Ranking the 50 Best Forwards in Europe by Goals and Productivity This Season

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

Ranking the 50 Best Forwards in Europe by Goals and Productivity This Season

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    It's the part of the game that most viewers want to see: What happens when the ball goes into that final third, when danger is being created and goals are scored?

    For time out of mind it has been the front players, the attackers, who have generated the most headlines and the biggest transfer fees for one good reason: goals win games.

    Here are the top 50 forwards from the 2013-14 season so far, from all of Europe's top five leagues, ranked by their overall attacking contribution.  

Methodology and Criteria

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    It can be difficult to determine what the most important aspect of a forward's game is, given that the front two or three players' roles have become so varied and involve a lot of tactical discipline as well as attacking flair.

    What is clear is that it's not just goals which matter—but they are a pretty important place to start, so all candidates' goalscoring record for the season was taken into account, both as a raw number and also as a per 90 minutes statistic. This allows differentiation between those who are regularly subbed off, play as an impact substitute or have missed parts of the season for any reason.

    However, as this ranking aims to determine the most effective forwards overall, other areas are taken into account too.

    While the full formula won't be revealed, key performance indicators such as shot accuracy, chance creation and total minutes played were all analysed, given a weighting and totalled to determine final player ranking.

    Chance creation is preferable to use over assists because once the chance has indeed been created, the forward in question has already done his job, and he has no control over a team-mate skying an easy chance or a goalkeeper pulling off a worldie save.

    Finally, all forwards were taken into account, including out-and-out strikers, second strikers, wide forwards and deep centre-forwards. The criteria for selection was that they must have scored at least nine league goals for the season and play in either the Premier League, Ligue 1, the Bundesliga, Serie A or La Liga.

    Statistics are for league play during the 2013-14 season only and are used from Squawka.com, Whoscored.com and transfermarkt.co.uk.

Honourable Mentions

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    Here is a random selection of forwards who have excelled in one aspect or another this season, yet did not quite accumulate a high enough total to make the eventual cut. Their position is in brackets:

    Mario Balotelli, AC Milan (52)

    Antonio Di Natale, Udinese (56)

    Stefan Kiessling, Bayer Leverkusen (60)

    Danny Welbeck, Manchester United (53)

    Olivier Giroud, Arsenal (64)

    Jay Rodriguez, Southampton (76)

    Alberto Gilardino, Genoa (59)

    Bafetimbi Gomis, Lyon (69)

    Sergio Garcia, Espanyol (51)

    Jonas, Valencia (58)

50. Jose Maria Callejon, 270 Pts

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    Napoli forward Jose Callejon kicks us off, with the Spanish wide forward into double figures with his goals for the campaign.

    He has been a good source of chances for his team this year too, creating 32 so far and scoring solidly across the board. The No. 7 has been a good overall signing for boss Rafa Benitez.

49. Luca Toni, 279 Pts

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    Staying in Italy, Luca Toni has enjoyed a fine season in front of goal and is Serie A's joint-third top scorer for the season with 13.

    The 36-year-old doesn't have a particularly high goals per 90 rate as he plays most of the time for his side, but his consistency and enduring ability secures him a top 50 spot nonetheless. 

48. Rodrigo Palacio, 281 Pts

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    A third Serie A forward in a row, Inter Milan's Rodrigo Palacio has been a source of both goals and scoring opportunities for his side.

    Twelve goals and 37 chances created is more than respectable on both counts, hitting the middle of the board right across our key metrics. His shots on target rate could do with improving somewhat as it dips below the 50 percent mark but overall he's done enough to be Inter's No. 1 forward.

47. Josip Drmic, 282 Pts

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    Twenty-one-year-old Swiss forward Josip Drmic plays in the Bundesliga with Nurnberg, who are struggling in a relegation battle, making his numbers all the more impressive.

    The versatile youngster has netted 11 from 20 starts this term, showing good consistency and composure in front of goal to record a 58 percent accuracy rate with his shots.

