Written by Tony Robertson.
This season, the Premier League has been swamped with a plethora of talented creative players from multiple positions. But who is the kingpin of creators in the league so far this season?
Well in this article I will attempt to answer that question.
Using a criterion including 10 metrics, player will be awarded points based on how they position in each category.
For example, a player who ranks first in one category will score 10 points, second will score nine and so on.
Each category holds the same weight value, as different players offer different things on the pitch in terms of how they can create goalscoring opportunities.
So, without further ado lets dive in.
All data in this article is correct as of the 18/02/2021.
Starting with the primary goal of a creator: Assists. By Opta’s definition, an assist is: “The final touch (pass, pass-cum-shot or any other touch) leading to the recipient of the ball scoring a goal. If the final touch is deflected by an opposition player, the initiator is only given a goal assist if the receiving player was likely to receive the ball without the deflection having taken place.”
If two players have the same total number of assists, position priority will go to the player with less minutes played.
As we can see from the data, currently, there are four breakaway leaders in terms of assists, with Tottenham Hotspurs talisman Harry Kane chief amongst them.
However, it should be noted that he has played over 400 minutes more than Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. Another player who makes the list despite a relative lack of minutes is Everton’s Lucas Digne, playing with roughly 700 minutes less than his colleagues who also sit on six assists.Embed from Getty Images
The second metric in our rationale is ‘Expected Assists’.
Expected assists (xA) measure the likelihood that a completed pass will become a goal assist. It considers several factors including the type of pass and endpoint and length of pass.
Adding up a player or a team’s expected assists gives us an indication of how many assists a player should have based on their build-up and attacking play.
The table will also include data that shows whether the player is underachieving or overachieving based on the expected assists they are providing.
An overperformance is signified by a minus before the number, which means the player has more assists than they would be expected to provide.
An underperformance is the opposite, signified by a plus sign and showcasing that the player has fewer assists than they would be expected to provide.
Interestingly, the data from this table shows us that the League leader for assists is massively overachieving in what would be expected on average, having 5.45 more assists than he expected to have.
This means Jack Grealish is the most creative player in the league on this metric, creating the most expected assists in the league but still benefitting by one goal more than he would statistically be expected to.
The most surprising addition to this list is that of Burnley’s Ashley Westwood. Burnley is not a squad many would consider having good creative players, but contrary to that belief Westwood ranks sixth in expected assists and is -2.99 under what he should be, showcasing his teams’ profligacy in front of goal.Embed from Getty Images
Mason Mount is another player who is being sold woefully short by his teammates in the finishing department.
Expected assists per 90
Some players this season have not been blessed with a high volume of minutes. Whether that is down to injuries or being left out for other players, this metric seeks to correct this somewhat.
To avoid too small a sample size for a player, each player in this list will have played a minimum of 450 minutes of Premier League football, equivalent to five full 90-minute games.
In the event of a tie, position will go to the player with fewer minutes played to reward their effectiveness at creating xA while playing.
Here we have some familiar faces and some new ones.
De Bruyne takes the top points this time, while Hakim Ziyech comes in at next best at 0.43.
This shows that Ziyech has been effective at creating chances when he has played, along with the likes of Ryan Fraser and Emile Smith-Rowe who have all played less than 1000 minutes of Premier League football this season but showcase that when they play, they are effective creators.
Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden bolster the numbers of Manchester City players, showcasing the quality the squad on the blue side of Manchester has. Another new appearance is that of Everton’s James Rodriguez, another player beset by injuries this campaign, though this may also be down to some of Everton’s rough patches this season.Embed from Getty Images
Luke Shaw is the only defender on the list and also made the list for the previous metric down in ninth. Shaw has become a key player for Manchester United this season and has added quality shot creation to his portfolio of characteristics.
A key pass is defined as: “The final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball having an attempt at goal without scoring.”
Players who create a lot of shot opportunities but do not see the fruits of their labour realised my appear on this list, similarly to the expected assist metric.
In the event of a tie, the position will go to whoever has played fewer passes.
King amongst the Key Passers is Aston Villa’s Grealish, who has scored well in each category so far, not scoring below eight points yet.
He has also done this while playing significantly fewer passes than his closest rival Bruno Fernandes, showing that while he may sit on the fringes of games, once on the ball he is far more effective than the Portuguese. However, this may also be down to Grealish playing in a wider and more advanced position than Fernandes and even Mount, who sits third.Embed from Getty Images
Pedro Neto and Pascal Gross both make first appearances, showcasing that like Grealish when they are on the ball and able to pass it, they create shooting opportunities. James Maddison also scores points for the second time, adding to his one point in the assists category with four here.
Premier League wide players seem to be very effective at creating opportunities while having the ball at their feet, with half the list being made up of people who typically play on the flanks.
Key passes per 90
How effective in the minutes put on the pitch is each player for achieving key passes.
Like expected assists, each player on the list will have played at 450 minutes this season.
In the event of a tie, the position will go to whoever has provided more key passes overall.
A familiar top three with this table, Gross equal with Fernandes at three Key Passes per 90 showcases his creative talents, but with 26 less overall it is clear to see the Brighton man has played fewer minutes, so is only ranked fourth.
Fraser, Mahrez and Ziyech all make it into a per 90 metric top 10 again. This shows that they are all effective creators when they play, but of these three only Mahrez has more than 20 Key Passes in total.
Callum Hudson-Odoi makes his first appearance in a list, with 2.6 key passes per 90, equal with teammate Hakim Ziyech.Embed from Getty Images
Some players are not so good with their passing ability, so instead seek to dribble the ball into dangerous areas to create opportunities.
