The influx of foreign talent has been a cautious point of interest for football fans of clubs in the English Premier League for some time now; the effect on the National team’s performance, the impact on opportunities for local youth coming through, high wages etc.
But, there won’t be many out there that could argue of the quality that the non-UK based players have brought to the Premier League as the division has arguably risen above the shoulders of every other league in world football and is now known to most as the best league around.
The likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola set the standard in the 90’s for the quality of player and performance in the Premier League, and later years saw players such a Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo tear up pretty much every record going.
Nothing should ever taken away from our own though, and the Shearers, Sherringhams and Ferdinands of this world rightly stand shoulder to shoulder with the best foreign players this country has ever seen.
Recently though, imports like David Silva, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero are the ones that are setting the league alight. Of the current top 10 players in the Official EA Sports Player Performance Index, only 2 reside in the UK – just 1 from England. Stretch that to the top 20, and you’ll find 6 UK-born players.
With the Premier League fixtures on a ‘break’, NUFC_Stats took a temporary ‘time-out’ from NUFC specific stats to compare the top 16 players from the EA Sports Performance Index and put them through a knock-out style ‘Stat Battle’ competition to determine just who is the best player in the Premier League at present. We’ll be splitting this article into three parts and bring to you whom we believe to be the best.
The current top 16:
Having identified the top 16, the next step was to create ‘Round 1’. This was done with three main concepts in mind – playing positions, seeding and stat type. It was pretty impossible to have every player ‘Stat Battling’ another player from exactly the same position, but for the first round, players were matched by their position firstly, and then by their position in the top 16 of the players’ index.
Where applicable, players nearer the top were matched with players nearer to the bottom to produce some idea of seeding. Where players from different playing positions were paired, basic stats were used to make it as fair a ‘battle’ as possible.
It’s difficult to look away from the goals when comparing strikers, but it is important that each of these battles be put into context. As well as Spurs have done this season, Adebayor won’t be presented with as many chances as a forward playing for Man City when you consider the talent and quantity they have playing behind the front players.
However, the two players have had the exact same amount of shots at goal, Aguero getting just 1 more on target but managing to convert 15 compared to Adebayor’s 10. Away from the goals, Aguero does carry the ball more than his Spurs counterpart, whereas Adebayor is responsible for more assists and chances created than the Argentinian.
A tough one to begin to with, but considering Ageuro has played nearly 200 mins less than Adebayor and notched 5 more goals, it must be him that is deemed the winner.
WINNER – SERGIO AGUERO
Robin Van Persie
When reading the title of this article, most fans will arguably see the Arsenal forward in their mind’s eye. Van Persie has been nothing short of sensational in what has been a strange and struggling season for the Gunners thus far.
For Ba, the story is similar. Newcastle have been the surprise package of the Premier League, earning the right to be considered genuine European spot challengers and that is mostly down to the Senegalese forward.
As far as a battle goes, van Persie outdoes Ba in nearly all data, none more so than the goals he has scored and the chances/assists he has produced for his team mates. However, when it comes to having chances, there aren’t many more prolific in Europe currently than Demba Ba; he has a higher shot accuracy and chance conversion rate than the Dutchman and when you consider the team context again, Ba is right up there with the best forwards around at present.
This one is a lot closer than it appears from the outset, but there can be only one winner, and it has to be the league’s top scorer.
WINNER – ROBIN VAN PERSIE
Rafael Van der Vaart
This one a very interesting battle, a feud between 2 very versatile but equally quality footballers. Both play normally in the modernised no.10 role at their respective clubs, but both have been asked to play in a line-leading position as well as out wide at times.
If you look straight to the output data, Rooney is the outright winner, scoring 10 more goals than van der Vaart, although the Englishman has played over 300 minutes more Premier League football (1,495-1,821 respectively).
A look at some of the other numbers shows VDV in a different light though. The Dutchman has been the more competent passer this season as well as producing more assists and has the better shooting accuracy.
But, back to the output – Rooney scores, this season, every 107 minutes compared to VDV’s 214. He has created slightly more chances and has that better conversion rate. A little look defensively shows that Rooney wins significantly more aerial duels (24%-43%) and tackles (69%-93%) which makes him a superior asset to his team.
WINNER – WAYNE ROONEY
One of the battles of the season here. Two of the best imports to England’s elite division this season, the two Spaniards have brought exquisite attacking flair to their teams and are two of the best in Europe at creating chances and playing the possession game.
Mata and Silva don’t play exactly the same positional role at their clubs but their influence is equally significant in the way their teams function. While Mata plays the wider role in Chelsea’s 4-3-3, Silva plays a lot more centrally and exploits that space in between the opposition’s middle and back units.