46. Carlos Vela, 283 Pts

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    Carlos Vela's form has been mainly impressive with Real Sociedad this year, as the Mexican has hit 10 goals and created a huge 56 chances. His goalscoring is erratic and sporadic at times, not scoring for 10 games in a row earlier in the season before hitting four in one game.

    On the other hand, his creativity and eye for setting up team-mates has been good enough to place him in the top six out of all the forwards looked at.

45. Romelu Lukaku, 283 Pts

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    Chelsea's on-loan forward Romelu Lukaku has had his injury problems this year, but he's still the highest-scoring striker on the club's books this term.

    Out on loan at Everton, the Belgian has hit 10 goals in the Premier League and manages to hit the target with an impressive 60 percent of his shots. Also a good foil for the runners off him from the second line of attack, Lukaku creates chances at a rate of more than one per game.

44. Ciro Immobile, 287 Pts

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    Torino forward Ciro Immobile has 13 goals this season, just two behind the league's leading goalscorer. His exploits have helped his side into the top half of the table.

    His final third contribution is quietly impressive all-round, if not spectacular in one particular area. However, his rate of scoring at 0.62 goals per 90 minutes is the highest out of all the players ranked from 39-50.

43. Aritz Aduriz, 288 Pts

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    Athletic Bilbao are leading the charge for a Champions League spot next season from a top four finish in La Liga, with Aritz Aduriz the main striker doing the damage to get them there.

    He has scored 10 goals himself but is also capable of playing others into good positions with his strength and hold-up play, totalling 28 chances created this season, almost 1.5 per 90.

42. Alessio Cerci, 289 Pts

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    Like team-mate Immobile, Torino forward Alessio Cerci scores well across the board without excelling in any particular area, with the exception of his extraordinary ability to hit the target with the majority of his shots.

    Cerci is one of only 16 forwards to tally above 60 percent in shot accuracy, with his total coming in at 64. He has created 39 chances so far this term.

41. Christian Benteke, 290 Pts

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    Christian Benteke only makes the list by the narrowest of margins—he had only seven league goals until his last outing, when he put two past Norwich City in Aston Villa's 4-1 win. His tally of nine, therefore, makes him eligible for inclusion—and despite not being at his best earlier in the campaign, he deservedly scores highly.

    The Belgian has consistently managed to create chances for his team-mates even when his own goalscoring touch deserted him, managing 42 this season, equal to just over two per 90.

40. Alvaro Negredo, 291 Pts

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    Alvaro Negredo has enjoyed a good debut campaign at Manchester City, though his very best form has perhaps been seen in the cups rather than league action so far.

    Even so, nine goals and 24 chances created is no mean feat, especially given City's ability and willingness to rotate the attacking players. His reduced game time means even his nine goals equates to better than one every other (full) game or 0.54 goals per 90.

39. Emmanuel Riviere, 292 Pts

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    Our first Ligue 1 player now and it is Monaco forward Emmanuel Riviere. The French striker started the season in goalscoring form and has been able to step up in the absence of injured Falcao.

    Nine goals and 20 chances created is a reasonable return for a player who has been second-choice for part of the season, which given his lowered time on the pitch equates to 1.3 chances and 0.6 goals per 90 minutes.

38. Robin Van Persie, 294 Pts

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    Robin van Persie missed a spell this season due to injury, which has no doubt contributed somewhat to his lower position than could usually be expected.

    Even so, his goal return when on the pitch is impressive: The Dutchman scores 0.72 goals per 90, good enough for a 25-goal haul over the course of an entire season. If Manchester United had actually had him available over the whole campaign, they might not be faring quite as poorly in the Premier League table as they are.

37. Remy Cabella, 296 Pts

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    Remy Cabella has been a man in form for Montpellier this season, scoring goals from his usual advanced position behind the forward and notching 10 for the season.

