Dribbling in the Premier League: Attempts, completion rate, and who is best at defending

2MC9HNA West Ham's Said Benrahma in action during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Everton at the London Stadium in London, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

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?

Rank Player Team Dribbles
1 Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace 112
2 Marcus Rashford Manchester United 97
3 Bukayo Saka Arsenal 97
4 Michael Olise Crystal Palace 93
5 Said Benrahma West Ham 88
6 Gabriel Martinelli Arsenal 81
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
Samuel Edozie Southampton 613 49 7.19
Kamaldeen Sulemana Southampton 564 45 7.18
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
Adama Traoré Wolves 1257 70 5.01
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.

Player

Team Possessions Dribbles Dribble per pos.
Allan Saint-Maximin Newcastle United 454 60 13.22%
Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace 904 112 12.39%
Adama Traoré Wolves 575 70 12.17%
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.

Player

Team Dribbles Dribbles comp. DRBCMP%
Eberechi Eze Crystal Palace 59 38 0.64
Willian Fulham 40 25 0.62
Joao Cancelo Manchester City 56 34 0.61
Kyle Walker-Peters Southampton 53 31 0.58
Michael Olise Crystal Palace 93 53 0.57
James Maddison Leicester City 47 27 0.57
Adama Traore Wolves 70 39 0.56
Demarai Gray Everton 69 38 0.55
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.

Player Team Drbdef DrbdefW DRBDEFW%
Seamus Coleman Everton 32 20 62.50%
Antonee Robinson Fulham 34 21 61.76%
Matty Cash Aston Villa 39 22 56.41%
Emerson Tottenham Hotspur 37 20 54.05%
Ben White Arsenal 52 28 53.85%
Luke Shaw Manchester United 39 20 51.28%
Diogo Dalot Manchester United 39 20 51.28%
Kyle Walker-Peters Southampton 30 15 50.00%
Pervis Estupinan Brighton & Hove Albion 34 17 50.00%
Oleksandr Zinchenko Arsenal 31 15 48.39%

If you’re interested in how PFF data may help improve your content, please reach out to [email protected] to get a trial usage.

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