Just How Good Was Gareth Bale's Goal?


Just how good was Gareth Bale's goal at West Ham last week? What were the chances of his shot scoring and how does it compare with other great goals in recent seasons? Today on the blog Mark Taylor breaks out his shot-on-goal database to give us the answer.


The expected top of the table rematch between the two Manchester clubs seems to be heading for an easy points victory for the red half of the city as Mancini’s side currently trail their rivals by a hefty 12 points. However, one Premiership competition that is guaranteed to go down to potentially the final kick of the season is the race to score the “Goal of the Season”.

Peter Crouch's Goal vs Manchester City

During the last campaign two goals stood head and shoulders above the competition and both were scored relatively late in the season. Stoke’s Peter Crouch staked his claim in late March with an acrobatically executed volley at the Britannia Stadium against title chasing Manchester City.

In true Stoke style the ball failed to touch the ground once it had been launched upfield by Asmir Begovic. But if the buildup to the goal was predictable, the outcome of Crouch’s shot was far from certain. He hit the ball from a position just outside the right hand corner of the penalty area from the perspective of the attacking side. Therefore he was around 22 yards from the centre of the goal line when he struck the ball and the wider a player is from goal when he shoots, the higher the difficulty.

I’ve used regression analysis on the outcome of every shot in my data set, roughly 5,000 goal attempts to obtain the likelihood that the shot will result in either a goal or a block by an opposing player . Additionally, I have estimated how likely a shot is to be on target. An average shot from the edge of the penalty area and central to the goal will see a goal being scored about one time in eight attempts, but move four yards wider, so that the shooter is now in line with one of the posts and the number of shots needed to score once increases to nearly 13. Once we reach the position from where Crouch elected to try his luck, we are rapidly approaching a 1 in 100 event.

Papiss Cisse's Goal vs Chelsea

If the Crouch effort was a spectacular and relatively rare event, Papiss Cisse succeeded with an even more remarkable strike at Chelsea during a mid week game in early May.

The ball was hit on the half volley with the outside of his right foot from the left wing position, a couple of yards wider than the Crouch effort and it was those extra couple of yards in width that helped to secure the statistical vote in the “Goal of the season” title for the Newcastle player. Both goals were fantastic, but if Crouch’s was a one in a hundred event, Cisse’s was 1 in 120.

Gareth Bale's Goal vs West Ham

Gareth Bale has been a regular scorer of memorable goals, sometimes following a trademark run from deep and also from a dead ball where the trajectory of his attempts closely resembles those of Ronaldo in Spain.

The route taken by his recent match winner against West Ham again saw the ball swirl and dip beyond the keeper, but from a purely statistical standpoint, how likely was Bale to score from his shooting position and how does his goal stack up against the two best individual efforts from last term ?

Judged by position, Bale’s effort was much further out, but closer to the centre of the goal than either of the goals from 2011/12. This makes a block by a defender more likely because the ball has further to travel through an area that tends to be more heavily populated by defenders. The game was entering added time when Bale struck against West Ham, so it is perhaps understandable that the home defenders were tiring. However, the data does indicate that blocking long distance shots is a very effective method of dealing with such attempts.

There was around a one in 50 chance that an average Premiership player would manage to score from Bale’s position, so usually the threat is minimal, but Bale’s growing reputation as a fine striker of the ball should see teams more eager to close down the Spurs player from distance in the future.

As a 50/1 chance, in purely numerical terms Bale’s goal is eclipsed by both Cisse and Crouch, although it ranks alongside similar efforts from the current season such as Carlos Tevez’s winner for Manchester City at home to Swansea. Goals of similar rarity, judged solely by the position of the strike, such as Adam Johnson’s for Sunderland against his former team, on closer inspection came about partly through poor positioning by the keeper. Therefore, the credit and the blame for the goal should be more equally shared between striker and keeper.

GoalChance Of Shot On TargetChance Of Shot Being BlockedChance Of A Goal
Crouch v M City 2011/2012 25% 30% 1.0%
Cisse v Chelsea 2011/2012 24% 30% 0.7%
Bale v W Ham 2012/2013 22% 38% 1.8%

Similarly, deflections played a major role in long distance efforts such as Mata’s winner at Arsenal, van Persie’s added time decider in the Manchester derby and Podolski’s free kick to finally see off Stoke at the Emirates. Visual evidence and statistical analysis often need to go hand in hand.

Aside from the lack of defensive pressure, Bale’s goal left Jaaskelainen with little chance of making the save and the Spurs player also contributed to the goal with an initial forward dribble. An appraisal of the build up to a goal is currently possible through combining the completion expectancies for each individual pass in the move, as we begin to edge closer towards de-constructing football.

Judged as a whole and with the added bonus of turning a very likely single point into three, Bale’s goal will take some beating this term.

If anyone has any alternative contenders, feel free to post them in the comments section and I will run then through my shot expectancy spreadsheet.



Read more of Mark's work on his The Power Of Goals blog

And follow Mark of Twitter: @MarkTaylor0

NFL and football fan. I've seen my two favourite sides, Stoke and the San Diego Chargers play at the new Wembley....and both lost.