Dribbling is a much-admired skill in football. The best in the game are fixed into the history of the sport: players like Stanley Matthews, George Best and Diego Maradona are remembered for their almost superhuman ability to leave defenders trailing in their wake. Beating defenders one-on-one excites a crowd in a way only shots and goals can match, but in the same way that a poor effort on goal from a good position can frustrate supporters, losing the ball when dribbling in a good position can be just as frustrating.
In this post, I look at some of the best and worst dribblers this season in the Premier League: heroes and villains.
So far this season there has been little correlation between the number of times a team dribbles and whether or not a team obtains results. As we can see from the above chart, the top four in terms of total dribbles attempted include Liverpool, Newcastle and QPR, while league leaders Manchester United are mid-table in terms of dribble frequency.
Liverpool fans are treated to a lot of dribbling at Anfield, but as we can see from their success rates the fans are frustrated more often than not: on average they lose the ball through dribbling about 12 times per game. Although Arsenal attempt about one less dribble per game than Liverpool their average success rate is better: Arsenal have the best mean dribble success per game of c.11 successful dribbles vs 10 unsuccessful. Brendan Rodgers and Arsene Wenger clearly to not mind letting their players dribble more freely than Sam Allardyce. West Ham’s dribble success rate is actually slightly better than Liverpool, but they attempt less the half as many dribbles per game.
Some of this is perhaps not necessarily due to team tactic,s but the amount of time spent in the opposition’s half. Of course, when in the defending half, players generally know better than to take risks with the ball at their feet, so we would expect dribbling to occur mostly in attacking positions by attacking players. We must bear in mind that the dribble statistic used here gives a simple success/fail result per dribble without any additional information on the difficulty of the dribble, the position on the pitch the dribble was attempted or the actions directly after the attempted dribble.
Aston Villa have the best overall success rate in dribbling (62%) but they have only attempted one more dribble than West Ham – this suggests that Villa players are very selective in choosing when to dribble or at least leave the dribbling to their most skilled players.
On the other end of the scale, Stoke and Swansea have particularly bad success rates when it comes to dribbling: 36% and 37% respectively, meaning that only about one in three dribbles are successful.
For the tables/data below I filtered out any players who had played fewer than 500mins and attempted fewer than 15 dribbles.
From the most frequent dribblers table above we start to see the driving forces behind the team stats published earlier. Hatem Ben Arfa is arguably the dribbling king of the premier league as he attempts almost nine dribbles per 90 mins and yet still manages a positive success rate of 58% – although as a Newcastle fan perhaps I am biased. Opposition players know Ben Arfa is likely to dribble when he is on the ball and yet they still don’t usually get the better of him. Suarez and Sterling are clearly the main contributors to Liverpool’s high frequency as they account for more than half of all Liverpool’s attempted dribbles, but they both have a below average success rate. This is certainly offset by their high rates of chances created from open play. The surprise success story of the table is QPR’s Samba Diakité, who has a strong 66% success rate despite having a high propensity to dribble.
The most successful dribbler is another Newcastle player: Cheik Tioté, who has an astonishing 84% success rate. In fact, this table is an interesting mix of defensive and attacking players. Diakité again stands out, but also Mousa Dembélé and Santi Cazorla, who have both attempted more than 60 dribbles and still have an superb rate of success.
Last but not least, the above table shows the very worst dribblers this year. Stand up David Luiz. To be fair, eight of the players in this list of 20 have attempted fewer than 20 dribbles – but Luiz would certainly be better suited to playing it simple as he has only been successful with two of his 15 attempts.
Kightly, Dyer and Kacaniklic are arguably even more frustrating for their managers and fans since they seem to be a little over-confident in their dribbling ability. They each succeed in around one in 4/1 in five of their attempts to beat a defender. In other words – the trio need to pass the ball more.