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Stats Zone Games of the Season 2015/16: The statistical mind-benders

If you haven't yet caught up on our annual Stats Zone Awards yet, then head here. 

If you have, or just can't be bothered to, read on! For below you'll find the season's extremes: those matches that thrilled or made us want to eat our own fists; those with the most and fewest passes, shots, fouls, attempted dribbles and more.

You might well be entertained by some of the videos that show them off best too...

Most passes in a game: 1,139 (Man City 4-0 Aston Villa, Mar 5)

Previous seasons

2014/15 1,189 Man Utd 4-0 QPR (824 vs 364)

2013/14 1,192 Arsenal 2-0 Hull (803 vs 389)

2012/13 1,169 Arsenal 0-2 Swansea (608 vs 561)

In case you missed it, Pep Guardiola moves to Manchester City this summer. The titan of tiki-taka – a concept he hates but can’t escape, like the Beatles and “mop-tops” – isn’t exactly joining Long-Ball Rovers, though: City were involved in three of the Premier League season’s five passiest games (the others being at home to Watford and at West Brom).

When they ended a run of three straight league defeats by pummeling Aston Villa, they used their 71.2% possession to attempt 811 passes, completing 739 (a Pep-pleasing success rate of 91.1%) to Villa’s 251 of 328 (76.5%). Not that Guardiola will be blown away: the following week his Bayern completed 889 of 969 (91.7%) in a 5-0 battering of Bremen.

Fewest passes in a game: 616 (Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich City, Apr 9)

Previous seasons

2014/15 574 QPR 0-0 West Ham (305 vs 269)

2013/14 541 Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa (286 vs 255)

2012/13 536 QPR 0-2 Stoke (267 vs 269)

These two sides exchanged pleasantries on the opening day, Palace winning 3-1 at a sunny Carrow Road, when all concerned were suffused with the excitement of possibility. By the time they reconvened at Selhurst in April, they were 16th and 17th and nervous as hell. The resultant game was described by Norwich’s Alex Neil as “average” and The Guardian’s Dominic Fifield as “fraught, horribly panic-stricken and utterly excruciating viewing”.

Just 360 passes were completed – the home side edged it with 187 successful attempts out of 315 (59.4%) to the visitors’ 173 of 301 (57.5%). Palace prevailed, Jason Puncheon’s goal giving them a first league win of 2016; Norwich lost crucial centre-back Timm Klose to injury, then the following weekend’s six-pointer to Sunderland, five of their last six games, and eventually their Premier League place.

Best pass completion: 89.48% (Man City 2-0 Watford, Aug 29)

Previous seasons

2014/15 88.72% (Chelsea 3-0 Aston Villa; West Brom 3-0 Chelsea)

2013/14 89.9% (Man United 3-1 Hull)

2012/13 92% (Man United 3-2 Fulham)

It was quickly forgotten among other news involving the fall of Chelsea, the rise of Leicester, the slow death of Manchester United and the latest leader change at Liverpool, but Manchester City started the season like a train. A particularly determined train, one that kept passing and winning: they won their first five games by an 11-0 aggregate.

By season’s end City had been involved in the Premier League’s top four games for pass completion, including the opening-day 3-0 romp at West Brom and this efficient dismissal of Watford – a freshly promoted, improved version of the team who had raced into a 2-0 lead in an FA Cup game at the Etihad just seven months previously. On this occasion City prevailed through Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho goals early in the second half, eventually completing 594 of 645 passes (92.1%), Watford 393 of 458 (85.8%).

Worst pass completion: 58.44% (Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich, Apr 9)

Previous seasons

2014/15 58.71% (QPR 0-0 West Ham)

2013/14 62.7% (Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa)

2012/13 59% (Stoke 3-3 Southampton)

Yes, we’re back at the Selhurst Park version of the Hunger Games. Not only did it have the lowest number of passes attempted, as we revealed two categories earlier, but a goodly swathe of those passes didn’t work. Fewer than three in five reached their man, which means it also recorded the worst pass-completion rate, and therefore the fewest completed passes. Hmm.

That poor return is partly about the teams’ desperation, but also a question of style. Palace frequently feed their pacy wingers with what a proponent would call a “quick vertical”, which by its nature is less accurate than a safe sideways pass, while Norwich were involved in the PL season’s four lowest pass-completion fixtures (and the two games with the fewest attempted passes; Palace were in five of the bottom nine).

As a result, in this deathmatch one pass in five was a long ball, and most of those didn’t work: Palace failed with 50 of their 69, Norwich with 45 of their 60. They are assembled here, reduced into 15 seconds for your viewing pleasure.

Most shots: 44 (Tottenham 2-1 Swansea, Feb 28)

Previous seasons

2014/15 52 (QPR 3-2 Leicester)

2013/14 44 (Newcastle 0-3 Sunderland; Sunderland 0-1 Everton)

2012/13 48 (Newcastle 1-2 Swansea)

If you don’t shoot, you don’t score. Having gone behind in the 19th minute to Alberto Paloschi’s debut Swans goal, title-chasing Tottenham laid siege to Lukasz Fabianski’s area: they rained in 34 shots, of which 15 were on target. It took 70 minutes and a deflection to beat him – Nacer Chadli diverting Kyle Walker’s effort – before Danny Rose drove in the winner.