    His biggest strength though lies in creating hordes of goalscoring chances for his team, managing a gigantic 62 this season so far—only three forwards have managed more across all five leagues.

36. Giovani Dos Santos, 299 Pts

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    Giovani Dos Santos has been excellent for Villarreal this season, playing as a second forward and often right up top in a two-man attack.

    His 58 percent shot accuracy rate has yielded nine goals so far, while he also creates at a rate of more than two per 90 for his side.

35. Gonzalo Higuain, 305 Pts

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    The second Napoli player on our list, Gonzalo Higuain is another on 13 goals for the Serie A season, giving him 0.6 goals per 90.

    Higuain scores well across the board without being stand-out, in part perhaps due to his fairly average 51 percent shot accuracy rate. Improve that and his numbers would surely climb quickly.

34. Edinson Cavani, 312 Pts

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    PSG's second forward and hard-working wide man Edinson Cavani has something of a selfless role in the side.

    He has returned an impressive 14 goals so far this term, though he actually has one of the lower shot accuracy rates, coming in at just 45 percent. For a top forward, that's around 10 percent lower than you could reasonably expect, though it may be impacted by playing from the flank frequently. Cavani offers almost 0.8 goals per 90, which makes up for his lack of chance creation contribution.

33. Gareth Bale, 314 Pts

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    Gareth Bale is finding his feet of late at Real Madrid, with some impressive performances mixed in with some below-par displays until recently. He's already hit 10 goals in La Liga though, with a similarly low accuracy rate to Cavani at 46 percent.

    However he also offers more for his team-mates, with 1.44 chances per 90 being his average this season.

32. Pierre-Michel Lasogga, 317 Pts

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    Pierre-Michel Lasogga earned himself a call-up to the German national squad last week, but he missed out on a first cap after withdrawing through injury.

    The young striker, who plays for Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga, has had a consistent season so far—though his strengths are certainly in finishing moves rather than helping fashion them. Eleven goals and 11 chances created means he produces both at a rate of 0.77 per 90. That's not bad at all for the scoring metric but very low for the chance creation side—one of the bottom 10 out of all forwards assessed.

31. Loic Remy, 320 Pts

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    Back into the Premier League now with Newcastle United's Loic Remy, who will be a wanted man this summer when his loan deal ends.

    His 13 goals this season and 25 chances created means that, combined, he offers Newcastle a chance to score close to 2.0 times per 90. Remy's impressive season can be measured by the fact that only five Premier League forwards rank higher than him in this list.

30. Wayne Rooney, 321 Pts

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    And one of them is Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United man has been imperious in his play from the second line of attack at times, creating 48 chances in total for his side. That's equivalent to 2.23 chances per 90—a top 10 score in that particular area.

    Eleven goals along the way haven't hurt either, with Rooney registering half of his shots on target.

29. Alexandre Lacazette, 322 Pts

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    Lyon's golden boy is Alexandre Lacazette, who has impressed this season playing both centrally and from the flank.

    With 13 goals to his name, no player has scored more than him in Ligue 1—other than PSG's two forwards. Fast becoming an all-round forward, though, Lacazette has also created 34 chances this season, scoring reasonably highly in both columns. The Lyon man is the third-highest ranked Ligue 1 forward.

28. Andre-Pierre Gignac, 327 Pts

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    Right behind Lacazette in the Ligue 1 scoring charts and just ahead of him in our rankings comes Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac.

    Though he has scored just one goal less, more than 300 minutes on the pitch less than his French rival means Gignac has a slightly better goals per 90 rate of 0.59. The two are also closely matched in chances created and shot accuracy—Gignac registers 59 percent in the latter category. He is the second-highest Ligue 1 entrant.

27. Raffael, 329 Pts

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    Borussia Moenchengladbach striker Raffael has notched 12 goals this season, the joint-fifth highest scorer in the Bundesliga. A 50 percent strike rate and a scoring rate of 0.5 goals per 90, means he has become the archetypal one-in-two forward this term.

