The festive English fixtures are here to mark the end of the calendar year for football fans across England. While these fixtures carry their own glamour, managers across the league know that any slip up during this short period can cost them heavily in the long run. The Premier League has almost run half its course for the season and it’s time to evaluate the performances. In this segment, we compare the performance of top creative players in the league. The 5 players to be analysed in this segment are Fabregas, Tadic, Downing, Sigurdsson and Di Maria. Each of these players leads the chances created chart for his respective club and can definitely be classified as the lynchpin of their attack.
Fabregas has taken the Premier League by a storm in his second coming, albeit at a different home. With 12 assists in his kitty already, the former Arsenal and Barcelona player is currently on course to beat the 20 assists mark set by Thierry Henry in 2002/03. With Nemanja Matic being rock solid in the CDM role, a lot of weight has been lifted off Fabregas’ shoulders. With them complementing each other with their respective skills, Fabregas and Matic could arguably be counted as the best central midfield duo in the English game at the moment. While he has been gifted with solidarity, Fabregas also has top notch players to find in crucial areas with the likes of Oscar, Hazard and Costa often causing mayhem in the opposition box.
The Spanish midfielder has created 53 chances this season, the highest by any player in the league. Deployed in a deeper midfield role than he was at Barcelona, Fabregas can now dictate the game with space made available to him. He has often been seen dropping deep to fetch the ball out of defence, effectively bridging the gap between them and the attack. He averages a successful through ball every 2 games so far this season and there is no better demonstration of a wonderfully set up goal this season than the one he set up for Andre Schurrle against Burnley with that carefully threaded through ball. He has attempted close to 2 crosses per game and has made an average of more than 5 long balls per game from a deep position. His range of passing coupled with the pace and trickery he has ahead of him makes life easier for a brilliant Fabregas.
A lot has been spoken of Matic’s hard work freeing up resources, but Fabregas has been putting in his fair share of tackles, having averaged an impressive 6 tackles per game. He has also broken the opposition’s play time and again mixing it up with fouls and interceptions at times. Apart from his numerous creative efforts, Fabregas has also ventured forward to support his attack and has 2 goals to show for it.
A few seasons ago, Fabregas was in similar form for cross town rivals Arsenal having notched up 10 assists by Christmas. However, his form dipped with injuries haunting him and he was able to add only 3 assists to that tally by the end of the season. Many foreign players tend to drop in form in their first season in England post the Christmas period, as they look to adjust to the relentless intensity of the league; Fabregas is no stranger to English conditions and should he continue with his glorious form for the Blues, Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists and a lot of silverware will definitely belong at Stamford Bridge.
Dusan Tadic, the tricky creative player arrived on the scene after the departure of many a Southampton players. But he didn’t take long to make managers across the Premier League sit up and take notice as he created a lovely chance for Nathaniel Clyne to score on the opening day. Dusan Tadic had arrived and in good time to not let the Saints’ faithful miss a few of those who had left them. With 47 chances in 16 appearances, Tadic is currently the third highest creator in the League. Having started the season on the flanks, Tadic was moved central by Ronald Koeman to play him just off the high flying Graziano Pelle and the former Eredivisie rivals have taken to each other’s games like they have been team mates for years.
He has provided defence-splitting passes, made those tricky runs into the box and teed up his team mates; and on one occasion has capitalised on Vito Mannone’s blunder to score from a long way out. Incidentally, that game against Sunderland happened to be the last time Tadic recorded an assist in the league. To think of it, Dusan Tadic, the creative brainchild of this Southampton side, hasn’t recorded an assist in more than 2 months. In some ways Southampton’s flailing form can be attributed to teams finding a way to break the rhythm between Tadic and his team mates. He remains vital to the team’s fortunes and it remains to be seen how Koeman can bring the best out of the Serbian in tougher terrains to climb.
Playing up front, Tadic has done well to average a passing accuracy that hovers around the 80% mark. With the ever reliable midfield due of Schneiderlin and Wanyama, Tadic’s defensive duties have been restricted and he averages 3 tackles every game. The tricky play maker has shown a penchant for getting past his opponent and has averaged more than 1 successful take-on per 90 minutes. Currently 3rd on the assists charts with six, Tadic has been established as one of the key members of this new look Southampton side under Koeman. The side’s cause will be well served if Tadic continues to create chances at will.
Stewart Downing looked like an expensive failure, coming under intense criticism time and again at Liverpool. However, after a season of settling down at West Ham, Stewart has risen like a phoenix out of the ashes. The winger has amassed 52 chances this season, averaging a chance every 28 minutes he has been on the pitch. His cause has been well served by the form of the strikers at the club, i.e. Sakho, Valencia and Carroll, as he has found focal points to target in attack. The versatile winger has been deployed in a plethora of positions this season, from central midfield to attacking central midfield, as well as the two flanks and even as a forward in one of the games.
Last season, we saw West Ham struggling in front of the goal, scoring a meagre 40 goals through the season and Downing had an average season. Their work in this transfer window brought in Sakho and Valencia and the move has paid off for Allardyce. With burly, fast strikers to find, Downing has mixed it up well with crosses and long balls. He averages more than 3 crosses per game and has also launched more than 3 long balls per game making him a constant menace for the opposition. He has recorded six assists so far this season as well as from 4 goals, 3 of them from outside the box. Despite being played as an ACM, Downing often drifts to the right in order to create chances and it comes as no surprise that close to 45% of his chances have been created from the right side of the pitch. He can run, he can cross, he launches long balls, he can cut and shoot and these variations in his game make him a threat to watch out for.
