Luis Muriel is having a brilliant season for Atalanta
When you talk about Serie A strikers, Atalanta star Luis Muriel is probably not the first name that comes to your mind. The Atalanta striker doesn’t have the glitz and glamour attached to his name like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ciro Immobile, Romelu Lukaku, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic do.
But he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned strikers considering the season he has been having for the Bergamo-based side. Muriel currently has 21 league goals (25 goals and 11 assists in all competitions) and is tied second for the Capocannonieri with Dusan Vlahovic after gameweek 35.
Let us further analyse how the Colombian international is quietly having the best season of his career.
Muriel is an out and out striker but that is not the only role that he plays. He has been played as a right-winger, a left-winger, as well as a second striker at times this season by manager Gian Piero Gasperini. However, it is undeniable that Muriel is a number 9 and that is where he thrives.
Image A shows something interesting. It is Muriel’s heatmaps from 3 of his last 5 Serie A games this year. It makes it evident that he is a striker that likes to play slightly to the left of centre, akin to the role of a left-forward for his forward- at times even doubling up as a winger.
Image B takes an example from the most recent game for Muriel when he replaced Zapata at the start of the second half to play as a striker against Parma. Here, he is seen making a run down the left-wing (yellow circle) into the centre of the box. That is something he does regularly, and this chance ended up with him assisting Matteo Pessina for a simple goal to make it 2-0.
But it is not what he is restricted to. His goals have come from the centre and right side of the pitch as well, as displayed in Image C. The image showing his shots that have resulted in a goal also depicts that he is the most dangerous around the penalty spot and if he does want to shoot, he does it with his stronger right foot when cutting in from the left.
Muriel starts as a lone striker at times in a 3-4-2-1, or as a strike partner to Duvan Zapata in a 3-4-1-2 set-up. What is peculiar about this is that in a single striker formation, Atalanta almost always start with Duvan Zapata up front with Luis Muriel coming in as a substitute. This brings us to our next point.
The concept of super subs is not dead in the modern game. Be it Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 90s, Javier Hernandez for United in the late 2000s or Olivier Giroud for Chelsea in the past few years, strikers coming off the bench to make an instant impact with goals has always been a weapon for top sides.
Carrying on this tradition this season has been Muriel. He is Atalanta’s top scorer in the league and in all competitions by quite some margin. But he has started just 18 games this season, while coming on as a substitute in 15 Serie A matches.
And coming off the bench, he has 6 goals and 3 assists in that time, showing the magic he can bring to the team off the bench. This is not something that he is doing just now. He was also at it last season when he had a staggering 11 goals coming on as a sub.
The numbers behind Muriel
Muriel is performing better than Cristiano Ronaldo when it comes to xG90 (expected goals per 90 minutes). In fact, he is leading the entire league (min. 5 appearances) in that stat as well as NPxG90 (expected non-penalty goals per 90 minutes). These hair-raising stats are visible in Image D.
And not just that, he is very high up in the league when it comes to providing. Muriel’s 0.32 xA90 (expected assists per 90) is the 10th best in the league this season for players having made 20+ appearances.
Muriel also has the same amount of goals as Romelu Lukaku despite playing just half the minutes of the Belgian and has 19 non-penalty goals, which is three more than the Belgian and 2 fewer than Ronaldo, as visible in Image E.
With a goal conversation rate of 25.93%, Muriel leads that stat in Serie A for all players who have taken at least 50 shots on goal this season. His 21 goals from 81 shots are also highly impressive considering Ronaldo has taken exactly twice that amount by the end of 35 gameweeks. (h/t SofaScore)
Image F shows how lethal Luis Muriel is when we take stats for every 90 minutes rather than just appearances. He leads his competition in goals, dribbles assists, shots, and even passing to some extent when stats are taken for every 90 minutes.
Muriel has had his favourites this season and it is their combination play with these players that has spring-boarded him to have such a great season. When it comes to providing assists and being at the end of assists, he has the best connection with Ruslan Malinovsky, Atalanta’s 28-year-old Ukrainian playmaker.
The two have combined to produce 6 goals this season between them. Remo Freuler has also assisted him thrice, making him the most prolific assister to Muriel this season alongside Malinovsky. (All stats taken from transfermarkt)
His importance to Atalanta
It is now evident that Atalanta are very dependant on Muriel despite having a good goal-scorer in Zapata as well. Muriel is the Italian side’s top scorer this season and has provided the third most assists (9) out of all Atalanta players.
His influence is highlighted in Image G, where he is shown leading his team in Shots per 90 minutes, xG90, and xG90 + xA90.
Atalanta are yet to lose a league game this season when he has scored. Moreover, they are also unbeaten in the league when Muriel has started. All their league losses have come in games where the Colombian has either been left on the bench or subbed on after the second half.
And when he doesn’t perform, neither do Atalanta, considering he just has 1 goal and 1 assist in the 7 matches Atalanta have lost with him on the pitch. (h/t transfermarkt)
Muriel might be 30 years old but he is only just peaking it seems. He had a massive goal tally last season too but this is the first time he has hit 20+ goals in a league season, that too when he is not even a regular name in the starting XI.
Atalanta are lucky to have two lethal goal scorers in Zapata and Muriel and the latter seems to be more important considering his role as a super-sub considering Zapata has just 2 goals from the bench this season.
Atalanta are the highest-scoring team in Serie A this season and no wonder why. With goal-scorers like Muriel being their second-choice striker, they are bound to be dealing in goals week in week out.