Since both the Spanish national team and Barcelona have dominated the world with attacking, possession-based football, such philosophy has become increasingly popular. Some Premier League teams are already trying to implement tiki-taka, hoping it will make them successful. It makes accurate midfield passers much more valuable, as they are fundamental to ball-circulation. Winning the battle in the middle of the park usually means gaining control of the game. That’s why so many managers are looking for their own Xavi. But which of the Premier League’s most accurate passers is the best? This article presents a comparison of 5 of the most accurate midfielders with more than 1000 passes made. Hopefully it will provide us with some answers.
Mikel Arteta tops the most accurate passers charts with 92.6% success. He has also played the most passes and spent the most time on the pitch so far. Swansea duo Sung-Yueng Ki and Leon Britton are 2nd- and 4th-placed with 92.43% and 91.42% pass completion respectively. 3rd-placed Mousa Dembele completed 91.77% of his passes, and 5th-placed Joe Allen reached his teammates with 90.39% of the balls he played. The Liverpool player moved the highest percentage of his passes forward though, with 31.16% of them being sent in that direction. Actually, all of the compared midfielders prefer to direct their passes to the flanks or forward and try to avoid passing the ball backwards, which is quite understandable as all of them play in attacking-minded teams that look to retain possession rather than to be more direct.
Only two of the most accurate midfielders are actually trying to cross the ball sometimes, with Mikel Arteta attempting 20 crosses and Sung-Yueng Ki crossing 36 times. Their crossing accuracy is very good as Arteta found a teammate with 40% of his crosses and the Ki with 33% of them. Dembele, Britton and Allen didn’t make even a single accurate cross, but they tried to do it only 2, 1 and 4 times. Still, crossing isn’t actually the central midfielder’s job so there’s nothing wrong with those three players being inaccurate with their very few attempts. It also makes the Spaniard and the Korean’s crossing accuracy look even better.
All of the compared players have pretty much the same own-half pass accuracy, with Arteta and Ki completing just 2% more of their defensive zone passes than the rest. As for attacking-half accuracy, there’s still only 4% difference between the best duo of Arteta and Dembele and the worst in Sung-Yueng Ki, so they’re still head-to-head. Final-third pass accuracy doesn’t unearth any particularly shocking differences either. The best, Dembele, completed 88% of his final-third passes and the worst performers, Britton and Allen, managed to make their passes reach the target in 82% of their attempts, so the difference is 6%.
Moussa Dembele seems to be the most creative of the sampled midfielders, as he managed to create his teammates 33 chances, which is 12 more than second-placed Allen and Ki. The Tottenham midfielder is also the least set-piece reliant as every chance he created was via open play. It’s the same with Britton, but the Swansea player is the least creative of all the compared 5 players, creating just 6 chances, none of which was clear-cut or an assist. Joe Allen is quite close to Dembele in terms of set-piece reliance, as only one of 21 chances he created was via set play. Though Mikel Arteta and Ki Sung-Yueng created around half of their chances from set pieces, they were also the ones to set their teammates up the most as they both created 3 clear-cut chances, one more than Moussa Dembele. On the other hand, Dembele is the best assistant amongst the compared players with 3 goal assists on his account.
The difference in the number of long balls attempted is quite big, as Sung-Yueng (144 long balls played), Arteta (138) and Allen (112) played more than 100 of those, while Dembele and Britton played respectively 62 and 51 long balls. Again, long ball accuracy of all of them is really impressive as it differs from Dembele’s 92% to, still great, 84% achieved by Britton. Mikel Arteta deserves some recognition here, as his long ball accuracy is 90% despite him playing only two fewer long balls than Ki. The Arsenal player has actually played the highest number of successful long balls in his team this term. Joe Allen has the same long ball accuracy as Arteta, but it’s slightly less impressive, because the Spaniard attempted 26 long balls more than him.
Finally, it’s time to take a look at where most of those player’s passes are attempted. It’s important, as passing from your own half is usually much easier than passing in the final third. The closer to the goal you are, the harder it is to make a good pass because opposition players are pressing you harder and there is much less space and time to take a look around.
Dembele looks the most impressive here as he attempts 63% of his passes in the opposition half. He also attempts the highest percentage of passes in final third, as 26% of the passes he makes in the attacking half are being made there. The second-placed Mikel Arteta has attempted 57% of his passes in the opposition half, 23% of which have been made in final third. Again, Joe Allen has the same percentage of attacking passes made in final third, but more of his passing is being made in safer zones, with 52% of his passes coming from his own half. Leon Britton is the deepest lying of all the most accurate midfielders, with 56% of the passes he attempts in his own half. Also only 15% of the passes he makes in the opposition half are in the final third, which is much less than all the rest of the compared midfielders, as Ki, who’s just above him still makes 22% of his attacking-half passes in the final third.
Sung-Yueng Ki and Allen seem to be the most balanced of those players in terms of the positions they make their passes from, as both of them attempt around 50% of their passes on each half, with the Korean midfielder making his passing slightly higher up the pitch than his Welsh counterpart. Actually, it seems quite obvious that, in Ki, Laudrup has the perfect replacement for Allen, especially if you consider Joe’s recent poor run of form.
It’s hard to choose the best of those five great passers. All of them have achieved some great numbers that show how good they are. Personally, I’d say that Arteta and Dembele stand out, with all the rest, especially Ki, being just behind them. Both players enjoyed great pass completion ratios all over the pitch and also fantastic long ball accuracy. If I were to call a winner for this comparison, I’d say it’s Arteta, but it’s a really close one.