Juan Mata here in England, Mesut Ozil in Spain, Eden Hazard in France, Andrea Pirlo in Italy – all top sides in their respective divisions need a quality provider! Having that player on the pitch who can create goal scoring chances consistently and ‘out of nothing’ is a necessity for a team with Championship challenging ambitions.
Stereotypically, the English game and goal scoring creation would generally throw up the idea of fast, ‘jinky’ wing play and crossing/finishing. The paradigm that most creative players are dominantly right footed and play in centre midfield, or the No. 10 role, could also be added.
However, the modern-day game has evolved into a speculative encounter of players with more adventurous positions, multi roles & responsibilities and a philosophy of ever-moving, ever-changing fluency in their play. No teams are doing this more so than Barcelona and recently, the Spanish national team, who didn’t even play with a recognised striker in their success at Euro 2012.
I was interested in looking at the ‘creative numbers’ for top players in the Premier League last season and their position’s and foot dominance.
Premier League Top Creators – Who they were?
The table shows the top chance creator for each Premier League side last season, then ordered by most frequent. Juan Mata was the most frequent chance provider of all the top flight players, ‘putting them on a plate’ 3 times a game on average, quite interesting for a player in a team finishing 6th in the division. Quite striking also, that the top 5 creators play for 5 of the top 6 from last season – Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle United breaking that streak featuring at a pretty dismal 17th.
Swansea & Everton were the only teams to have a top provider from their defensive set-up, although the question must be asked whether the modern-day full back can be classed as a defensive player anymore?!
Stoke, Villa, Norwich and Wigan’s players make up 4 of the bottom 5 creators, ultimately defining why they featured so low in the goalscoring charts last season. Newcastle’s Cabaye again breaks the trend, as although he features 17th on this list, Newcastle United were the Premier League’s 5th top scorers in 2011/12.
The simple graphic shows the equality (10 & 10) of left to right footed goal providers from the first table, dispelling the right footed superiority myth, especially when you consider that the top two of the list are left footed and the bottom two are right.
Where do they play?
Of the top chance creators in the 20 Premier League teams last season, it is left midfield which is the position where the most chances have originated, a position represented by 1 more player than centre midfield.
The right side of midfield is very poorly represented considering the number players that one could throw up, of good quality, in the English top flight that play on that side.
However, we must consider the areas from which each of the goal chance occurred and not just the starting position of the player.
Take Mata for example – the above graphic shows the position of his assists in the Premier League this season. Notice that although Mata featured on the left side for Chelsea for best part of the season, he had actually produced more assists from the right (not including inside penalty area).
What this shows, is the positional-rotation philosophy which the top teams have begun to adopt, especially in a 4-3-3 formation now. The same can be said for David Silva. Few players are expected to remain on a fixed position today, especially high up the pitch.
Additionally, both Mata and Silva, although playing wide for their teams, are not fond crossers of the ball. They finished the season in 7th and 37th respectively for crosses per game on average in the Premier League. They tend to work the ball into and around the penalty area to create.
So, what’s the message? Play 4-3-3 and buy a top, clever left footed midfielder?! Not quite – but looking around the top teams in Europe, their philosophies regarding team shape and tactical formations are beginning to look very similar. How long before Spain’s reluctance to play with a No.9 is replicated in the top European leagues? One could argue that Barcelona have done it for a long time when David Villa is absent from the starting line up!
What is interesting though, is the strength of left footed/left sided players in the Premier League. Having said that, how many on that first list, that play in that position, are English? Consider the national teams’ problems over the past decade, or more, with the left side of midfield and left footers in general! Throws up a whole new article doesn’t it?
Finally, creating chances is all but a moot point if a team does not have the quality in their striking ranks. Take QPR – Adel Taraabt – he finished as the league’s 10th top chance provider per game on average, yet only 4 teams scored less goals that Rangers all season.
Then there’s Newcastle United again – Yohan Cabaye (their top chance creator) was 33rd in the chances per game charts, yet the Mags were 5th in their scoring of goals, highlighting again the deadliness of Cisse, Ba and such like.
Data/Images via WhoScored.com