The striker situation at Everton under Sam Allardyce has been puzzling.
Big Sam came to Everton while young Dominic Calvert-Lewin was the preferred man. DCL’s all-around game has been solid, but his finishing as been suspect at times, and Allardyce made no secret of the fact that he was looking at add another striker to his squad.
So, in came Cenk Tosun — a man, who, strangely enough, Big Sam didn’t really seem that keen on from the start. His comments on the Turkish striker have been consistently puzzling, and after starting his first two matches at the club, Tosun’s played for a grand total of 12 minutes.
Unexpectedly then, over the course of the past two matches, the winner of the Everton striker competition has been...Oumar Niasse?
The Senegalese striker earned Everton a point with a goal off the bench with his first touch against West Bromwich Albion, after which he started both the Leicester City and Arsenal matches last week.
Niasse’s goal output per minutes played is easily the best on the team (he’s got 7 goals in 796 minutes — Wayne Rooney has 11 in 2,287, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin has 8 in 2,171), so he definitely provides some kind of value for the Toffees. The question is, what kind?
Oumar has made his mark this season primarily through relatively late goals. His late heroics earned Everton three points against Bournemouth in September, three points against Watford in November, and a point against West Brom at the end of January.
In fact, only one of Niasse’s goals for Everton this season came in the first half — and even that goal was late, coming in first half added time against Crystal Palace in November!
After considering his contributions this season, I stumbled into an important question — has Oumar Niasse always been mostly a late-game poacher? The upshot, of course, being, should Oumar Niasse ever be anything more than a late-game poacher for Everton?
Now, let me be perfectly clear — there’s nothing wrong with Niasse being only a late impact substitute who provides a goal threat in tight matches. A player with the ability to make a late goal-scoring difference is really valuable, even if that’s the only thing he contributes. But, if it is the only thing he can reliably contribute, he simply shouldn’t be starting matches!
So, I dove into Niasse’s goal-scoring history and found some interesting results. Below is a table of the timing of his goals with five clubs: Teleset Mobilya Akhisarspor (of Turkey), Lokomotiv Moscow (of Russia), the Everton U23s, Hull City (on loan last season), and the Everton senior squad. The first table has the goals broken up into 15-minute increments.
Niasse Goals — 15 Minute Increments
There are two interesting takeaways from the initial organization of this data.
First, Niasse’s goals on the whole do tend to occur most frequently late in matches. The 61st-75th minute and 76th-90th minute blocks have the most goals, with 13 and 15 respectively. The next most common goal period is the 31st-45th minutes, perhaps an indication that he’s taking advantage of tired legs and minds at the end of the first half in a similar way to how he appears to be doing so in the second half.
Second, the distribution gets skewed more to late-match goals as the quality of his opposition increases. In Turkey with Akhisanspor, the most scored-in period was the 46th-60th minute, but he had only 4 goals in that span, with 3 goals in the 31st-45th and 61st-75th, 2 goals in the 16th-30th and 76th-90th, and 1 goal in the 1st-15th.
With the U23s, the distribution is pretty even as well. No period has more than 3 goals, and each has at least 1.
When the level of competition gets bumped up a little bit, with Lokomotive Moscow in Russia, things start to tilt. Yes, Niasse scored 3 goals in each of the 16th-30th and 31st-45th periods, but also a staggering 5 goals in the 61st-75th and 76th-90th periods each.
In the Premier League, with both Hull City and Everton, the distribution is completely lopsided. Of Oumar’s 12 goals with Premier League teams, 3 have come in the 61st-75th period, and 7 have come in the 76th-90th period — that’s more than half of his Premier League goals coming in the final 15 minutes of matches.
To take a slightly more general look at Niasse’s goal distribution, take a look at the table below, in which the match is broken up into 30 minute increments.
Niasse Goals — 30 Minute Increments
Here, the distinction really starts to come into focus. Overall, 28 of Niasse’s 56 goals have come in the final half hour of the match — or put another way, half of Niasse’s goals have come in the final third of matches.
For Akhisanspor and the Everton U23s, the majority of Niasse’s goals actually came in the middle period of the match, from the 31st to 60th minute. Again, these are the teams who had the lowest quality of competition.
Once the quality of opposition is raised, either in Russia for Lokomotiv or in England for Hull City or Everton, the late period of the match becomes Niasse’s most successful — particularly in England.
So what’s the takeaway?
Niasse has been a useful striker at multiple level. He’s scored 56 goals in 9,246 minutes across the clubs and competitions I’ve mentioned here — that’s a little better than a goal every 180 minutes.
Of course, those numbers are a little inflated by play with the Everton U23s and in the inferior Turkish League. Yet, Niasse has played 2160 minutes for Everton’s senior squad and Hull City, scoring 12 goals in that time — giving him an average of exactly one goal per 180 minutes, or two full games.
For a striker playing on Hull City or Everton, that’s pretty damn good.
But those numbers need to be contextualized. Only two of those 12 goals have come before the 61st minute. Even for Lokomotive Moscow, in the next-best league Oumar has played in, 10 of his 19 goals came in the final half hour of the match.
Ultimately then, the takeaway is this — Oumar Niasse is a very useful contributor, but primarily just as the first striker off the bench.
And the assessment based on the numbers ultimately coincides with the eye test. Niasse isn’t particularly big, strong, quick, or technically gifted. He’s a willing runner, has an excellent sense of where to position himself in the opponent’s box, and is usually a very reliable finisher (fiasco against Leicester City notwithstanding) — all traits that lend themselves to a player who is at his best when facing defenders with tired legs and tired minds.
With those traits, Niasse has saved Everton 7 points from off the bench this season — without which the Toffees would be firmly in a relegation battle. He’s an eminently useful player when utilized correctly.
That just simply does not include putting him in the starting XI.