As is typical of Tottenham’s season, we must mention Leicester. The Foxes were involved in three of the five games to feature 40+ shots: there were 43 during Leicester 2-5 Arsenal (27 for the Gunners), 41 at Leicester 3-1 Everton (32 from the home side) and 41 in the 2-2 at Southampton (27 from the Foxes). They also won the league. Sorry Spurs.

Fewest shots: 9 (Bournemouth 1-1 Leicester, Aug 29)

Previous seasons

2014/15 12 (Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle)

2013/14 9 (Aston Villa 0-0 Southampton)

2012/13 13 (Reading 0-0 Swansea)

These two teams pepped up the Prem with their vim and indeed vigour, but their August head-to-head wasn’t exactly throbbing with goalmouth incident. Bournemouth had their rhythm disturbed by three forced substitutions, while Leicester hadn’t found their rhythm or best XI: this was N’Golo Kante’s first league start, while Shinji Okazaki was a half-time substitute. Each team only got two efforts on target and scored with half of them, Jamie Vardy’s late penalty cancelling out Callum Wilson’s overhead kick.

Other games this season in which goalkeepers could crack on with a good book include Villa 0-0 Newcastle (2 shots vs 9) and Man City 0-0 Man United (6 vs 6).  

Most fouls: 39 (Watford 0-1 Crystal Palace, 27 Sep)

Previous seasons

2014/15 37 (Southampton 1-1 Chelsea)

2013/14 40 (West Brom 0-1 Southampton)

2012/13 39 (Sunderland 1-0 Wigan)

One loss (to rampant Man City) in the opening six games wasn’t a bad way for Watford to open their latest Premier League campaign, but no fun was had in losing at home to a Palace team who had beaten them in the 2013 Championship Play-Off Final.

The teams traded eight fouls each before half-time, but the visitors steeled up in the second half, committing 14 to Watford’s nine. Referee Anthony Taylor doled out four yellows apiece, and predictably the match was settled by a penalty – Yohan Cabaye scoring after Allan Nyom legged up Wilfried Zaha in the box. Watford gained revenge by beating Palace in the spring – although to be fair, most teams did – but Alan Pardew’s men had the last laugh with FA Cup semi-final victory.

Fewest fouls: 8 (Norwich 1-2 Leicester, Oct 3)

Previous seasons

2014/15 10 (Aston Villa 0-2 Man City)

2013/14 9 (Manchester United 2-2 Fulham)

2012/13 10 (Chelsea 4-1 Norwich)

In many ways, what would turn out to be a typical Leicester win – very little possession, efficiently dispatched chances, a Jamie Vardy goal – but not one that overly taxed the pea in Mark Clattenburg’s whistle.

The sides committed just four fouls each; Leicester didn’t concede any between the 4th (Wes Morgan) and 54th (Robert Huth) minutes, and by the time of Huth’s they were 2-0 up through Vardy’s penalty (this was the fifth in his run of 11 successive scoring games) and Jeffrey Schlupp.

Most dribbles: 72 (Leicester 3-2 Villa, Sep 13 & Sunderland 0-2 Leicester, Apr 10)

Previous seasons

2014/15 75 (Man City 0-2 Arsenal)

2013/14 70 (Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal)

2012/13 60 (Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal; Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle)

At about 5.20pm on Sunday September 13, things were going quite nicely for Aston Villa: 2-0 up at Leicester, they were headed for eighth place. But they snatched improbable defeat from the jaws of comprehensive victory and never looked up again, while the home side – who completed a jaw-dropping 22 of their 27 second-half dribbles – barely paused for breath again.

By the time of the trip to Wearside everybody knew the Foxes’ modus operandi, but not many could stop it. On that sunny Sunday afternoon they attempted an impressive 47 take-ons, succeeding with 22, while their hosts were fairly expansive too with 25 attempts (14 successful). Kudos to Leicester for attempting 29 dribbles in the second half – one every 90 seconds or so.

Fewest dribbles: 12 (Tottenham 2-1 Swansea, Feb 28)

Previous seasons

2014/15 13 (QPR 3-2 West Brom)

2013/14 14 (Man City 4-0 Aston Villa)

2012/13 9 (Man City 1-1 Everton, West Ham 1-1 Stoke)

We’re back at the Lane and this virtual attack vs defence exercise. New Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin was perfectly happy to sit deep and hit on the counter, especially once in front; his team made 23 tackles, of which 19 were in their own half.

Faced with a packed defence, Spurs opted to move the ball around rather than run with it. They attempted 200 passes in the attacking third, and only eight dribbles all day: none in the first half-hour, while Swansea tried none in the first half at all.

