Shooting performance under pressure: Finding the best finishers in the Premier League 2022/23

2R4HK4R 28th May 2023; Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford, London, England; Premier League Football, Brentford versus Manchester City; Julian Alvarez of Manchester City taking a shot

PFF’s pressure process encompasses all distribution event types: passing, shooting, crossing, and clearances. Last month we explored the best passers in the Premier League under pressure, with Rodri and James Maddison among the standouts.

In this article, we’re looking at performance when the player is directly under pressure on shot events. This means we are excluding what we call lane pressures, where the defender is pressing the passing lane rather than pressing the ball carrier.

If you need a refresher or want to know more about PFF Grades, we have an explainer detailing the process here.

Name Club Pressured shooting grade
Ivan Toney Brentford 86.2
Erling Haaland Manchester City 84.3
Roberto Firmino Liverpool 81.7
Ollie Watkins Aston Villa 81.6
Julian Alvarez Manchester City 81.5

Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Manchester City’s Erling Haaland topping the list should come as no surprise. Both strikers had excellent seasons, scoring 20 and 36 goals respectively. Both are strong, physical players so are able to deal with pressure from defenders and not let it affect them.

Haaland, in particular, was able to engineer clear shots at goal with the lowest blocked shot percentage among forwards to have attempted 70 or more shots, with a rate of 16%. This is lower than Toney’s percentage of 21%, the average among players in the top 10 for shot attempts.

Toney’s grade holds up against his high volume of shots direct from set pieces totalling 15 in all, seven more than the second-most (Harry Kane and Aleksandar Mitrovic), when defences are more set in their shape than during open play.

Roberto Firmino has generated a grade of 81.7 which, in a season where Firmino had a reduced role for Liverpool, he still managed to score 11 Premier League goals at a rate of a goal every 121 minutes. More than half the shots he took this season were under direct pressure from a defender but that didn’t seem to have an effect on him.

One name that may come as a surprise in this list is Julian Alvarez. The Argentina star has the 14th-best shooting grade when taking all shots into account and his shooting grade with no pressure is 70.1, meaning the striker performed to a higher quality in more difficult situations.

With our new pressure grades, we can also look at which players' performance declines the most when they are put under pressure compared to when they are allowed to shoot in space.

Name Club Shooting grade under no pressure Shooting grade under pressure Difference
Harry Kane Tottenham Hotspur 98.7 66.0 -32.7
Kelechi Iheanacho Leicester City 78.9 58.4 -20.5
Aleksandar Mitrovic Fulham 83.0 67.8 -15.2

The biggest surprise here is how Harry Kane struggles when he is under pressure. The second highest scorer in the league last season takes the sharpest drop of not just any striker but any player in the league when he’s pressed compared to when he is allowed to shoot freely. In this table below we break down Kane's quality of his performance in those two categories.

Shooting Grade Relative grade % of positively graded shots % of negatively graded shots
Pressure 66.0 7.5% 70%
No Pressure 98.7 28.8% 43.8%

Under pressure Kane takes very few quality shots and a large majority of his shots are poor quality. When he has time and space those numbers dramatically increase and decrease, respectively.

A decreased grade under pressure isn’t surprising, it’s in fact expected. However, the drop off from having the best shooting grade in the league under no pressure to a fairly average grade when put under pressure is. Going by traditional metrics as well, Kane falls from having 62% of shots on target generally to only 43% when under pressure.

Harry Kane does hold the second-best overall shooting grade in the Premier League for last season (92.5), so these numbers aren’t at all meant to disparage his ability. However, it does show the importance for Premier League defences to make sure Kane isn’t allowed to get clean shots away, given how clinical the England captain is when he is allowed to shoot at goal.

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