Tottenham’s performances will surely suffer in the absence of Harry Kane, but we wanted to know which players’ presence has the biggest positive impact on their team.
To find out, we looked back over the last five seasons and measured every club’s average goal difference per 90 minutes in top-flight matches, split by whether each of their current players were on the pitch or not.
For fairness, we haven’t considered any matches in this period before they first featured for their current club. Below are the 10 players who have made the largest positive difference in a range of top European leagues.
For all the plaudits that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been receiving at Arsenal this season, it’s his team-mate Alexandre Lacazette who has made the biggest difference in the Premier League.
The Gunners’ average goal difference per 90 minutes is exactly even without him on the pitch, but a full goal to the good during the time he’s featured.
Tied for first place is James Tomkins of Crystal Palace, whose presence has an identical boost on Roy Hodgson’s team – albeit raising them to merely breaking even – while his more illustrious colleague Wilfried Zaha has a similar effect on their fortunes.
For Tottenham, it’s the departure of Son Heung-Min for international duty which should concern them more than losing Kane.
In the Spanish top-flight, Iago Aspas of Celta Vigo is the standout performer: his team really struggle without him on the pitch and no player across the seven divisions we looked at made such a large difference.
Both Ruben Perez of Leganes and Espanyol’s Sergio Garcia deserve a mention for having provided a similar boost to Lacazette at Arsenal, and it’s no surprise to see Wissam Ben Yedder – who lit up the Champions League for Sevilla last season – among the top 10.
It’s possible that Manchester United signed the wrong Lukaku, given both the impact of Marcus Rashford this season and the huge difference that his younger brother Jordan is making for Lazio in a position that United arguably need to strengthen.
Only Mirko Gori, of Serie A strugglers Frosinone, has made a larger positive impact among the division’s current players, so if he suffers relegation this season there should be no shortage of suitors.
Augsburg appear to be a team heavily reliant on several members of their squad, with two of the three most influential players in the Bundesliga among their ranks and another propping up the top 10.
The presence of Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason and left-back Philipp Max have had a greater positive impact on their average goal difference than any player for any other team except Leverkusen’s Julian Baumgartlinger.
There’s a more famous Austrian – and another left-back – in the list too, with Bayern’s David Alaba apparently the most valuable member of the defending champions’ star-studded ranks.
Few eyebrows would be raised at the sight of Neymar in the French top 10, given how instrumental the Brazilian star is to PSG’s success, although Belgian right-back Thomas Meunier has actually generated a slightly larger net improvement to the runaway leaders’ average goal difference since his arrival.
Top of the list, however, is Fernando Marcal of fellow Champions League hopefuls Lyon: yet another left-back who makes their team tick.
Belgian First Division A
In Belgium there is plenty of competition for the title of most valuable player but edging out the rest is Lokeren’s right-back Stefano Marzo, who improves their goal difference by almost exactly a goal per 90 minutes when present.
Anderlecht goalkeeper Franck Boeckx and another right back – Antwerp’s Portuguese starlet Aurelio Buta – run Marzo close to complete the top three, and one of Buta’s team-mates Ivo Rodrigues also features in the top five.
Greek Super League
The Greek top 10 is dominated by members of one team in particular as Asteras Tripoli boast four of the six most influential players, including the one who makes the biggest difference of all.
Vice-captain Konstantinos Triantafyllopoulos turns them from a team who are over half a goal per 90 minutes worse than their opponents on average to one that is almost half a goal better, so they could well owe their continued presence in the top flight to his efforts.
If Panathinaikos are to challenge for another title then keeping hold of exciting young winger Anastasios Chatzigiovanis is a must, given their average goal difference has been far more modest when he hasn’t featured.
Data correct as of January 15th 2019
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