We all have a good idea of who the most creative and clinical players are this current season and last season: players like David Silva, Juan Mata, Luka Modric and Robin Van Persie. By that we are referring to how good these players are at scoring goals, creating chances, contributing assists, putting in crosses etc. But let’s take a step back and find out, before they contribute to these seemingly important statistics, just how efficient they are in their teams as passers in the final third of the pitch, and how this contributes to the attacking performances of their respective teams.
Using the Top Stats Area (Subscribe now!), we can determine who is the most efficient final third passer, and see how it relates to their overall creativity and how clinical they are in front of goal. For the sake of simplicity, I have broken down the creativity of a player by the number chances created and how clinical a player is by the number of shots made.
Final Third Passes: 2011/2012 Season
Here are the top 10 final third passers last season.
From the table, it is no surprise to see that David Silva tops the list with a phenomenal number of 1001 final third passes (of which 80% are accurate), more than 100 passes than the second player on the list, who happens to be Modric. With an impressive 885 final third passes, it clear to see why he has been so highly regarded and is now with Real Madrid.
Interestingly, Rooney is the only out-and-out striker who makes this list. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise actually, as his usual style of play is to try to dictate and link play between midfield and attack, so his distribution of the ball in the final third of the pitch would be significantly higher than other forwards. However, he has a rather comparatively low rate of final third passes per chance created, but an amazing rate of 6.9 passes per shot towards goal, showing that his priorities as a striker is still prevalent despite dropping deep at times.
It might surprise a few to see a defender among the list; Jose Enrique. As an attacking fullback, it goes to show the number of times he went up not only beyond the half way line, but also to the final third of the pitch to give more options for his team in attack.
So with all that said, the big question is this: Are the top final third passers the most creative players in the Premier League?
For one, Silva, the best final third passer last season, was also the most creative player as well with 104 chances created. Modric was in third place with 96 chances created. Now here’s where it gets interesting. Juan Mata is the second-most creative player in the league last season, but he is not even in the top 10 list of final third passers. He qualifies only at number 13. What this means is that it goes to show how well he uses the ball when he is it in his possession. From the table, we see that his 6.2 final third passes per every chance created is the best ratio among all the listed players at the top of the table.
Robin Van Persie, top goal scorer and 4th most creative player last season, makes it only at number 27 in final third passes ranking. But again, similar to Mata, it’s what he does with the ball in the final third of the pitch that is devastating. Not only does he have the best number of final passes per shot (4), his number of final passes per chances created is 6.1, better than anyone else on the table. This, if anything, gives another insight as to just how an impressive a season Van Persie had last season.
On most occasions, the final third passers do give an indication on the creativity of the player, but there are the exceptions to this pattern, as seen from the examples of Mata and Van Persie.
Next Page: Top Passers in 2012/13 (Does not include yesterday’s games)
Final Third Passes: 2012/2013 Season
Although it’s only 3 games into the season, let’s have a look at the leading final third passers in the Premier League this season, and see if the generic pattern from last season still holds.
At the moment, the early season performers, notably new players Cazorla and Hazard, are already leading the list of top final third passers (not including the weekend of 15/09/2012). Cazorla has slotted in perfectly at Arsenal, pulling strings in the attacking half of the field. He has the highest number of passes in the final third of the field (88 passes with 87.5% accuracy) and a very impressive 7.3 final third passes per chance created. He is also the second most creative player so far with 12 chances created (Leighton Baines is first with 16 chances created). Similarly for Hazard, who’s had a dream start in Chelsea with 8 chances created and 4 assists to his name already, has 83 passes in the final third of the field with 89% accuracy. Familiar names like Yaya Toure (9 chances created) and Nasri (8 chances created), who were the top 10 final third passers last season, are already among the top 5 final third passers this season.
Early signs of dominance from the Manchester clubs can also be seen here, with 3 out of the 5 players in the top 5 coming from Manchester City (Toure, Nasri & Tevez), and 3 out of the top 10 coming from Manchester United (Cleverly, Kagawa & Valencia).
Final Third Passes: Conclusion
From the analysis above, there is a general trend that players who have a higher rate of passes in the final third of the field are considered to be the more creative ones. However, as seen from the examples of Mata and Van Persie, there are some players who don’t make as much final third passes but who can still possibly have more shots, assists and chances created to their name as well. Hence, it would be safe to say that final third passes is more of a factor to determine the creativeness of a player than anything else.
In addition, it should be noted that the number of final third passes for a player has a lot to do with his playing position and role he has in the team. Clearly players pulling the strings in the final third of the field are usually the attacking minded midfielders. It is quite interesting to note that we don’t see that many strikers making the top of the final third passes list too. However, we do see the odd attacking full-backs present as well, such as Enrique in the 2011/2012 season and Glen Johnson (coincidentally both Liverpool players) this current season.
Finally, we can see that more often than not, players from the top clubs dominate the top final third passes table. Last season, Joey Barton and Danny Murphy are the 2 odd players from Queens Park Rangers and Fulham respectively who made the top 10 list of final third passes. But both of them have the lowest percentage of accuracy in the final third (Barton has only 63.26% accuracy while Murphy has 67.89% accuracy), and in a way this shows the difference in quality between players from a top club and players from clubs lower in the league table.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from 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.