If what happens in the penalty box is the most important factor in a football match – at either end of the pitch – then creating chances is the next important part of that link. Without the players to receive a pass in a difficult position, higher up the field, and have the vision, technique and execution to pick out a team-mate, then not only will your strikers struggle, but the whole team loses a vital cog in the chain of team-work that can lead to a goal.
So which players, in terms of chances created, have been the most influential in the last four years?
Click on image for more detail.
The above image represent all the midfielders in the Premier League that season, and if you click on the image you’ll see Alex Song is the player highlighted. Now he didn’t create the most chances or anything, but he signifies another important factor to consider when assessing chance creation: the through-ball. This is a crucial metric to consider on a football field, and not many players either try it, or are very successful with it. (The size of the circle represents the volume of through-balls each player has attempted – the other two elements are total passes, and total chances created.) The through-ball shows a player with the vision to split open up a defence, have the ultimate weight of pass to play in a striker and unlock that stubborn low defensive block (or parked bus).
Luka Modric, David Silva and Juan Mata:
These three players, especially Silva and Mata in the season described, had varying levels of through-ball attempts, but all created nearly 100 chances for their team-mates:
Silva: 102 chances created (77 through-balls)
Mata: 102 chances created (22 through-balls)
Modric: 95 chances created (36 through-balls)
You can play with the data yourself (from the previous four seasons) by clicking on this link, and by hovering the mouse over the player, you’ll see a breakdown for each player: Creativity in the Premier League
Again, some similar faces to the previous season in Juan Mata and, in terms of through-balls especially, David Silva, who were both vital for their respective teams, and created a bucketload of chances.
However, the other standout player, signed by Arsenal the previous summer, was Santi Cazorla, who created 95 chances, with 65 attempted through-balls. This is a huge level of impact from a new signing, and although the Gunners have been the most successful side when in comes to executing and encouraging through-balls, the player himself deserves a large amount of credit for settling in so quickly.
Another campaign, where those players who stand out from The Median Crowd on the above table, are the usual suspects of Juan Mata (now at Manchester United), and David Silva; but there were also some new kids on the block.
Coutinho, Hazard and Ozil:
Liverpool signed the young Brazilian, Phillipe Coutinho, from Inter Milan in the previous winter window, and he quickly demonstrated his ability to thread a perfectly weighted pass into a tiny amount of space (and become one of the Reds’ most reliable chance creators.)
Coutinho: 64 chances created (50 through-balls)
Hazard: 92 chances created (12 through-balls)
Ozil: 76 chances created (16 through-balls)
None of the players quite match up the levels Silva manages on a consistent basis, but nevertheless, all three made vital contributions to their respective teams, especially considering Ozil and Coutinho were taking part in their first full seasons in the Premier League.
Return of the Fab. Playmaker Cesc Fabregas returned to England, after deciding to join Chelsea from Barcelona, and immediately became the most influential player in terms of chances created and through-balls. The Spaniard, renowned for his creativity levels throughout his career, arrived back in England with a bang: after 35 matches this season, he’s created 90 chances, including 33 attempted through-balls.
Another signing from Barcelona, who did decide to go to Arsenal, was the Chilean Sanchez. Alongside Coutinho, Silva, and Cazorla (in terms of chance creation), the Gunners’ new signing proved to be an astute piece of business (especially when you include the goals and the fact he often plays as a wide forward). Sanchez’s created 70 chances this season, nearly two per match, and has also attempted the most through-balls in the league.
One vital element to consider for all of these players mentioned above, is how many chances did they create from set pieces (which you can check on the Tableau dashboard) alone? Now that doesn’t take anything away from the volume of chances; but it does impact the quality, so focusing on through-balls gives you a better indication of their influence in open play. Next time, we’ll see which strikers unselfishly create chances for their team-mates.