As a football fan there’s nothing quite like watching one of your players take on another and beat them. It gets you on your feet and wide eyed about what is possible. Conversely when you see your player left for dead, your heart skips a beat and your mind races to all the bad things that might now follow.
So using the unique PFF Premier League data for the 2022/23 season we’re going to delve into what the number say.
As a note in our system, a dribble is any time an attacking player instigates a move to get past a defender.
When you think of the most fancy of feet men in the Premier League, your mind will immediately turn to players like Wilfried Zaha, Allan Saint-Maximin and Adama Traore. But which players have attempted the most?
|1||Wilfried Zaha||Crystal Palace||112|
|2||Marcus Rashford||Manchester United||97|
|4||Michael Olise||Crystal Palace||93|
|5||Said Benrahma||West Ham||88|
|7||Leon Bailey||Aston Villa||79|
|8||Morgan Gibbs-White||Nottingham Forest||77|
|9||Harvey Barnes||Leicester City||76|
|10||Solly March||Brighton & Hove Albion||74|
So no surprise to see Zaha leading the way, though we are missing some familiar names. This boils down to opportunity as much as anything, and to determine opportunity there are two ways you can really use metrics to advance your narrative. The first of which is to look at how long a player is on the pitch, so you end up with a dribbles per 90 minute metric as below. To ensure sample size didn’t play too much of a role, we looked only at players who have played at least 500 minutes this year.
|Player||Team||Minutes||Dribbles||Drib per 90|
|Allan Saint-Maximin||Newcastle United||953||60||5.67|
|Alejandro Garnacho||Manchester United||503||31||5.55|
|Emmanuel Dennis||Nottingham Forest||611||36||5.3|
|Said Benrahma||West Ham||1557||88||5.09|
|Kaoru Mitoma||Brighton & Hove Albion||1375||71||4.65|
|Wilfried Zaha||Crystal Palace||2186||112||4.61|
|Dango Ouattara||AFC Bournemouth||657||32||4.38|
Here our familiar names return, and a couple of ones that perhaps wouldn’t be alto familiar. The Saints duo of Samuel Edozie and Kamaldeen Sulemana will surprise a few, and it would be interesting to see whether they would continue to be so adventurous with more minutes under their belts.
But there is an argument minutes on the field can be misleading. If you’re playing in a team that doesn’t have a lot of the ball, or potentially is defending a lead a lot you might not get the same level of opportunities to attack defenders. In this case it might be better to look at dribbles per possession, and we’ve set the limit here at a minimum of 400 possessions of the ball to determine the top 10.
|Team||Possessions||Dribbles||Dribble per pos.|
|Allan Saint-Maximin||Newcastle United||454||60||13.22%|
|Wilfried Zaha||Crystal Palace||904||112||12.39%|
|Leon Bailey||Aston Villa||660||79||11.97%|
|Brennan Johnson||Nottingham Forest||603||71||11.77%|
|Said Benrahma||West Ham||751||88||11.72%|
|Marcus Rashford||Manchester United||835||97||11.62%|
|Kaoru Mitoma||Brighton & Hove Albion||745||71||9.53%|
|Wilfried Gnonto||Leeds United||568||54||9.51%|
|Harvey Barnes||Leicester City||852||76||8.92%|
And here we see the names that we (or at least me) would most likely expect to see. By this metric nobody tries to beat a defender more than the players on this list.
However taking on a player and beating them are two different things completely. The real key isn’t just having the confidence to take a defender on, but the ability to beat them. So in that respect the most interesting metric is dribble success percentage.
|Eberechi Eze||Crystal Palace||59||38||0.64|
|Joao Cancelo||Manchester City||56||34||0.61|
|Michael Olise||Crystal Palace||93||53||0.57|
|James Maddison||Leicester City||47||27||0.57|
|Jack Grealish||Manchester City||64||35||0.55|
|Jordan Zemura||AFC Bournemouth||44||24||0.55|
We’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on Zaha, but these numbers showcase that Crystal Palace have more than one player to worry about coming at you. Eberechi Eze leads the way with Michael Olise in the top five, as Palace have clearly recruited with a view to having players that will try to beat you. What this means as they change manager remains to be seen, but its certainly worth paying attention to.
And now a brief word for the defenders trying to stops all these dribbles. 78 players have faced at least 30 dribbles this year, and the numbers tell us that veteran right back Seamus Coleman leads the way with 20 successful dribbles defended on 32 attempts.
|Matty Cash||Aston Villa||39||22||56.41%|
|Luke Shaw||Manchester United||39||20||51.28%|
|Diogo Dalot||Manchester United||39||20||51.28%|
|Pervis Estupinan||Brighton & Hove Albion||34||17||50.00%|
If you’re interested in how PFF data may help improve your content, please reach out to [email protected] to get a trial usage.