Big chances are among the most divisive and widely used metrics in football.
They’re controversial within the analytics community because big chances are defined by whoever’s monitoring a game for the data companies and therefore bring strong elements of subjectivity into what strives to be an objective field.
The metric nonetheless remains popular, as it’s a statistic that anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the game can understand.
In layman’s terms, a big chance is a scoring opportunity that most people reading this article would feel they had decent odds of putting away. They’re converted at rate of around 40 percent. Leading football data provider Opta describes them as:
“A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter. Penalties are always considered big chances.”
Before we move on, please note that these figures were collated before this weekend’s games and that they exclude penalties.
The big time
Robert Lewandowski is clearly way ahead here, with 47 big chances, almost double the second-highest total, which is Luka Jovic’s 25. At the time of writing, however, Lewandowski had only scored 21 league goals compared to Jovic’s 17.
Indeed, if we make it a little easier to compare the numbers of big chances that each player is scoring or missing from, then things seem far less impressive for the Bayern number nine.
After matchday 28, there had been 1,134 big chances in the Bundesliga this season. Of that total, 479 had resulted in goals, 342 had been saved, 270 missed outright and 43 hit the woodwork. This leaves us with a big-chance conversion rate for the league as a whole of 42.2 percent, which is within the range that we’d expect.
Let’s look at how that breaks down for individual players.
Of the 31 players who’ve had ten or more big chances in the Bundesliga this season, in terms of conversion Lewandowski ranks a lowly 23rd. It’s also worth noting that Thomas Mueller is faring even more badly here, with his 27.3 percent conversion rate the fourth-worst.
Jovic isn’t exactly shining in this regard, either: his 44 percent rate is barely above the league average.
Windows of opportunity
We shouldn’t be too dismissive of players with poor big-chance conversion rates, though, because the ability to get into these positions in the first place is a very important skill in itself. This is embodied by a certain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who showed during his years in the Bundesliga that his great gift is to achieve a very high volume of big-chance opportunities, rather than to convert them at a good rate.
As you can see here, that has continued since he joined Arsenal. Next, we’ll move on to the proportions of these players’ total shots that are big chances.
There’s further evidence here, if it was needed, of the cautious approach to shooting adopted by Hertha under Pal Dardai, which has seen them take among the lowest proportion of shots from outside the penalty area of any Bundesliga side. And much as I love Max Kruse, maybe he does shoot a little too often.
Finally, we’ll look at how many big chances these players are having per 90 minutes.
Only eight Bundesliga players are averaging a big chance every 90 minutes or better this season: Joelinton, Thomas Mueller, Mario Gomez, Salomon Kalou, Jean-Philippe Mateta, Sebastien Haller, Kevin Volland and Kai Havertz.
Below are the big-chance shotmaps for the six Bundesliga players with the highest number of big chances this season. Jovic definitely has a very particular sweet spot, while Reus is dangerous from all over the penalty area.
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