In every league campaign there are always heroes. There are the defensive lynchpins, the midfield generals, and maybe even a goalkeeper, but those who stand out more than anyone are usually the players who are directly involved in goals. In the case of Real, shining a light on these pivotal contributors would not be flattery, for Madrid’s goal scorers and creators played a pivotal role in their side’s path to success. As impressive as a haul of 93 points is, this was not a pretty league campaign. As Zidane likes to note, Madrid "suffered" their way through various comebacks and tight victories, secured by Real's valiant offensive stalwarts again and again.
Thus, it is only right to identify just which players were most crucial to all these enthralling wins, if not to learn something, but as homage to the heroes of La Liga 2016/17.
From my previous stat-pack article:
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 [some of which overlap with winning 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, goals that secure a lead by 5, [and goals that cut into a deficit].
While what is outlined above was previously designed for goals, the exact same methodology applies to assists. Each category remains the same for the final ball, with the goal of separating the assists that truly mattered and the ones that didn’t.
But before we dive into the heady stats, let’s plot down the basic stuff so you can more easily wrap your mind around the analysis to come.
Basic Goal Scoring Data
Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo has been far and away Real Madrid's most prolific goal scorer in the league. While his haul of 25 is the lowest he has managed since joining the capital club, his excellent goal per 90 minute (goal p90) ratio of 0.9 means that this is down to the lesser minutes he has received.
Alvaro Morata is some ways off in 2nd place, with 15 strikes to his name, but considering that he has only received 1334 minutes (often in bite-sized pieces), his goal scoring record is nothing short of remarkable. In fact, he even beat out Ronaldo for the team's best goal ratio at 1 every 90 minutes.
Morata's main competitor, Benzema, managed far less spectacular, but still respectable, statistics. His end-of-season form pushed him to 11 league goals, 1 ahead of Isco, who managed by far his largest ever goal scoring total. Not to be left behind, James found the back of the net 8 times and at an even more impressive goal per minute ratio than Isco and Big Benz.
After the aforementioned top five, ties begin to arise between players as the number of goals scored begins to descend into the lower echelons of the numerical order. Nevertheless, it is truly impressive to see the number of players that have scored in the league (19), though it is clear that only select individuals can lay claim to being crucial to Real's goal scoring exploits (at least according to this basic statistical analysis).
In-Depth Goal Scoring Data
While the top scorers in the basic statistics section seem to dominate this segment, the thorough breakdown above has allowed Sergio Ramos to rise in the fore. In danger of being forgotten when looking at the rawer arrangement of the data, we can now see that Ramos was indeed incredibly important to Real's title success. All 7 of his goals came in periods where they were sorely needed: 4 won the game, 2 equalized play, and 1 opened the scoring. Especially memorable was his header vs. FC Barcelona, which bought Madrid a point out of nothing, and his dramatic late winner in a 3-2 win vs. Deportivo La Coruña.
However, while Ramos' heroics must not be forgotten, Real Madrid's greatest goal scorer was undoubtedly Cristiano Ronaldo. Unfairly pegged for stat-padding in insignificant moments since the beginning of time, any real analysis of his numbers puts that narrative to bed. His 6 winning goals, 8 opening goals (2 of which were winners), 4 equalizing goals, and 2 deficit reduction strikes, are touched by nobody and they make up 18 of his total 25 goals. When factoring in the less decisive, but still significant, "secured Real's lead by 2" goals, the Portuguese ace has only netted 4 shots that can be considered to be "fluff."
And just to be clear, these well-timed blows have come against "quality "opponents: a hat-trick against Alavés and another vs. Atlético Madrid, 3 goals in 2 games vs. Sevilla, 2 goals in 2 games vs. Valencia, an equalizing spot-kick vs. Villarreal, a double vs. Las Palmas to salvage a draw, and a brace vs. Celta Vigo on the penultimate match day of the season.
To be sure, Ronaldo didn't do it all by himself. Aside from Ramos, the much maligned Benzema managed 3 winning goals, which were matched by Isco and Morata, who both also picked up one equalizer each. After them, the numbers get thinner, but the sheer volume of players that netted at least one winning, opening, or tie-ing goal, demonstrates the strength of the supporting cast behind main man Ronaldo and his title-snatching exploits.
Basic Assist Data
As key as goal scorers are, it would be a woeful mistake to forget the men who set them up.
