In the 2011-12 season there were only six midfielders who passed the ball better than Fulham’s Moussa Dembélé. Using the new Top Stats engine we’re able to quickly trim away the fat and look at those players who played at least 1400′ in the Premier League a season ago. Of those, Dembélé was the 12th best player in the Premier League when it came to pass accuracy, attempting 1681 passes in 2940′ and completing 88.64% of those attempts. Only Leon Britton (93.49%), Joe Allen (91.18%), Samir Nasri (91.01%), Mikel Arteta (90.58%), Yaya Toure (90.49%), Michael Carrick (90.10%) and Scott Parker (89.58%) bested Dembélé’s passing accuracy from midfield. In addition to his proficient ball movement, he was a creative force from the centre of Fulham’s midfield creating 51 chances in 2940′.
Within the 2011-12 Fulham squad there were three players who accounted for 182 of the team’s 425 chances created. Danny Murphy (76), Clint Dempsey (55) and Dembélé (51) each provided more than 50 chances, with Dempsey (49) and Dembélé (48) creating the most chances from open play. Murphy departed Craven Cottage over the summer and, despite manager Martin Jol leaving the door open for a return, Dempsey was held out of the opening fixture amid questions over his fitness after demanding a transfer from the club. With the two of them out of the side, Dembélé, at left, featured as the heart of the Cottager’s midfield in their opening day victory over Norwich City.
Jol has strengthened his side this summer, with the additions of Hugo Rodallega, in from Wigan Athletic, and Mladen Petric, in from Hamburg SV. Petric plays as a striker, and will be utilized by the Cottagers in a role similar to that of departed forward Andrew Johnson. Last season Johnson created just 17 chances for Fulham in 1244′. Rodallega was more impressive for the Latics a season ago. While he was on the pitch for only 1243′ he did create 22 chances – including an impressive display in Wigan’s 0-1 loss against Manchester City on 16 Jan when he created three chances. Either player may be used to fill Dempsey’s vacant role, and may be able to succeed in replicating some of the American talisman’s form. However, the impending departure of Dempsey and the transfers of Murphy to Blackburn have created a void in Jol’s side that must be filled from within.
It should be noted, Dembélé is not alone in the heart of Fulham’s midfield. He plies his trade alongside former Real Madrid defensive midfielder Mahamadou Diarra. Diarra signed with Fulham last February after having been without a club following the 2010-11 season. In the later stages of the season, Diarra became an important figure in the side. His passing numbers (546/618 87% completion), tackling (won 13/16 – 81%) and tenacious attack of 50/50 balls (won 39/64 ground duels – 61%; won 7/11 aerial duels – 64%) were impressive, particularly as he played only 753′ for FFC. Diarra continues to impress this season, the 31-year-old was the leading passer for Fulham in their win over the Canaries as he completed 85 of 90 passes (94%) and won four of six duels as well as his only tackle. Diarra, unlike Dembélé, plays deep in the midfield but this has not prevented him from being successful creating chances for his teammates. Over his 11 matches with Fulham in 2011-12, he created three chances on two occasions (26 March vs. Man Utd; 21 April vs. Wigan) and two chances on two other occasions He finished the season with 16 chances created and one assist to his credit. Extrapolated over a full season, 3420′, that would amount to 50 chances created. It is unlikely that the Mali international would be able to play a full slate of games, but even if he contributes 40 chances while playing as a holding midfielder, that would be substantial for this side.
The 5-0 rout of the Canaries does show the value of Dembélé as he moves up the pitch. Diarra played more than half of his passes in his own end and only 15% of his passes in the final third. While final third passes do not directly correspond to chances created, they can provide valuable information on player positioning throughout the match. Below, we can see that Dembélé played only one-third of his passes in the defensive end, one-third inside his opponent’s side of midfield and one-third in the attacking end.
Dembélé completing 44 of 47 passes in Norwich’s half is a testament to his skill on the ball, but it is also a valuable statistic for Jol’s side. The fewer times the ball is given away – intercepted or played out-of-bounds – the more possession Fulham retain and the greater the opportunity to create a chance and, ideally, a goal. This player tracker from ESPN Gamecast shows that the average position for Dembélé (#30) was inside his opponents half while Diarra’s (#19) average position was inside Fulham’s own half. This may appear to be a small differential, but it does illustrate their relative positions to one another and the other players in their side over the course of a match. Of course, we expect to see information confirming what we already believe, that Diarra is the more defensive midfielder whilst Dembélé ventures farther into the attack.
Interestingly, Dembélé did not create a single chance in the win on Saturday. Bryan Ruiz (3), Riise (3), Duff (2), Petric, Riether and Hangeland all created chances in the fixture. While Martin Jol will no doubt be delighted with the result, the numbers from last year paint a different picture. Over the course of the entire season Riise (27), Hangeland (11), and Duff 32) did not create as many chances as Danny Murphy (76). Dembélé has been rumoured to be departing Craven Cottage for Diarra’s old home in Madrid. With Murphy having already gone, and Dempsey looking likely to follow, it will be of the utmost importance that Martin Jol retain the services of the Belgian playmaker. Although he is not the only creative force in the side – his play is instrumental in creating chances and successfully retaining possession in the attack.