Who was the most creative player in the League last season? That’s a simple enough question but is there a straightforward answer?
Perhaps we need a more quantifiable query. Who created the most chances? That seems better.
Here are the top ten players that created the most chances last season.
Most keen observers of the game would probably have guessed six to eight of those names, but I doubt many would have said Danny Murphy if asked to guess the top ten chance creators from last season.
It’s also interesting to note that there are three Tottenham (or ex-Tottenham, but who played at Spurs last season) players on that list. Apart from Modric, Bale, and VdV, only top scorers City have two players on that list, while five other clubs have a solitary representative. Some might wonder why Spurs didn’t score more goals?
Part of the reason could be that the definition of chances created is fairly simplistic. It’s defined as the final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball having an attempt at goal. The weakness of this definition, in the context of creativity, is illustrated by the following graphic depicting the seven chances created by Santi Cazorla against Sunderland in the opening weekend.
Clearly, four of the seven chances are from passes that hardly have any element of creativity or vision involved. Two are simple square passes halfway through the opposition half and a couple have been played out wide to the flank. The fact that the recipient decided to take a shot after receiving the pass makes it a ‘chance created’ but that seems little more than a technicality.
Simply looking at chances created will provide a very skewed picture of the creativity of different players. Perhaps a look at stats for assists will provide an added benchmark.
Silva and Mata are right up there. Both created the most chances and also are the top two (joint in the case of Mata as we’ll soon see) in terms of assists. But it’s a bit jumbled up after that. Modric only has 4 assists from close to a 100 chances created, and Murphy only has 5 from 76.
Furthermore, a list sorted by most assists looks different.
Valencia, Song, and Adebayor are three new entrants in the list as Modric, Murphy, and Van der Vaart make way. Now there is greater balance with clubs that finished in the top four providing two representatives each.
The newcomers however, pose a different conundrum. They’ve picked up relatively more assists from significantly fewer chances created. What’s going on here? Are these players creating better quality chances? For instance, the difference between Mata’s 102 chances created and Valencia’s 65 for 13 assists apiece is stark. Song is in a league of his own for an assist every 4 odd chances.
We can dig deeper by adding the stats for clear-cut chances created (CCC) and calculate the ratios of total chances created to CCC and Assists, as well as the number of clear-cut chances created per assist.
VdV, Murphy, and Modric are just included for reference i.e. to maintain continuity from the above discussion, but there are many others who’ve more assists than one or more of these players so we’ll leave them out of further analysis.
Some of these numbers are fascinating. A cursory glance at the stats indicates that Mata wasn’t creating too many high quality chances. Even though he’s picked up the second highest number of assists, his CCC value is lower than his assists and the ratios of chances created to CCC and assists is fairly high. It’s quite possible that he’s picked up some assists where bulk of the work for the goal was done by the scorer or it came from a mistake by an opponent.
It’s worth stating that just because a player has more assists than CCC does not mean every gilt-edged chance he created was converted into a goal. There’s a good possibility some of those were missed (for example: in Stewart Downing’s case all 11 that he created were missed!). The point here is to simply get an indication of the high quality chances that these individuals have created and see how it stacks up against other numbers.
Song is another interesting case. He has a phenomenal rate of picking up an assist from just 4.2 chances created. It could indicate efficiency but it’s also worth noting that Song has a relatively low CCC/Assist ratio. That means he’s created fewer gilt-edged opportunities but picked up more assists. Maybe he should thank Robin van Persie for finishing some of those?
That brings us to the Dutchman who seems to have a very poor TCC/Assist ratio. He’s picking up an assist every 10.2 chances created. It’s tempting to question the quality of chances he’s created but that’s only till we look at his CCC figure. At 21, Robin van Persie was by far the best in the league. Unfortunately, he only picked up an assist every 2.3 clear-cut chances. What it seems to suggest is that Van Persie was creating excellent chances but his teammates weren’t putting them away.
Bale is somewhat similar to van Persie as he has a fairly high CCC/Assist ratio but Adebayor is the exact opposite. He’s virtually picking up two assists for every clear-cut chance created. The Togolese striker might have benefitted from some outstanding finishing by his teammates on more than one occasion.
We can go on with this analysis but I’ll stop and let you spend as much time with the numbers as you want. Hopefully, this exercise has brought forward a few complexities in arriving at conclusions about players on attributes like creativity that are very hard to define. Simply looking at total chances created, or assists, or individuals ratios can be very misleading as they tell a partial story. Even a minutes per chance created figure would only complicate matters further.
For instance, Song seems very efficient with his chance creation but only creates a chance every 65 minutes. In contrast Mata and Silva are prolific, clocking around 25 and 27 minutes respectively. Obviously, their roles are different but can we assume Song would have picked up a lot more assists if he’d been pushed forward into an attacking role more often? Or would he have lost his efficiency?
Ultimately, most opinions around the beautiful game remain subjective but stats provide greater depth. They might not prove something conclusively but they offer food for thought and can help counter some easily formed misconceptions. At the very least they show the importance of looking at a broader range of numbers rather than forming opinions based on a comparison of one or two variables. One also has to factor in the roles of the players, the qualities of their teammates, and the style of play of the team.
Adebayor might have been vital for Spurs’ style but he might have struggled in a dominant City team that often played against packed defences. Silva seems a tad inefficient compared to others but he might have done as well as any individual could in such a dominant side that often had to go through deep-lying, committed defensive walls. Van Persie created a lot and might have benefitted from better support.
I’ll end where I began. Who was the most creative player in the League last season? Take a look at this numbers, fiddle around with other relevant ones in the Top Stats section, and share your own insights.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from our Top Stats area in the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.