    His productivity isn't limited to goals, though, with the Brazilian busy creating two chance per 90 for his team too, comfortably inside the top 20 for that statistic.

26. Antonio Cassano, 332 Pts

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    If you were looking for the most reliable creative threat in Europe, congratulations: You've arrived at your answer in Antonio Cassano.

    The Parma forward has only scored nine this season, just about making the cut-off point in that regard, but he is one of only two players in the top five leagues to have achieved the massive haul of 70 chances created for the season. That's a rate of 3.3 per 90 minutes—the best out of any forward on a per-90 basis—while he also registers an impressive 61 percent of his shots on target.

25. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 336 Pts

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    Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has mainly played from a wide position this season, but that hasn't stopped him scoring 13 times.

    His goalscoring can be partly put down to his astonishing reliability with his shooting: 64 percent of his shots find the target. That's a top-six finish across all five leagues, right there. Aubameyang is very much in the team for his ability to get into the area and attack from the channels, not for creating chances himself. Just 18 this term is in the bottom 20 for that stat.

24. Fernando Llorente, 337 Pts

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    Spanish forward Fernando Llorente naturally took a while to find form and fitness with Juventus after not playing much last season, but he has hit the goal trail with 11 this season. He averages 0.57 goals per 90, as well as being a good source of chances for others.

    He manages a top-20 finish for chance creation, averaging 1.7 chances per 90, while his 62 percent accuracy rate is also more than noteworthy. All told, Llorente is really showing his worth as an all-round striker again. With World Cup places perhaps in mind, he's the third-highest rated Spanish striker on the list.

23. Roberto Firmino, 340 Pts

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    Hoffenheim's attacker Roberto Firmino has notched himself an even dozen goals this season, with his eight assists making him one of just five players in the Bundesliga to total 20 or more goals and assists combined.

    His 42 chances created equates to 1.9 per 90, a top-20 finish in that regard, while his goal exploits are a little more impressive when considering he almost always plays from the second line of attack.

22. Ikechukwu Uche, 347 Pts

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    Villarreal forward Ikechukwu Uche has enjoyed a stellar season, interrupted only briefly because of injury.

    Despite his dozen goals, Uche falls just shy of the impressive 60 percent mark of shots on target accuracy, otherwise his position could have been a shade higher into the top 20 overall. He is the man on the shoulder, the striker to chase behind the defence and to finish off chances—0.82 goals per 90 attests to his abilities in that regard.

21. David Villa, 355 Pts

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    Just missing out on a top 20 finish is Atletico Madrid's striker and Spanish European Championship-winner David Villa. Villa has hit 13 goals this term, with his legendary finishing prowess still in evidence with a 63 percent accuracy rate.

    Villa contributes somewhat with chances created too, but his 0.67 goals per 90 is his big selling point.

20. Antoine Griezmann, 360 Pts

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    Staying in Spain's La Liga, Real Sociedad's wide forward Antoine Griezmann has enjoyed a spectacular campaign and is making a deserved push for France's World Cup squad.

    Having played centrally, on the left and even as a withdrawn forward this season, he's been a dangerous all-round attacking option for his side, scoring 15 times and creating 24 chances—that's 0.72 and 1.14 per 90 respectively. He's also another who records plus-60 percent with his shot accuracy.

19. Pedro, 360 Pts

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    A fourth La Liga occupant in a row, Pedro edges ahead of Griezmann by virtue of having a marginally better goals per 90 minutes ratio of 0.74.

    The Barcelona forward has 13 goals and 25 chances created but not being an automatic first choice means his game-time is slightly reduced—and thus his numbers per 90 increased.

18. Domenico Berardi, 363 Pts

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    Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi came to the attentions of the wider footballing world when he put four goals past AC Milan in January, a third of his season's haul of 12 goals so far.