Most tackles completed: 70 (Tottenham 0-0 Liverpool, Oct 17)

Previous seasons

2014/15 68 (Arsenal 2-2 Man City)

2013/14 69 (Man United 0-3 Liverpool)

2012/13 66 (Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool)

PRESS! PRESS! PRESS! Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool with a reputation for getting his players all up in their opponents’ grills. So when his first game was at Mauricio Pochettino’s similarly in-yer-face Tottenham, tackles were sure to ensue. And they did, at the rate of more than one per minute: Spurs won 41 of their 53 tackles, Liverpool 29 of their 41.

Notably, that was more tackles than the Reds had attempted in Brendan Rodgers’ last game – the famously laid-back Merseyside derby – and Liverpool went on to appear in four of the season’s top seven games for tackles completed.

Fewest tackles completed: 18 (Norwich 0-1 West Brom, Oct 24; Palace 1-0 Norwich, Apr 9)

Previous seasons

2014/15 15 (Chelsea 3-0 Aston Villa)

2013/14 19 (Villa 0-2 West Ham; WBA 1-0 West Ham: Swansea 4-1 Villa)

2012/13 18 (Man United 2-1 Swansea)

Sorry to keep dragging you back to that Selhurst Park six-pointer, but the stats don’t lie. You might expect a relegation battle to be tackle-heavy, but there are reasons why not: teams might sit deep, they might release the ball into those quick verticals before their opponents come near, and they might not be very good at tackling anyway – Norwich attempted 19 tackles but only succeeded with seven.

They had been marginally better during autumn’s home reverse to West Brom, completing eight of their 13 tackles, but the end result was the same: a 1-0 loss. The Baggies were busier in the tackle, completing 10 of their 20 attempts – largely in the rear third where Tony Pulis’s defensive phalanx tends to operate.

Most crosses: 70 (Norwich 1-2 Leicester, Oct 3)

Previous seasons

2014/15 50 (West Ham 1-0 Burnley)

2013/14 85 (Man United 2-2 Fulham)

2012/13 76 (Reading 2-1 Everton)

The game with the fewest fouls also featured the most crosses. Wingers on top? Maybe, but Claudio Ranieri controversially dropped Riyad Mahrez – which might have helped with the low foul count. As it goes, most of the crosses were attempted by Norwich, who succeeded with 10 of their 49 (!) attempts; Leicester completed five of their 21 (11 of which came from cross-machine Marc Albrighton – still miles behind Robbie Brady’s 21).

Fewest crosses: 20 (Everton 4-0 Aston Villa, Nov 21)

Previous seasons

2014/15 14 (Swansea 0-5 Chelsea)

2013/14 19 (Chelsea 2-1 Villa)

2012/13 17 (QPR 1-2 Newcastle)

Aston Villa spent the season being so perpetually bobbins that it’s a surprise they haven’t featured more heavily in this, erm, feature. This was the kind of dispiritingly solid hammering that confirmed the bottom club were in for a long campaign, but appearances can be deceptive: at this point Everton were in seventh place and flying, but would only win one of the next 10 league games.

Anyway, on this autmunal Sunday afternoon they dispatched Villa without much recourse to crossing, completing just three of their 11 attempts (although one, from former SZ Full-back of the Year Seamus Coleman, was converted into a goal by Romelu Lukaku). Villa were worse, completing two of 9, both of which were corners – they didn’t complete a cross in open play all day. Not that it would have helped much anyway.

Most clearances: 102 (Sunderland 0-2 Leicester, Apr 10)

Previous seasons

2014/15 117 (West Ham 0-1 Chelsea)

2013/14 126 (West Ham 2-1 Norwich)

2012/13 135 (Villa 1-2 Newcastle)

For the third successive season a Sam Allardyce side wins this award for following one of football’s oldest maxims: if in doubt, get it out. Although it’s reductive to paint Allardyce as a tactical dinosaur, he does like his defenders to clear their lines of danger, and the number of times they do so is credit to the determination and awareness he drills into them.

On this occasion, wary of the pace of Jamie Vardy, Sunderland defenders attempted 66 clearances (one every 90 seconds or so) and completed 47 of them. Leicester, arguably more practiced at turning clearances into counter-attacks, completed an impressive 31 of their 36.

Fewest clearances: 25 (Stoke 2-0 Man City, Dec 5)

Previous seasons

2014/15 27 (Arsenal 0-1 Swansea)

2013/14 23 (Swansea 1-2 Arsenal; Arsenal 3-1 Stoke)

2012/13 25 (Man City 1-0 Wigan)

Setting about their visitors with the frenzy of a toddler who’s eviscerated the advent calendar and eaten all its contents in one go, the Potters were two Marko Arnautovic goals up within 15 minutes. The double blast from the Argos Ibrahimovic allowed Stoke to hold their visitors at arm’s length: they dealt comfortably with what passed for a fightback, making 18 clearances. For comparison, in the Sunderland-Leicester game mentioned above, Younes Kaboul made 25 clearances on his own.

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