there for you to see, and just like the goalscoring numbers suggest, Bale has been Madrid's most dominant figure in the box, backed up ably by Benzema and Ronaldo.
While scoring is undoubtedly the BBC's primary objective, Los Merengue's front three must also provide amply for each other and for their teammates. As can easily be seen above, Gareth Bale does this the best, easily providing more assists p/90 and key passes p/90 at the Bernabeu and away from it. His improvement in tight spaces and accurate ability to cross with his right foot is definitely a couple reasons for this rise over past seasons, and along with the numbers, is further evidence that he is ready to take over the Cristiano Ronaldo's mantle once the Portuguese legend decides his future lies away from the Spanish capital.
But while things are all bright and shiny over in Bale-land, the numbers expose an area of weakness for the Frenchman this season. For a player so famed for his role as the facilitator in Madrid's front-line, a return of 0.2 assists p/90 at home and 0 assists p/90 away is quite poor. But what seems to confound this stat are Benzema's key passes numbers at the Bernabeu and away from it, which when combined, are slightly better than Cristiano Ronaldo's. This could imply that Karim's teammates are simply not finishing the chances he gives them. But combined with what I have observed, there has been a definite decrease in Benzema's direct creative influence. This could to do with the fact that Benitez (as he openly revealed) previously asked Benzema to be more selfish in his positioning and his shooting, thereby boosting his goalscoring numbers whilst simultaneously decreasing his assists numbers. Whether this is fully correct can be contested, but there does seem to be some sort of trade-off going on.
As for Ronaldo, there needs to be no Karim Benzema-like inquest into the creativity the Portuguese international provides. His 0.3 assists per 90 minutes (averaged from home and away stats) is on par with most seasons he has played in the past, with his 1.5 key passes (again averaged) p/90 a slight dip from what he has provided in the past.
Out of all the statistics that are presented in this article, passing accuracy is probably the least important measure of ability for BBC's forwards. Nevertheless, it is still interesting to see which of the front three retains the ball the best, especially away from home.
According to whoscored's statistics, Benzema is marginally the better passer, completing roughly 85% of his passes at home and roughly 79% of his passes away from home. Yet it is also worth noting that he attempts the least passes, making Bale's and Ronaldo's passing accuracy at home rather more impressive. What isn't impressive however, is how BBC's passing stats drop-off significantly away from home. With the exception of Bale's total attempted passing number, which is 4.4 more away than at home, everyone's total number of attempted passes and passing accuracy percentage drops significantly away from home. But this perhaps shouldn't be a surprise as this follows the trend of BBC performing comparatively worse statistically when away rather than at home.
What is more interesting is what the front three provide in terms of crosses, since two of the three are positioned out wide. From looking at the bar graphs, it is clear that Gareth Bale provides the biggest crossing threat. This is especially true away from home, where he bests his Bernabeu cross completion rate of 23% with a superb 49% accuracy figure away from home. This perhaps sets in perspective Bale's lack of away goals, as he is more focused on creating away from Madrid's capital as his number of attempted crosses p/90 is also larger away from home. But then again, Benzema and Ronaldo also see an increase in their number of attempted crosses, maybe suggesting that crossing is a tactic that Madrid employ more regularly away from home.
Dribbling and Ball Control
There has been significant complaint that the BBC are not proficient enough dribblers to break down tightly packed defenses, yet the statistics say otherwise. Bale in particular stands out, as his work on close-control dribbling over the pre-season has clearly come to the fore. His successful 2 dribbles at home and successful 2.1 dribbles away are the 3rd best figures in the team and are enough to establish Bale as the best dribbler of the BBC.
In second comes Cristiano step-overnaldo. While that might not be as accurate a nickname as it was in the past, Ronaldo's supposed "inability" to beat a player is largely exaggerated. As his recent goals vs Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol have shown, Ronaldo is still a force to be reckoned with the ball at his feet. While such instances may no longer be the norm, as demonstrated by his unspectacular but solid dribbling numbers, there is little doubt Ronaldo still possesses an X-factor few other footballers have.
Third is Karim Benzema, which is no real surprise. The Frenchman is not a bad dribbler by any means, but his motto over the past 4 seasons has been to pass and move rather than engage in long, winding runs. Also considering that he often lacks the space that Bale and Ronaldo do when approaching a defender, it is clear that Benzema's lack of dribbles per game is conditional and has a lot to do with the role Benzema has in the team. Unlike in the creative department, no real criticism can be hurled at Karim here.
The next category is ball-control, which I have represented through possession loss statistics. This isn't exactly a very accurate representation of how good players are on the ball, because there is a lot of grey are in how these statistics are chalked up, and because there is a lot more to ball control than not losing the ball. Therefore, this data should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to post these statistics anyway, as things like Bale's number of unsuccessful touches per 90 minutes, which is a rather horrid 2.2, probably does show something. Anyway, make of it what you will.
So after all of this data and analysis what can we come away with? Well the first thing is that BBC are very, very good. While this might seem rather obvious, it is often forgotten in the bitter wars fought in comment sections and the irrational claims on social media. There are few trios in the world that can amass the amount of goals, assists, and shots that these three can, and for that we should be grateful. However, it is clear that this brilliance is dampened away from home. The numbers in terms of goals and shots more than significantly drop the second BBC step foot outside the Bernabeu, which should concern Zidane. Zizou has to find a system of transferring BBC's effectiveness at home to other grounds, as it could make the difference for his career at Madrid.
But something Zizou has done, that will most probably save him, is revive the form of Cristiano Ronaldo. While the overall picture looks like decline for CR7, his recent performances in terms of dribbling and involvement have markedly improved. So at least at this juncture, the statistics don't tell the full story on Ronaldo's current ability with Madrid.
On the flip side, the statistics very much show that Benzema and Bale are on the rise. With a world without Ronaldo forseeably on the horizon, this only spells good things for Madrid. Bale in particular seems ready to become the main man. While I was at first skeptical of this, his numbers are just too good to deny. If he can sustain this, a potential fight with Neymar over the ballon d'or is not too a distant reality.
(All statistics are accurate up to February 26th, 2016)