What was United States striker Christian Ramirez doing differently on the pitch to suddenly stop scoring for Aberdeen last season?
On Wednesday morning, it was reported the Dons are willing to listen to offers for attacker Ramirez – news which some in the Red Army didn’t seem overly concerned about.
It’s a far cry from their relationship with Ramirez at the start of the 2021/22 campaign.
The 31-year-old made a fantastic start to his first season at Pittodrie and quickly became a hero as he made his way into double figures for goals in all competitions, and went on to reach 15 strikes.
During a dire run of form the forward’s body language towards the end of the season and since his return from an extended break to the US for the start of pre-season has irked some fans.
What is indisputable is US international Ramirez has yet to find the net in a competitive match under new boss Jim Goodwin, with all 10 of his Premiership goals last term coming under ex-gaffer Glass.
During the summer break, there was fan-led speculation that the former Houston Dynamo attacker wouldn’t be returning to Aberdeen.
It was a view fuelled by social media posts which were interpreted as showing Ramirez and his family weren’t settled in the north-east.
Although the player is currently in Spain at the Dons’ pre-season training camp, Wednesday’s reports – as well as the £500,000 signing of North Macedonian striker Bojan Miovski in recent days – have cast fresh doubt on Ramirez’s future with the Reds.
Overperformance in front of goal to underperformance
We will have to wait and see what happens with Ramirez during the rest of the transfer window, whether he remains in Goodwin’s plans, wants to remain and how the wider Red Army feel about it.
What we can now do is look to see if any other stats, not just goals, support the view that we saw a different Ramirez in the Premiership games before and after Glass departed last season.
Maybe we can even answer the question: Why did he stop scoring?
Here’s Ramirez’s league scoring record under Glass (top line) and under Goodwin (bottom line):
Under Glass, in the Premiership, he was averaging 0.4 goals per 90 minutes, and, under Goodwin, it was (of course) 0 goals per 90 minutes. So yes, less goals – no surprise there.
A lack of goals isn’t always the fault of one player, of course, and is also dependent on what team-mates are doing to provide chances.
Increasingly dismal team performances, a lack of creativity in attack and over-reliance on Ramirez as the only available senior forward were wider issues no member of the Red Army would deny last term.
However, this is where Opta’s xG (expected goals) metric comes in handy – giving us an idea of what Ramirez should’ve been doing with the chances to score he did have in both sections of the campaign.
As the graphic below shows, in the first part of the season under Glass, Ramirez performed well above his xG – scoring his 10 goals against a rating of 6.3 goals. This suggests he wasn’t just scoring easy chances, he was converting difficult chances, too.
In the second part of the campaign, post-February 13, under caretaker boss Barry Robson then Goodwin, it was a different story.
Opta reckon Ramirez should have scored 1.4 times in the league, but he didn’t score at all. He went from a big overperformance, to a slightly less dramatic under-performance against the quality of chances he had.
However, it’s not just a story of missing good chances as soon as Goodwin came in the door – as Ramirez was also undoubtedly getting less clear-cut scoring opportunities.
Not getting the ball in the six-yard box
If you were at the Dons’ games following the change in manager, Ramirez looked increasingly frustrated. You saw this in several games when a ball didn’t come to him from a team-mate when he thought he should have.
On top of this, his predatory instincts also looked dulled, compared to the early months of the season, in terms of getting himself to the ball. You could argue he was certainly not anticipating or even busting the same amount of gut to reach those tantalising balls across the six-yard box.
This all added up to a perception among some in the Red Army he ‘downed tools’.
But there’s another side to the story – take the game at Pittodrie against Dundee on April 30 (when he reacted furiously to being substituted)… Yes, there were appetising crosses he didn’t reach that day, but there were also crosses smacked off of defenders or beyond him instead of into his feet by his fellow Dons.
Look at the same shotmap/xG graphics from above again, and they reflect a player who went from scoring a) half of his goal from inside the six-yard box and b) half of his goals from central positions between the penalty spot and six-yard box under Glass, to barely getting any shots away from those areas at all under Goodwin:
For a player who is well-known to be a penalty-box, poacher, finisher-type forward, this – alongside missing some decent chances – appears to be a big contributing factor to his inability to score.
In general terms, Ramirez wasn’t seeing less of the ball under Goodwin:
He was actually touching the ball more times within the wider opposition 18-yard box under Goodwin, but it was those really dangerous, close-to-goal areas he wasn’t able to get ball in as much.
Fundamentally this comes down to both his own efforts and the quality of service from his team-mates.
Watch the video right at the top of this article, those are the places Ramirez scores from – inside six yards, and between the six-yard line and penalty spot – and he went from having loads of openings in those areas under Glass to very little under Goodwin.
Tightening up of understanding with team-mates?
Anticipation, desire and instinct are one half of the equation when it comes to getting the chances in those positions, undeniably, but there also appears to have been a little bit of a loosening in the on-field relationship between Ramirez and his team-mates.
The below stats on Ramirez’s own passing are a reflection of this.
He made less passes in the Goodwin part of the season and was less accurate than he was under Glass:
He also struggled to tee up opportunities and goals for team-mates in the latter part of the campaign in the same way they struggled to tee him up:
He set-up three goals in the league under Glass, for an average of 0.1 assists per 90 minutes, but is still waiting for a first league assist under his current manager to go along with his hunt for a first league goal.
It all paints a picture of an attack not quite clicking with the club’s main forward in the late season.
Exit door looming, or a refreshed, ruthless Ramirez in red once more?
Ramirez might leave Aberdeen this summer, that much is clear, and there would surely be clubs interested based on the scoring prowess he showed in the early part of the 2021/22 campaign. Strikers who score being the most difficult players to sign.
However, maybe there’s a way back for Ramirez at the Dons and with some sections of the Red Army.
It’s something stats can’t quantify, but maybe playing 90 minutes, week in, week out and being knackered – having had no summer off when he signed from Houston – was part of why his form dwindled away.
The quality is there – we all seen it over those early months.
Perhaps the striker will emerge from the summer, having already netted a penalty in the opening friendly with Buckie Thistle, recharged and with all his instincts, determination and understanding with his fellow players back to 100%.
He could start taking the chances we saw him take in the first half of last term again.
Getting the ball to him – or Ramirez getting to the ball – in those two key areas, the six-yard box and the central area between the penalty spot and six-yard line, looks to be a key factor.
⚽ Christian Ramirez scores from the penalty spot in yesterday's victory over Buckie Thistle. pic.twitter.com/T6VqmNNp2j
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) June 26, 2022