    Playing either centrally or as a wide forward, he has also contributed 1.41 chances per 90 for his side, with his goal return equating to better than 0.7 per 90 having completed just 10 full 90-minute appearances this season. Berardi is the third-highest ranked forward from Serie A.

17. Adrian Ramos, 366 Pts

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    The highest-ranked forward not at one of Europe's bigger clubs, Adrian Ramos has been superb in front of goal this season for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga.

    He has hit 15 goals in 24 games, the second-highest scorer in the division, while also creating a thoroughly impressive 40 chances, 1.7 per 90 minutes. A very good all-round contribution from the Colombian striker.

16. Eden Hazard, 382 Pts

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    Here's where the points take a bit of a leap; these top 16 are certainly the stand-outs this season who have really contributed in a big way.

    Chelsea's Eden Hazard has made the biggest contribution of all forwards in terms of his raw number of chances created, which stands at a huge 79—that's nine clear of anybody else and one of only two players to breach the 70 barrier. His 2.9 chances per 90 contribute significantly to his high placing, though he has also hit 13 goals for the season.

    Hazard: the most creative forward in Europe.

15. Karim Benzema, 383 Pts

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    Karim Benzema has been handed the chance this season to be Real Madrid's main striker and his recent form indicates he is well up to the challenge. His 57 percent shot accuracy rate has yielded 15 league goals, with only three players managing more so far.

    He has also been a great forward for the other attackers to play off, creating 44 chances so far for his Real team-mates.

14. Thomas Mueller, 388 Pts

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    Back to the Bundesliga and Bayern Munich wide forward Thomas Mueller, who has also played centrally a number of times this term. As expected, the German scores highly across the board, with 41 chances created and 12 goals scored an indication of his all-round abilities.

    A total of 2.3 chances and 0.7 goals per 90 minutes are great numbers to post from a second forward of sorts, even one in a team as impressive and dominant as Bayern.

13. Arjen Robben, 393 Pts

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    Same league, same team: Arjen Robben just edges ahead of his Bayern team-mate Mueller by virtue of mainly achieving similar statistics in less game-time.

    Robben's 10 goals have come in just barely 1,100 minutes of game time and his 2.8 chances per 90 put him fourth in the latter category out of all five leagues. Robben also posts just under the 60 percent mark for shot accuracy. Robben is the third-highest from the Bundesliga.

12. Giuseppe Rossi, 399 Pts

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    Italian forward Giuseppe Rossi was enjoying a fantastic return to the first-team scene earlier this season, before his horrendous luck struck again with another cruciate ligament injury.

    The Fiorentina man scored 14 goals before his injury in January and still remains the second-highest scorer in Serie A after two months on the sidelines. He managed a wonderful rate of 0.9 goals per 90 and posted 63 percent of his shots on target in the process. A full season in such form and he could well have been looking at a top-10 finish. He is the second-highest ranked Serie A forward.

11. Daniel Sturridge, 399 Pts

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    Daniel Sturridge just misses out on the top 10, with the Liverpool striker the third-highest Premier League player in the rankings.

    His high placing is down to his extraordinary finishing ability, with the England forward one of just four players to post better than a goal-per-game—with a 1.03 goals per 90-minute strike rate this season. His 18 goals is the second-highest in the Premier League, testament to the frequency with which his consistency and composure in front of goal have been shown.

10. Carlos Tevez, 404 Pts

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    Serie A's highest-ranked forward kicks off our top 10, with Carlos Tevez having scored 15 goals this season and looking likely to win the top scorer award in the league.

    His scoring rate is good enough, while he also records a plus-60 percent shot accuracy rate. However, Tevez has been even more impressive in creating 50 chances for his team-mates, sitting just outside the top 10 in that regard.

9. Robert Lewandowski, 404 Pts

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    Borussia Dortmund already know they'll be losing striker Robert Lewandowski at the end of the season to rivals Bayern Munich, and it won't be any easier knowing he's the second-best in the Bundesliga this term.