As defined by Opta, a dribble or take on is an attempt by a player to beat an opponent when they have possession of the ball. A successful dribble means the player beats the defender while retaining possession, unsuccessful ones are where the dribbler is tackled.
This table considers this factor and incorporates the League’s best dribbles who might not be as good with their passing ability.
In the event of a tie in successful dribbles, the position will be awarded to the player with fewer dribble attempts, as this rewards a higher quality of dribbling.
Multiple players appear for the first time on this list.
Adama Traore tops the League in successful dribbles, and by some distance. The Wolves man is rightfully well known for his dribbling ability, and the stats back it up.Embed from Getty Images
Fulham’s Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa also makes the list, five clear of the next best player. This was somewhat of a shock considering the quality of some of the other players on this list, but that is all the more reason to praise Anguissa for his effectiveness with the ball at his feet.
Rashford, Neto, Mane, Lookman and Sterling all score points too, while Tanguy Ndombele shows what he brings to the Spurs midfield. Nelson Semedo becomes the third player from Wolves to make the list, showing that they have a strong unit of player who can dribble the ball and progress it.
Big Chances Created
While we do have the Expected Assists metric which measures how many assists a player should have, it does not display how many of these chances are ‘big.’
A big chance is a situation where a player should be expected to score. Commonly a one on one or a shot from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal count as big chances. Penalties are always considered big chances.
In the event of a tie, position priority goes to whoever has played fewer minutes.
De Bruyne, Grealish and Fernandes once again lead the way, with Kane coming in as fourth-best three behind third-placed Fernandes.Embed from Getty Images
Che Adams makes his debut in this article, showing that he is an effective strike partner for Danny Ings at Southampton due to his ability to create good chances.
Westwood and Rodriguez make the list again, while Shaw strengthens his claim as the league’s best creative defender.
Key passes from set plays
While most attacking opportunities are created from open play, some teams utilise set pieces to great effect, which makes them a cornerstone in creating goalscoring opportunities.
This metric will measure how many set pieces a player has taken which have led to a shot at goal, without the chance being converted.
*Cresswell has one key pass from a throw-in
Looking at this list, Mount should have every right to be aggrieved with his position in the assists table. The Chelsea man has scored well in multiple categories and now leads the league in key passes from set plays. Whether down to poor finishing or good goalkeeping, Mount is very accurate with his set plays.
James Ward-Prowse, arguably the league’s best dead-ball specialist makes it into second. The shows that while Ward-Prowse is effective at creating opportunities, he also like to go for the shot, and quite often the means justify the ends.
Gross and Cresswell both score points again. West Ham have been frightening off of set plays this season, with Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek putting teams to the sword on numerous occasions at dead ball situations.Embed from Getty Images
Shaw is the only other defender on the list, also down to the fact that he, like Cresswell, take many corners and wide free-kicks for his team.
Kalvin Phillips make his first appearance in a list as well.
Assists from set plays
Now how many of those set pieces have resulted in goals?
Two West Ham players score points in the top four, highlighting my point that West Ham are extremely dangerous at set plays this season.
But Ward-Prowse tops the board, perhaps indicative of the type of players he finds when his set pieces hit their mark. Mount scores six points but could easily have more if his key passes from set pieces are anything to go by.Embed from Getty Images
Eberechi Eze and Dwight McNeil both make appearances for the first time, with Eze becoming the first Crystal Palace player to make the cut, clearly the 22-year-old is an important part of this Crystal Palace team.
Final Third passes per 90
This metric looks at who has played the most passes in and around the most dangerous and congested area of the pitch, the final third.
Players who can operate here effectively are vital to the way any team builds up, so should be rewarded as such.
In the event of a tie, the position will go to the player with more passes played.
Fernandes tops a list for the first time, having been in and around the top for many of the other metrics. Ziyech also joins him in the top two, once again scoring well in a per 90 category.Embed from Getty Images
Thiago Alcantara also makes the list, showing that while he plays in a deeper position he is one of the best in the league at progressing the ball forward into the final third.
Joao Cancelo, a Manchester City full-back makes the list just above Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold. This shows both City and Liverpool put a lot of their progressive emphasis on full-backs and that they perform this task quite well.
Mateusz Klich, Bernardo Silva and Tom Cairney also make the list, but Cairney has played far fewer minutes.
THE PREMIER LEAGUES MOST CREATIVE PLAYER IS:
So, the moment you have all been waiting for; who is the king of the Premier League in terms of creation and who will be crowned the Premier League’s most creative player?
In the event of a tie, the position goes to whoever scored points in more categories, if it goes beyond that then whoever had the highest average finish, and if beyond that then whoever scored the highest position in a table.
And here we have it. The winner and the Premier League’s most creative player is Kevin De Bruyne.Embed from Getty Images
However, the race for that crown is an extremely close one, with De Bruyne coming back to full fitness and now one point ahead of Grealish and five ahead of Fernandes the battle of the creators will continue to be a tough one to call.
Mount comes in at fourth-best but could be much closer to the front runners if not for his team’s wasteful finishing. Kane comes in at fifth, on the contrary to Mount perhaps elevated by the extraordinary partnership he has struck up with Son.
Ziyech, Gross and Rodriguez also make it into the top 10, the major beneficiaries of the per 90 metrics due to their relative lack of minutes compared to some of the others in this list.
In terms of defenders, Cresswell takes the crown as the most creative defender in the league, while the next best Shaw, comes in four places lower in 12th. Either way, England appear to be blessed with strong options at both wing-back positions, at least if the team was picked on form anyway.
Set-piece specialist Ward-Prowse completes the top 10, scoring the same points as Cresswell.
It will be interesting to see how these rankings compare at the end of the season.
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