The influx of foreign talent has been a cautious point of interest for football fans of clubs in the English Premier League for some time now; the effect on the National team’s performance, the impact on opportunities for local youth coming through, high wages etc.
But, there won’t be many out there that could argue of the quality that the non-UK based players have brought to the Premier League as the division has arguably risen above the shoulders of every other league in world football and is now known to most as the best league around.
The likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola set the standard in the 90’s for the quality of player and performance in the Premier League, and later years saw players such a Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo tear up pretty much every record going.
Nothing should ever taken away from our own though, and the Shearers, Sherringhams and Ferdinands of this world rightly stand shoulder to shoulder with the best foreign players this country has ever seen.
Recently though, imports like David Silva, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero are the ones that are setting the league alight. Of the current top 10 players in the Official EA Sports Player Performance Index, only 2 reside in the UK – just 1 from England. Stretch that to the top 20, and you’ll find 6 UK-born players.
With the Premier League fixtures on a ‘break’, NUFC_Stats took a temporary ‘time-out’ from NUFC specific stats to compare the top 16 players from the EA Sports Performance Index and put them through a knock-out style ‘Stat Battle’ competition to determine just who is the best player in the Premier League at present.
The current top 16:
Having identified the top 16, the next step was to create ‘Round 1’. This was done with three main concepts in mind – playing positions, seeding and stat type. It was pretty impossible to have every player ‘Stat Battling’ another player from exactly the same position, but for the first round, players were matched by their position firstly, and then by their position in the top 16 of the players’ index.
Where applicable, players nearer the top were matched with players nearer to the bottom to produce some idea of seeding. Where players from different playing positions were paired, basic stats were used to make it as fair a ‘battle’ as possible.
It’s difficult to look away from the goals when comparing strikers, but it is important that each of these battles be put into context. As well as Spurs have done this season, Adebayor won’t be presented with as many chances as a forward playing for Man City when you consider the talent and quantity they have playing behind the front players.
However, the two players have had the exact same amount of shots at goal, Aguero getting just 1 more on target but managing to convert 15 compared to Adebayor’s 10. Away from the goals, Aguero does carry the ball more than his Spurs counterpart, whereas Adebayor is responsible for more assists and chances created than the Argentinian.
A tough one to begin to with, but considering Ageuro has played nearly 200 mins less than Adebayor and notched 5 more goals, it must be him that is deemed the winner.
WINNER – SERGIO AGUERO
When reading the title of this article, most fans will arguably see the Arsenal forward in their mind’s eye. Van Persie has been nothing short of sensational in what has been a strange and struggling season for the Gunners thus far.
For Ba, the story is similar. Newcastle have been the surprise package of the Premier League, earning the right to be considered genuine European spot challengers and that is mostly down to the Senegalese forward.
As far as a battle goes, van Persie outdoes Ba in nearly all data, none more so than the goals he has scored and the chances/assists he has produced for his team mates. However, when it comes to having chances, there aren’t many more prolific in Europe currently than Demba Ba; he has a higher shot accuracy and chance conversion rate than the Dutchman and when you consider the team context again, Ba is right up there with the best forwards around at present.
This one is a lot closer than it appears from the outset, but there can be only one winner, and it has to be the league’s top scorer.
WINNER – ROBIN VAN PERSIE
This one a very interesting battle, a feud between 2 very versatile but equally quality footballers. Both play normally in the modernised no.10 role at their respective clubs, but both have been asked to play in a line-leading position as well as out wide at times.
If you look straight to the output data, Rooney is the outright winner, scoring 10 more goals than van der Vaart, although the Englishman has played over 300 minutes more Premier League football (1,495-1,821 respectively).
A look at some of the other numbers shows VDV in a different light though. The Dutchman has been the more competent passer this season as well as producing more assists and has the better shooting accuracy.
But, back to the output – Rooney scores, this season, every 107 minutes compared to VDV’s 214. He has created slightly more chances and has that better conversion rate. A little look defensively shows that Rooney wins significantly more aerial duels (24%-43%) and tackles (69%-93%) which makes him a superior asset to his team.
WINNER – WAYNE ROONEY
One of the battles of the season here. Two of the best imports to England’s elite division this season, the two Spaniards have brought exquisite attacking flair to their teams and are two of the best in Europe at creating chances and playing the possession game.
Mata and Silva don’t play exactly the same positional role at their clubs but their influence is equally significant in the way their teams function. While Mata plays the wider role in Chelsea’s 4-3-3, Silva plays a lot more centrally and exploits that space in between the opposition’s middle and back units.
Silva has the edge when it comes to passing competence but when it comes to created chances, the pair have produced the exact same (74). 20 of Mata’s have originated from set plays compared to just 3 of Silva’s. Silva also betters Mata in terms of assists (8-12) but they are equivalent on goals scored (5). Furthermore, Silva has the better shooting accuracy but Mata has the marginally better chance conversion rate.
The closest battle so far and for a few finer details, these two are pretty inseparable. However, as they say ‘there must be a winner’ and David Silva just say shades this one, mainly due to his pass completion rate and his assists.
WINNER – DAVID SILVA
It’s probably fair to say most people will look at this one and think there’s no doubt who the better player is, certainly this season. But, although Nani hasn’t had the impact this season that he has done in the past, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been producing the goods at Man Utd this campaign.
Nani has played 4 Premier League less than the Welshman and falls sort of Bale’s numbers in pretty much every aspect. He has however, managed to create 7 more successful dribbles and 60 more crosses in 431 less minutes. The pair have created the same number of assists and Bale only beats Nani in chances created by 7.
