Best passer, best dribbler, most error-prone: the standout players of this season

As the campaign approaches its final third, Alex Keble crunches the numbers to find out the stars who are succeeding (and failing) in different areas of the game...

Best tackler – Lucas Leiva - 4.7 per game

Lucas has been an almost constant feature of Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI, despite being less dynamic and technically proficient than the type of player who is usually required for the German’s gegenpressing model. That's because the Brazilian’s inclusion is instead because he is by far the best destroyer in a squad lacking defensive bite; the next best tackler in the team, indeed, is Alberto Moreno with an unspectacular 2.9 per match.

Most interceptions – N’Golo Kante – 4.0 per game

Kante has made more tackles and interceptions combined than any other player this season (185), which will come as no surprise to anybody who has had the pleasure of watching him play this season. The Frenchman is a remarkably intelligent footballer who controls midfield with his passing and agile dribbling, while simultaneously managing to be the best defensive midfielder in the country. 

Biggest fouler – Morgan Schneiderlin - 2.3 per game

Given that he makes 2.9 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per match, it is no surprise that Morgan Schneiderlin also has a high foul count. Manchester United’s sluggish, struggling central midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Bastian Schweinsteiger have often left the Frenchman over-exposed in the centre of the park, which perhaps explains why he is fouling more often than at Southampton (1.8 fouls per match in 2014/15).

Most key passes – Mesut Ozil - 4.2 per game

Mesut Ozil’s season has been so good that comparisons with Dennis Bergkamp are becoming more and more frequent. The German playmaker has amassed a league-high 16 assists to date and also tops the charts for key passes (4.2 per game), through balls (0.5 per game), and accurate crosses (2.2 per game). Another three months of this and the title could be Arsenal’s to lose.

Most fouled – Alexis Sanchez - 2.6 per game

Arsenal’s most direct attacker was always likely to top the charts for most fouls suffered. Sanchez is targeted by opponents by virtue of being the most dangerous player on the pitch; the areas in which he attempts to take players on (3.6 dribbles per match) is usually just outside the box, where defenders are invariably forced to commit to a challenge.

Most cards – Jack Colback – 9 yellows

Jack Colback, a gritty, combative midfielder who is not afraid to leave a mark on his opponents, has amassed 9 yellow cards in just 18 matches. While Newcastle only intermittently play in the aggressive counter-attacking style that saw them beat Liverpool and Tottenham, Colback is the engine driving them on when they do.

Dribbled past the most – Aaron Ramsey – 2.3 times per match

Though Arsenal have coped admirably since Francis Coquelin’s injury, the 4-0 defeat to Southampton and 3-3 draw with Liverpool emphasised the meekness of their central midfield without the Frenchman. Ramsey misses 50% of his tackles, a reminder of the long-standing problem in Arsenal’s engine room before Coquelin’s rise to prominence in January last year. Arsenal are unlikely to sustain a title challenge with Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini in the middle of the park, so it will be a relief to the club’s supporters that Coquelin is now nearing full fitness.

Best dribbler – Wilfried Zaha - 3.4 take-ons per game

Zaha struggled to make an impact at Manchester United, but the winger is flourishing once more at Crystal Palace, where Alan Pardew’s tactics suit Zaha’s style. Palace focus on quick, direct counter-attacks down the wings (76% of attacks come down the flanks, the most in the division), which allows Zaha to focus on dribbling.

Best passer – Santi Cazorla – 84.1 per match

The Spaniard has been phenomenal since moving into a deeper central midfield role and, like Coquelin, has been sorely missed at the Emirates in recent months. Not only does Cazorla make more passes than any other Premier League player, he ranks 5th for pass accuracy (90.3%) and 5th for key passes per game (2.6). He is the sort of dynamic box-to-box central midfielder that most of England’s top clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea – are lacking.

Most crosses – Dimitri Payet - 8.2 attempted per match

West Ham’s playmaker has dazzled in his first season in England, amassing 6 goals and 4 assists despite missing a large chunk of the season through injury. Rather surprisingly, he attempts more crosses than any other player – with a large percentage of these swung in towards Andy Carroll (3.5 aerial duels won per match) or Diafra Sakho (3.2 aerial duels won per match).

Most accurate long balls – Phil Jagielka – 7.5 per game

Excluding goalkeepers, Everton’s Phil Jagielka makes the most successful long passes in the Premier League. This is testament to Roberto Martinez’s greater focus on direct football this season following the complaints of slow-tempo build-up during the 2014/15 campaign. A lot of these balls are cross-field passes; switching the play is another important part of Martinez’s tactical strategy.

Best in the air – Rudy Gestede – 6.2 aerial duels won per match

Aston Villa win more headers than any other team (21.1 per match), a result of their propensity to fire long balls forward to Gestede. The former Blackburn striker has fallen down the pecking order in recent weeks, but his aerial prowess could be useful in the Championship next season.

Most defensive errors – Emre Can – 5 in total, 2 leading to goals

Liverpool are the most error-prone side in the league (22 in total, 6 of which led to goals), with many a result of the technical deficiencies in central defence. Emre Can is still struggling to adapt to English football and has made several mistakes when playing as part of a back three or in central midfield; he is improving with every game, however, and it’s notable that all five of his mistakes came in the first four months of the season.

Most defensive actions – Ashley Williams – 12.26 per game

Wales captain Ashley Williams has been a remarkably consistent performer over the years for Swansea, but never before has he been so important to their cause. Williams makes more blocks, interceptions and clearances than any other Premier League player – reflecting both his personal excellence and the amount of pressure put on the Swansea goal this term.

Best shot accuracy – Harry Kane – 66% from 3.87 shots per game

Some Spurs fans may be concerned that the proposed Moussa Dembele and Saido Berahino deals did not go through last month, but there are few signs that Harry Kane’s goalscoring form will come to an end any time soon. Not only is the England international one of the division’s top scorers, he is also the most clinical, hitting the target from two thirds of his shots on goal (and scoring from every 6.8). No player with such a high shot frequency comes anywhere near such a percentage.

Most saves – Jack Butland – 83

Jack Butland has made more saves than any other Premier League goalkeeper in 2015/16, a surprising statistic given that Stoke are 10th in the table and have conceded only 28 goals (the 8th fewest). The Potters do allow a high 14.5 shots per game (5th most in division), though, and thus Butland deserves plenty of praise for his heroics this season. It cannot be long before Joe Hart’s position as England’s No.1 comes under threat.

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