Accurate and progressive: the kings of passing

Category: Player Analysis

The three best midfielders in Europe are vastly superior to the rest. There is no data that eludes them.


As the game has progressed towards a much more sophisticated and deliberate style, with playing surfaces improving across all countries to ensure quick and safe ball movement, midfielders have emerged as the true game dominators. Through them flow the matches, the rhythm, the control, the possession, the deception, and the accuracy. But the throne of the position currently belongs to three players who, each in their respective country, are dominating the three most important leagues in Europe.

To attempt to reach their level, it’s not enough to be precise; one must also take risks, look forward, and advance the game. This combination has divided the super-elite – three names – from everyone else, with a huge performance gap between accuracy and risk. There’s no more revealing graph than crossing two axes to understand the distances separating the best from the rest.

Progressive Passes and Pass Completion Percentage among midfielders in the top five European leagues (+800 minutes played)

It’s no coincidence that the three best midfielders of the year in Europe have either won their championship or are on the verge of doing so. Everything revolves around Toni Kroos, Rodri, and Granit Xhaka. Many midfielders boast a pass completion rate above 90%, but what sets them apart is the quality, personality, and volume of passes that progress possession, both with vertical passes and long balls, where they outshine everyone else.

Rodri (+55,000 meters), Toni Kroos (+40,000), and Granit Xhaka (+46,000 meters) are by far the three midfielders who have made the ball travel the most. Those who come closest to them are primarily Spanish midfielders: Aleix Garcia, Kirian Rodriguez, Koke, and Dani Parejo, along with Pascal Gross, Hakan Calhanoglu, Leandro Paredes, or Declan Rice.

A highly valuable model is Expected Passes, which we introduced on our website some time ago. By measuring how many passes are expected to be completed based on the probability of success for each attempted pass, it becomes possible to gauge which players have exceeded their Expected Passes index. Through the location of six different variables, a percentage probability of success is determined. The greater the difference between the completion percentage and the Expected Passes percentage, the more precision, contribution, and added value that player will bring.

Thus, Toni Kroos, with a +7% surplus, Rodri, with over 5.3%, and Xhaka, with +4.8%, are the midfielders who added the most value to each pass. The three have dominated LaLiga, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, the Champions League, and the Europa League. They are the three best midfielders of the year in Europe, and the data proves it in countless ways.

Founded in 2017 as a consultancy, Driblab has driven innovation through data in all aspects of professional football. Thanks to a transversal model, its database collects and models statistics in all directions. From converting matches and videos into bespoke data for training academies to developing cutting-edge technology, helping clubs, federations and representative agencies in talent scouting and transfer markets. Driblab’s smart data is used by clubs all over the world, with success stories such as Dinamo Zagreb, Real Betis and Girondins Bordeaux among others. Here you can find out more about how we work and what we offer.

Autor: Alejandro Arroyo
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