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Premier League's Most Improved: The players whose PFF grades took a leap forward in passing and shooting

2MY582M London, UK. 04th Feb, 2023. 4th February 2023; Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford, London, England; Premier League Football, Brentford versus Southampton; Mathias Jensen of Brentford celebrates towards the Brentford fans after scoring his sides 3rd goal in the 79th minute to make it 3-0

With the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season, we now have two years of complete PFF data and grades for the Premier League. With that information, we’re able to compare a player’s performance between seasons and look at which players improved most in certain facets.

This article will focus on passing and shooting by taking the PFF grades of the 2021-22 Premier League season and comparing them with the one which just saw Manchester City crowned champions for the fifth time in six years.

Most improved passing

Name Team 2021-22 grade 2022-23 grade Difference
Mathias Jensen Brentford 63.7 81.5 +17.8
Thomas Partey Arsenal 71.7 85.6 +13.9
Alexis Mac Allister Brighton 78.6 91.1 +12.5

Brentford's Mathias Jensen has gone from being PFF’s 145th-ranked passer in 2021-2022 to our 30th-best this season. He’s become a much more important player for head coach Thomas Frank, making 37 Premier League starts compared to 19 the year before.

The Dane been more aggressive trying to advance the ball as well which could explain the jump in his grade as he’s attempting to complete passes which require a higher degree of quality, going from 2.8 attempted line-breaking passes per-90 last season to 4.7 in 2022-23.

Thomas Partey has seen his grade increase after becoming a key player in Arsenal’s midfield alongside Martin Ødegaard and Granit Xhaka. He’s gone from 57.5 possessions per-90 and 48.4 passes to 71.2 possessions and 63.4 passes.

Partey also cut down on the number of bad passes he has played this season. In 2021-2022 12.6% of his passes received a negative grade compared to 9.9% this year.

Alexis Mac Allister went from the 47th-best passer in the league in 2021-2022 to the fifth-best this season. His development into an elite distributor comes down to the fact he is making more high-quality passes. In 2021-2022 only 3.8% of his passes received positive grades compared to 4.9% this season as Brighton qualified for European cup competition for the first time in their history.

Most improved shooting

Name Team 2021-22 2022-23 Difference
Alexis Mac Allister Brighton 63.3 85.2 +21.9
Rodrigo Leeds United 64.7 84.1 +19.4
Ollie Watkins Aston Villa 73.6 88.4 +14.8
Gabriel Jesus Arsenal 67.3 82.1 +14.8

Shooting is another facet where soon-to-be Liverpool signing Alexis Mac Allister has gone from average to one of the best in the league during 2022-2023. In a season where a World Cup was sandwiched into the fixture list that seemed to hinder some players, the 24-year-old used it as an opportunity to announce himself as a true talent as Argentina won the tournament. He continued that form after he returned from Qatar to eventually earn his move to a top-six club.

Mac Allister's grade differential of +21.9 was by some margin the largest by a midfielder, with Newcastle United's Joelinton the next player at the position to see a strong improvement, albeit +8.1.

Rodrigo more than doubled his goal tally this season (six to 13). The Leeds United forward also hit the target more frequently; in 2021-2022 only 49% of his shots were on target compared to 58% in 2022-2023. This correlated to a massive jump in the effectiveness of his shots, going from 9.3% of his shots being graded positively to 20.7%. Given Leeds’ relegation to the Championship he could be a good signing for any team looking to add goals to their squad.

Ollie Watkins became a focal point for Unai Emery’s Aston Villa and was instrumental in their development from a lower mid-table side to Europa League qualifiers. He scored one goal in 11 games under Steven Gerrard this year before bagging 14 goals after his sacking.

And lastly, Gabriel Jesus looked like a different player at times for Arsenal, relishing the opportunity to be a team’s star striker after long being in the shadow of Sergio Agüero at his former club Manchester City.

Given his improvement was halted by a knee injury in the middle of the season, it will be interesting to see if Jesus can take his development one step further in 2023-2024 and reach the ‘elite’ class of Premier League strikers.

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