    His 15 goals have come at a rate of 0.7 per 90, while he also weighs in with 1.97 chances per 90, having fashioned 43 for BVB. That places the Polish striker around the top 20 for both categories, where many others may only make it so high in one or the other. Lewandowski records a staggering 68 percent of his shots on target too.

8. Mario Mandzukic, 425 Pts

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    The clear winner for the Bundesliga category is Bayern forward Mario Mandzukic, notable for two statistics in particular.

    Firstly, the Croatian is the top scorer with 16 goals in the German top flight, giving him a thoroughly impressive 0.95 goals per 90 rate. Secondly he has the best shot accuracy rate of all Europe's top strikers, getting a phenomenal 71 percent of his shots on target. 

7. Diego Costa, 426 Pts

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    Diego Costa makes the top seven in Europe but not even the top three in Spain. He is, however, the highest-ranked Spanish forward, having made his international debut recently for his adopted country.

    Twenty-one goals naturally sees him score highly in that regard, being one of only four forwards to have surpassed the 20-mark this season so far.

6. Sergio Aguero, 427 Pts

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    We'll start with the most impressive and important part: Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has the best goals per 90 rate of any striker in the top five leagues, coming in at an incredible 1.13 per 90.

    His 15 goals would surely be higher if he could keep fit, and City's title charge would benefit too. Aguero also racks up a 60 percent shot accuracy rate and weighs in with more than 2.0 chances per 90.

5. Alexis Sanchez, 433 Pts

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    Here's the third-placed La Liga applicant, and fifth overall, Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez. With Leo Messi injured in spells and the front line seemingly with places up for grabs, the Chilean forward has been remarkably consistent and his 16 goals leaves him as La Liga's third-highest scorer.

    His 0.87 goals and 1.7 chances per 90 are both impressive statistics, while his plus-60 percent shot accuracy rate underlines his final third impact.

4. Lionel Messi, 442 Pts

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    Lionel Messi has had his season interrupted by injury somewhat, but his great talent still ensures he has bagged 15 goals from 18 starts and created bundles of chances for his team at a rate of 2.6 per 90—a top five score.

    La Liga's second-highest entrant, Messi is scoring at 0.9 goals per 90 and amasses 65 percent of his shots on target, another great strike-rate.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo, 446 Pts

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    La Liga's highest entrant and taking third place overall is Cristiano Ronaldo.

    The Real Madrid man is the highest scorer in Spain on 24 goals, that's 1.07 per 90 minutes and the second-best rate overall. Though more a scorer than a provider, his all-round contribution sees him create chances at a rate of 1.6 per 90 minutes. Ronaldo's 51 percent shot accuracy rate is the lowest in the top 20, but his vast totting-up of shots during matches results in his hugely impressive scoring rate anyway.

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 491 Pts

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    Second place overall and Ligue 1's highest representative is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish attacker is comfortably out in front of the scoring charts with 23 goals, 0.9 per 90, but he also creates a shedload of chances for others.

    One of the few to make the top 10 for both scoring and creating per 90, Zlatan's 2.3 chances equates to 59 chances created in total, the fifth-highest actual tally. His 23 league goals puts him in third in Europe's overall scoring charts.

1. Luis Suarez, 515 Pts

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    Our winner and the highest-ranked forward in all of Europe is Liverpool's Luis Suarez—and no wonder.

    The Uruguayan is the Premier League's top goalscorer, with more than a goal per game so far—1.05 per 90. He is also the league's joint-leader in assists with 10 from the 67 chances2.9 per 90—he has created this term.

    In terms of our large group of forwards, Suarez was in the top three for both goals per 90 minutes and chances created per 90 minutes, and he was the only forward to score over 20 goals and create more than 60 scoring opportunities.

    He's been the best in the Premier League—and now can justifiably claim to be the best in all of Europe.


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