Andy Carroll believes that West Ham can be title contenders, while Enner Valencia was very positive about the club’s chances when he announced to the world that he joined the club with the intention of qualifying for the Champions League. With both the brute force of Carroll and the pace of Valencia and Sakho at their disposal, West Ham can mix up their approach at will to combat a variety of opposition looking to depose them from their lucrative Champions League spot. A lot of these aspirations will depend on the form and consistency of their creator-in-chief Downing as he has shown an ability to come good in free flowing as well as route one football.
Sigurdsson’s move to Swansea in the summer has paid dividends for the attacking midfielder as well as Swansea. Easily their best midfielder on books, the regular playing time afforded to him alongside one of the finest strikers in the country has surely breathed some life into his once stagnating career. The midfielder currently sits second behind the magical Fabregas in the assists charts in the league having assisted his teammates on 8 occasions. The industrial attacker has been the cynosure of creativity at the Liberty Stadium, dictating play alongside Sung-Yueng and Shelvey and breaking up teams with quick, intelligent passing and movement. Going by his favoured position, it should come as no surprise that Sigurdsson has created 75% of his chances at the spine of the pitch with more than 60% of it in and around the box. He has also scored 2 goals this season, one of which was a wonderful free-kick from far outside the penalty area.
Sigurdsson’s ability to run into spaces and find his man at will have served him in good stead as he continues to be link between his midfielders and the burly, prolific Ivorian Bony. Most battles loom in the midfield and it comes as a surprise that despite being their leader, Sigurdsson hasn’t been very combative in the middle of the park. He has averaged just about 3 tackles per game and is often very poor going into aerial duels. However, he does break the oppositions’ play with his anticipation and movement, having intercepted a total of 20 times this season. His ability to find the back of the net has often been questioned in the past and it comes as no surprise that Sigurdsson has a conversion rate of just 10% so far. With Swansea still in sights of a European spot, Sigurdsson’s task becomes harder with the departure of Bony and Sung-Yueng for their continental tournaments. What better time to clamp down on the critics than now?
Angel Di Maria
With a dismal season behind them, the Manchester United faithful were looking at Van Gaal to shake things up a bit and make them a dangerous unit again. The arrival of Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid can in some ways be attributed as the catalyst of the change experienced at United this season. The creative, skilful and pacy midfielder got off to a flying start but has experienced some recent road blocks in the form of injuries so prevalent in modern day football. Back from injury in the last fixture, the Argentine will be looking to get into groove as early as he can to push forward United’s march to the top of the table.
Primarily deployed as a central midfielder and occasionally as either side of the CM, Di Maria has created a total of 31 chances, averaging more than 3 chances per 90 minutes with 6 of them resulting in an assist. Di Maria has the right mix of skilful feet and pace to leave the opposition defence with twisted blood as he dances around them with ease, or as it very often happens, drawing fouls in crucial areas of the pitch. Clever flicks, through balls (averages 1 every 3 games), an unusual range of passing ability and distance and a keen eye for movement across the field make Di Maria the brightest creative spark at Old Trafford. He has also scored 3 goals in the league which constitute a curling free kick from way outside the box that no opposition player was able to deal with and a wonderful chip against Leicester City, that could in some ways have marked the arrival of an Argentine genius on English soil.
However, despite all the praise that can be afforded to him in attack, Di Maria has been inconspicuous in terms of defensive duties. With United’s inexperienced and constantly changing defensive line, it is essential that they get defensive contribution from the midfield, however Di Maria has largely failed to provide that kind of cover. He doesn’t plunge into tackles and his tracking back has been questioned several times. In a system that United have used over the last few months, Di Maria’s defensive deficiencies expose the other players on his side of the pitch thus opens up opportunities for the opposition. His primary defensive contribution understandably comes via interceptions (9 so far this season) as he has shown the requisite pace and the intelligent footballing mind to read opposition moves.
Overall, Fabregas has looked the complete creative midfielder any team would want to snap up and in retrospect it is very funny indeed that Chelsea landed and Arsenal rejected a genius with such ease. The midfielder, playing under a brilliant manager in Mourinho, has only himself to challenge at the moment. Tadic was always going to be the one who would eventually light up the league with his trickery and he has done it with such ease. However, he will need to find consistency in his efforts to serve the cause of Southampton better, and find new ways to dazzle against opponents constantly learning more of his tricks.
The once-rejected Stewart Downing is now a definite name on everyone’s mind while picking up an England squad and understandably so. His skills are being put to good use at Upton Park as the strikers at the club complement his skills on the ball. On the other hand, Iceman Sigurdsson has his task cut out for at least the coming month, make up for the loss of 2 vital players with improved displays in the midfield and he will need to do more than just create chances with the loss of Sung-Yueng.
Louis van Gaal will be keen to set the system in place to make United better and that’s between the boxes. Should he persist with Di Maria in midfield, the Argentine will be required to hone up on his defensive responsibilities while continuing to contribute to attack.
There are some notable absentees in this segment, which we will look to cover in the coming weeks. They are Alexis Sanchez, Raheem Sterling, Christian Erikssen, Eden Hazard and Leroy Fer.
Stats from Squawka and Whoscored