Silva has the edge when it comes to passing competence but when it comes to created chances, the pair have produced the exact same (74). 20 of Mata’s have originated from set plays compared to just 3 of Silva’s. Silva also betters Mata in terms of assists (8-12) but they are equivalent on goals scored (5). Furthermore, Silva has the better shooting accuracy but Mata has the marginally better chance conversion rate.
The closest battle so far and for a few finer details, these two are pretty inseparable. However, as they say ‘there must be a winner’ and David Silva just say shades this one, mainly due to his pass completion rate and his assists.
WINNER – DAVID SILVA
It’s probably fair to say most people will look at this one and think there’s no doubt who the better player is, certainly this season. But, although Nani hasn’t had the impact this season that he has done in the past, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been producing the goods at Man Utd this campaign.
Nani has played 4 Premier League less than the Welshman and falls sort of Bale’s numbers in pretty much every aspect. He has however, managed to create 7 more successful dribbles and 60 more crosses in 431 less minutes. The pair have created the same number of assists and Bale only beats Nani in chances created by 7.
When it comes to scoring goals from the flank, Bale is the man though. 3 more goals, 20 more shots, a better shooting accuracy and faintly better chance conversion rate mean the Welsh wizard is the form winger currently.
WINNER – GARETH BALE
Another very tough stat battle here – an opening glance at the pairs’ data doesn’t throw up too much difference at all. Similar pass completion, exact same goal assists, similar total shots, exact same goals and similar chance conversion rates.
Digging a little deeper though, and Modric’s numbers do start to tell a more loftier story. Although he’s played nearly 300 minutes more of Premier League football, the Croatian’s 69 more crosses show how mobile a player he is and how he can mix his role up. 27 more chances created also – 13 of those are from set plays, something that Toure hasn’t completed 1 of, but from open play alone Modric is still 14 ahead.
A goal every 682 minutes is probably not up to the standard of the Spurs man’s overall game influence and it is slightly bettered by Yaya Toure who provides a goal every 585 minutes. But, this is a victory for the Croat – his overall game and chance creation over-shadows Toure somewhat and although they both aren’t doused in goals this season, Modric seems to be getting a little more right with his shooting accuracy in particular.
WINNER – LUKA MODRIC
And so to the first defensive battle. Other than the obvious incident for one of these, the two left backs have gone under the radar with their performances this season, as defenders tend to do. Most would point to the likes of Ashley Cole, Kyle Walker and Micah Richards when asked about full back performances this campaign, but Evra and Assou-Ekotto have been stand-outs statistically.
When comparing, it seems only right that, although the modern day full back is expected to contribute more than ever offensively, the defensive numbers are the ones which separate the ‘good’ full-backs from the ‘excellent’ ones.
In terms of ‘challenging’, Evra wins this one hands down – higher percentages for ground 50-50’s, tackles and aerial 50-50’s stand the Frenchman on the proverbial defensive pedestal. Assou-Ekotto does better when it comes to interceptions and losses of possession, but add superior data for defensive errors to Evra’s armoury and there is a clear winner here.
WINNER – PATRICE EVRA
This the most awkward one – comparing a centre back and a centre midfielder is not the easiest of tasks. While they both play centrally and have some similar attributes to their roles and responsibilities, the functions of these positions can be completely different depending on their team’s philosophy and squad quality. Therefore, the only fair way this could be done, was to look at the basic statistical values and conclude as to which was the better all-round footballer rather than positional victor.
‘50-50-wise’, Terry is the better of two, as you’d expect. He has higher percentages for both ground 50-50’s and aerial 50-50’s. However, get to tackles and Arteta is the standout candidate. The Spaniard has not only been involved in more tackles, but has won a far more significant percentage of them (70%-82%).
Terry has made more interceptions, while Arteta has made less defensive errors. That one could be deemed unfair, as Terry will have been in for more situations for that stat to come about. Arteta has also lost possession more than his English opponent, in nearly 200 minutes of Premier League football less too.
Finally, the passing. Of Terry’s expectedly lower 1,282 passes, 91% of them have been accurate. For Arteta, 88% from 412 more passes.
A really difficult one to choose a winner for – the uneasy task of comparing a centre half to a centre midfielder added to the similarity of numbers makes this a nigh on impossible task. However, a look at one piece of data does help to wrap this one up. 5 goals each!
WINNER – JOHN TERRY
So the First Round is complete. Do you agree with these? Do you think the winners are deserving? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think!
You can read Part II of this series here: Best Premier League Player so far Part II
Please note all of the statistics used are from the EPLIndex Stats Centre’s Statistical Comparison tool. To gain access to this tool you can Subscribe Now!