Just like with the goals chart, right off the bat you notice a few standout players. Unsurprisingly, (or perhaps surprisingly, if you're one of those people who still thinks Kroos only passes sideways) German cyborg Toni Kroos leads the pack with 12 assists, at a pretty good rate of 0.4 p90. Marcelo matches the p90 statistic but trails by two in his assist total. That pattern continues past Isco and until Lucas Vázquez, who managed 7 assists at a world class ratio of 0.5 p90. James Rodríguez is the only other player who matched that assist per minute brilliance, as everyone lower than the Colombian delievers a maximum of 0.3 assists p90 (with the exception of Coentrao and Mariano, whose figures are greatly inflated by a tiny sample size).
So based on these rudimentary figures, a noticeable difference in quality has seemingly appeared. On the one hand you have the elite creators: Toni Kroos and co., and on the other hand you have the respectable but unexceptional providers: Ronaldo and co.
In-Depth Assist Data
When inspecting the more detailed data, a more interesting and slightly different picture begins to form. James, who was closer to the front of the pack, fades away slightly as we see that half of his 6 assists secured leads. While his 2 equalizing assists and 1 winning final pass are significant and nothing to look down upon, his previous superiority is less obvious as the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, Carvajal, Asensio, Bale, and Kovacic, all managed either more winning assists or more opening assists than him. However, within the context of James' minutes (only 1180), it can be determined that the attacking midfielder's reduced influence was down to Zidane's decision to play him less than others.
Besides the movement of James down the ranks, the rise of Carvajal is particularly striking. Easy to miss in the "basic" graphic, Carvajal proves to be one of the foremost creators in the "detailed" section. An impressive 2 of his assists granted Real victories, while his 3 openers (2 of which are winners) and 1 deficit reducer demonstrate his excellent sense of timing when playing the final ball. If nothing else, these figures reinforce Carvajal's position as the premier right back in the world.
Over on the opposite flank, Marcelo is no less influential. Though his 5 assists that secure a lead by 2 or more do put his prolific figures into context, his 1 deficit reducer, 2 equalizers, and 2 winners are too good to be ignored. Thus, while Marcelo's distribution of assists maybe aren't as "clutch" as one might have expected, his healthy all-round figures still strengthen his status as one of the best offensive powerhouses from the fullback position.
Another player who uses this section to supplement his claim to being world class is the best central midfielder in world football - Toni Kroos. Having topped the "basic" section, Kroos also reigns supreme in the advanced stats analysis. His 6 game-winning assists are unmatched, while his 4 openers (1 of which is a winner) are second only to Isco.
Speaking of Isco, let's all just stop what we're doing and hold a minute of silence in memory of Manchester City's failed attempt to lure the Spaniard over to England.
Done? Back to reading.
Besides his oft covered dribbling ability, balance, and sheer technical brilliance, it's astonishing to see that he is the only player on this Madrid roster that truly shines in both categories: goal scoring and chance creation. As mentioned before, he managed 3 winning, 1 equalizing, and 2 opening goals (1 of which is a winner), which are neatly balanced by his team high 7 opening assists (3 of which were winners) and his 4 winning assists (2nd highest). This ability to score and create in clutch situations is an invaluable asset to Real Madrid and is something that Florentino Perez will be glad to have tied down via a recent contract extension.
Having pored through the data, generic and specific, the standout offensive performers in Real Madrid's 2016/17 title-winning league campaign are now clear. On the goal scoring end, the two heroes are Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos. Time and time again they rose to the occasion to either deliver the first blow or pull their team out of the well - no matter how deep the hole. Aiding those two was the brilliant Toni Kroos, whose laser-guided deliveries from set-pieces and pinpoint passes from open play set the table for many a comeback. Isco played his part as well, using his slight of foot and brilliant footballing brain to find the back of the net himself while providing for his teammates in equal measure.
However, remove the rest of the team's goals and Real Madrid lose the league. As important as the aforementioned individuals were, it was Los Blancos' ability to supplement these match-winners with a smattering of goals across the board that secured Madrid their 33rd La Liga title. Not to downplay the heavy importance of the likes of Ronaldo and Kroos, but FC Barcelona also had several main men in the form of Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi. But where Barca fell short was in their ability to provide an answer to James Rodríguez, Asensio, Kovacic, Lucas Vázquez, and Nacho Fernández. All they had in response was an underwhelming Andre Gomes, an out of sorts Paco Alcácer, and an out of position Sergi Roberto.
Thus, while Ronaldo, Ramos, Kroos, and Isco's offensive production were more important than most, it was Real's strength of depth that finally allowed them to rise above Barcelona and win their first league title in five years.
(All statistics taken from whoscored.com)