In it’s most basic form, football is simply about putting the ball into the back of the net. To do that, teams must create good chances on goal. One of the elements that separates the top teams from the lower sides is that they have playmakers that can create high quality chances time and time again in a game.
The top teams all have multiple creative players, but they all have that one that is the cut above the rest. The traditional “top six” of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Tottenham are considered the “big teams”. Chelsea won’t be counted in this because, while they are still a big club, they’ve been pretty awful this season. The other five are, according to Michael Caley’s formula, the five teams with the best chances at the top four, so they’ll be counted as the top clubs. Now let’s take a look at their top creators.
The top creators for the top two, Arsenal and Manchester City, are pretty obviously Mesut Ozil and David Silva. Ozil leads the league in assists and chances created, while Silva leads the league in assists per 90 minutes. While he hasn’t played as a number 10 this season, Juan Mata is still Manchester United’s creator in chief. Both Tottenham and Liverpool have at times moved their main creators out of the middle, but Christen Eriksen still leads his team in chances created and Coutinho is still Liverpool’s creative magician.
Comparing their main creative statistics, both Ozil and Silva stand out. They are both in the top three in all five categories, are top two in chances created, and are the top two in assists per 90 minutes, arguably the two most important statistics. This falls in line with the thinking that many fans have that these two are in fact the best two creative players in the Premier League. It is also not a huge surprise that they play for the best two teams in the league.
After the top two of Ozil and Silva, the other three are all very close in quality and all show distinct qualities in their statistics. Christen Eriksen leads the three in chances created by some distance, Coutinho is by far the leader in successful take ons, while Mata’s pass completion is nine percent higher than the other two.
Of course, before taking these raw statistics as gospel, you have to think about the circumstances, especially in the case of Juan Mata. For someone with a reputation as a very creative player, the Spaniard’s chances created numbers are distinctly average. But of course it must be taken into account that Mata has played on the right wing for United this season and that he plays in a system that plays very slow football. Only West Bromwich Albion have created fewer chances than Manchester United this season. Liverpool and Tottenham on the other hand have created the third and fourth most chances in the league respectively.
Still, Mata’s creative numbers this season have been quite disappointing, although his four goals help make up for that. Coutinho has been in a similar boat. His recent run of goals have helped cover up the fact that his creative numbers have been quite average this season. Eriksen’s chances created numbers have been quite good, but his 79 percent pass completion percentage is something he’ll need to improve on if he wants to step up to that top level of playmaker.
It’s no huge surprise that the top two creative players this season are playing for the two main title contenders and that the teams like United, Liverpool, and Tottenham who are more top four contenders have lower level playmakers. There are plenty of factors that go into top teams, but the quality of playmaker is one of the most important factors in being a top team.