The Numbers Behind Luis Muriel's Resurgence
Luis Muriel is on course for the best season of his career so far, with a prolific 20 goals in 36 games for Atalanta this season. Muriel has often shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career but now, at 29, finally looks to be living up to his talents and delivering some end product on a much more consistent basis. Muriel is a striker capable of playing on the wing who possesses genuine pace, strength, raw skill and trickery and a range of emphatic and technical finishing ability as well as having a sense of all round explosiveness to his game. After a relatively mediocre spell in Seville the Colombian now has fans across Europe marvelling at his goals and raw ability- he has undergone an impressive resurgence at Atalanta during an important spell of his career.
Muriel's Career so far
Muriel began his career at Deportivo Cali where 9 goals in only 10 games as a 19 year old was enough to convince Udinese to sign him for a small fee. At Udinese Muriel had loan spells to partner club Granada and fellow Serie A side Lecce, a loan spell in which he played 30 times bagging 7 goals. The forwards breakout season came in 2012-13 where he scored 11 goals in 22 games in his first season playing for parent club Udinese, all despite missing numerous games due to a femur fracture which kept him out for months of the season. Muriel struggled the following season only scoring 4 times in Serie A from 24 appearances, however injuries hindered him once more and it has also been reported that around this time Muriel struggled with his weight , even himself citing it as a reason for his slight under-achievements as a young prospect. In 2014-15 Muriel made 11 goalless appearances for Udinese before a January loan switch to Sampdoria where he scored 4 times.
Sampdoria had seen enough to make the deal permanent, over the next two seasons with Sampdoria Muriel amassed 17 goals and 10 assists with the Genoa based outfit, 11 goals and 5 assists coming in his final season. This led to a big transfer for Muriel, being signed by that years Champions league quarter finalists, Sevilla, for a fee of over 20million euros. Unfortunately, once more Muriel's career hit a bit of a standstill with him only totalling 9 goals for the club, at a time where he had fierce and elite competition from Wissam Ben Yedder, Andre Silva, Munir and Quincy Promes all battling for forward positions in the starting XI. Midway through Muriel's second season with Sevilla, Muriel returned to Italy and joined Fiorentina on loan for the rest of the season. This was an incredibly productive time for Muriel where he scored several goals of a high technical standard and had a streak of 8 goals in 10 games for La Viola from January through to March that season.
Change of ownership meant Fiorentina couldn't pounce and sign Muriel permanently, Atalanta capitalised as a result and acquired Muriel for the 2019-20 season. In his first season for Gasaperini's attacking outfit (they scored a frightening 98 goals in Serie A) Muriel scored an incredible 22 goals in all competitions, despite only actually starting 12 games. As a lethal impact substitute and key member of the team, Muriel helped lead Atalanta to 3rd in Serie A with the underdogs only finishing 5 points off of title winners Juventus and securing champions league football for just the second time ever. This takes us up to now where Muriel is Picking up where he left off last year, still in a rich vein of form and certainly looking to have put the days of past inconsistent and underwhelming seasons behind him under a new lease of life in Bergamo.
Muriel's Fantastic Solo goal during his loan spell at Fiorentina
Muriel's Role at Atalanta
Throughout most of his exciting and progressive tenure at Atalanta, Gasperini has played a 3-4-2-1, and occasionally a 3-5-2. Muriel therefore often plays as a lone striker, or he is joined upfront by either Josip Ilicic or compatriot Duvan Zapata. With Atalanta playing with immense width, Muriel has freedom to find spaces in the centre or make runs himself to free space for central midfielders to get into the box, creating goal scoring chances. Working in this space where there is more time on the ball , due to attacking wing-backs Gosens and Hateboer often occupying defenders, Muriel can display the strengths he possesses in shooting from range and driving forward beating defenders when he has space to accelerate and work up to his electric top speed. Much like the now departed Papu Gomez and current fellow attacking talisman Josip Ilicic, Muriel's job could be described as fairly simple in a tactical sense. His role requires him like all elite strikers to be an adept finisher, and with the space Gasaperini's system creates for him it is simply down to him to showcase his ability and capitalise on this space afforded to him, from his midfielders and wing backs drawing defenders out of position. Initially Muriel was a 'super-sub' often coming on and scoring the 3rd of 4th goals in thrashings against tired defenders, however his form infront of goal and the range of finishing now commands him a starting place in the team especially when he offers something very different to Zapata, the sides only other true out-and-out and striker, who's strengths are different to Muriel's, lying more in aerial ability and hold-up play. Muriel is slightly more mobile, certainly faster and possess greater ability technically and in front of goal from range, you only have to go back a number of days ago with his brilliantly executed free-kick against Real Madrid for evidence of this.
The underlying stats behind Muriel's Performances
Some of the statistics Muriel is putting up this are remarkable. Muriel has an xG of 11 from his Champions league and Serie A performances so far this season yet has 19 goals. he is outperforming his expected goals by around 8, this highlights his clinical finishing and the aforementioned range of unpredictable goals he is capable of scoring from unusual positions. xG is often the mark of a good striker as it highlights how they can change a game if they have a knack of scoring out of nothing or scoring from tighter angles than most. Comparatively one of the world’s best, Cristiano Ronaldo is outperforming his xG in Serie A and the Champions League by 4. Yes Ronaldo is 36 and has changed his game to be more of a poacher none, but it is still impressive that Muriel, at times best recognised for wasting his potential, is putting up numbers that are better than some of Europe's most elite established forwards. Muriel also has 0.99 xG per 90 minutes in Serie A this season, bettering Ronaldo's 0.95. Muriel also has 1 penalty goal to Ronaldo's 5 and the same number of goals from open play in Serie A (15), from 37 less shots than Ronaldo (he has taken 86 so far this season in Serie A). To compare Muriel to another of Europe's elite, Lionel Messi has taken 72 shots outside the box in La Liga this season scoring 7 times, whilst in Serie A (a league of equal strength) Muriel has scored 3 for just 14 attempts giving him a success rate of about 21% compared to Messi's 9.7% success rate. Messi has clearly taken more shots, but these numbers suggest Muriel would average more goals if he took the same rate of shots outside the box. From goals within the box Muriel's numbers are still elite. Mohamed Salah has 16 goals from 61 shots in the box this season while Muriel has 12 from 38. This gives Muriel a success rate of 32% while Salah's success rate for shots inside the box stands at 26%.
Muriel has made 25 league appearances this season while the 3 other forwards mentioned have all made the same number of league appearances or more-except Ronaldo with just 2 less on 23. The purpose of these comparisons are not to knock Ronaldo, Messi or Salah as they are all undoubtedly 3 of the world’s best forwards and it is worth noting that Juventus, Barcelona and Liverpool have all suffered Injury crisis's /at times struggled to identify an effective playing style. The point of these comparisons are instead to highlight how Muriel is in the form of his life by keeping up with and out performing these 3 selected stars in multiple areas within his level of performance. This is made more impressive as he is doing so at a club with substantially less spending power and with a much smaller squad comparatively bereft of the cycle of world class players Messi, Ronaldo and Salah often find themselves playing alongside.
Muriel has been one of the most eye catching forwards in Serie A this season, and football fans across Italy and Europe will be hoping to witness more moments of magic from the Colombian. With his 30's approaching, if Muriel is to keep up his outstanding displays with Atalanta he could finally begin to live up to his high potential and join a long list of strikers in Serie A who continue to torment defences well into the twilight and latter years of their careers. Muriel's current rise and resurgence has been incredible so far, and long may it continue.
Written by-Joe Langlands