When it comes to scoring goals from the flank, Bale is the man though. 3 more goals, 20 more shots, a better shooting accuracy and faintly better chance conversion rate mean the Welsh wizard is the form winger currently.
WINNER – GARETH BALE
Another very tough stat battle here – an opening glance at the pairs’ data doesn’t throw up too much difference at all. Similar pass completion, exact same goal assists, similar total shots, exact same goals and similar chance conversion rates.
Digging a little deeper though, and Modric’s numbers do start to tell a more loftier story. Although he’s played nearly 300 minutes more of Premier League football, the Croatian’s 69 more crosses show how mobile a player he is and how he can mix his role up. 27 more chances created also – 13 of those are from set plays, something that Toure hasn’t completed 1 of, but from open play alone Modric is still 14 ahead.
A goal every 682 minutes is probably not up to the standard of the Spurs man’s overall game influence and it is slightly bettered by Yaya Toure who provides a goal every 585 minutes. But, this is a victory for the Croat – his overall game and chance creation over-shadows Toure somewhat and although they both aren’t doused in goals this season, Modric seems to be getting a little more right with his shooting accuracy in particular.
WINNER – LUKA MODRIC
And so to the first defensive battle. Other than the obvious incident for one of these, the two left backs have gone under the radar with their performances this season, as defenders tend to do. Most would point to the likes of Ashley Cole, Kyle Walker and Micah Richards when asked about full back performances this campaign, but Evra and Assou-Ekotto have been stand-outs statistically.
When comparing, it seems only right that, although the modern day full back is expected to contribute more than ever offensively, the defensive numbers are the ones which separate the ‘good’ full-backs from the ‘excellent’ ones.
In terms of ‘challenging’, Evra wins this one hands down – higher percentages for ground 50-50’s, tackles and aerial 50-50’s stand the Frenchman on the proverbial defensive pedestal. Assou-Ekotto does better when it comes to interceptions and losses of possession, but add superior data for defensive errors to Evra’s armoury and there is a clear winner here.
WINNER – PATRICE EVRA
This the most awkward one – comparing a centre back and a centre midfielder is not the easiest of tasks. While they both play centrally and have some similar attributes to their roles and responsibilities, the functions of these positions can be completely different depending on their team’s philosophy and squad quality. Therefore, the only fair way this could be done, was to look at the basic statistical values and conclude as to which was the better all-round footballer rather than positional victor.
‘50-50-wise’, Terry is the better of two, as you’d expect. He has higher percentages for both ground 50-50’s and aerial 50-50’s. However, get to tackles and Arteta is the standout candidate. The Spaniard has not only been involved in more tackles, but has won a far more significant percentage of them (70%-82%).
Terry has made more interceptions, while Arteta has made less defensive errors. That one could be deemed unfair, as Terry will have been in for more situations for that stat to come about. Arteta has also lost possession more than his English opponent, in nearly 200 minutes of Premier League football less too.
Finally, the passing. Of Terry’s expectedly lower 1,282 passes, 91% of them have been accurate. For Arteta, 88% from 412 more passes.
A really difficult one to choose a winner for – the uneasy task of comparing a centre half to a centre midfielder added to the similarity of numbers makes this a nigh on impossible task. However, a look at one piece of data does help to wrap this one up. 5 goals each!
WINNER – JOHN TERRY
No messing about with this one, straight into the goal data. 15 for the Argentine and 22 for the Dutchman; that equates to a goal every 117 mins for Aguero and every 98 mins for van Persie. Despite having a healthy midfield behind him, Aguero only manages a shot every 48 mins compared to RVP’s 42 and accuracy-wise, the Arsenal man victors by 3%.
Behind the goals, van Persie produces way more crosses, creates more chances and has a healthier assist rate, having a sole hand in no less than 29 of Arsenal’s Premier League goals this season compared to 19 from Aguero.
There’s no doubting the impact Sergio Aguero has had on English football since his arrival; the ‘mini-Maradona’ has simply graced the game right from the off – but no one up top is having as big an impact as Robin van Persie presently.
WINNER – ROBIN VAN PERSIE
A good stat battle here most would agree. Both play the game very similarly, being their teams’ main point of attack and most in possession. They both play in that hole between the opposition’s midfield and defensive ranks and both have unquestioned quality and ability to really hurt teams.
A look just at goals would be unfair, especially when you consider the number of penalties Rooney has had this season alongside the fact that he does get asked to spearhead the attack often, which is not a position played by Silva.
Only 148 minutes separate these two (in favour of Silva), the Spaniard having started 2 more games than the Englishman. The passing numbers show Silva is the more composed; 86% of his passes have been accurate in comparison to Rooney’s 80%, from nearly 400 more passes too.
Silva has also created over double the chances Rooney has, only 3 of which have been from set plays and no player in the Premier League has as many assists as the Spanish playmaker. Rooney does have 12 more goals but that should be expected considering the roles, especially as Rooney has been presented with nearly double the shots Silva has.
Speaking of shooting, Silva may not have been involved in as many opportunities to score, but when he has shot, his accuracy is only 2% short of the England forward’s.
The battles are obviously getting tougher and tougher and the comparison of stats is getting more difficult when the context of each playing role is considered. However, if you ask the question ‘which player has been the most effective?’, then Silva has to be the one that pops up when you reflect on his contribution to the whole team.
WINNER – DAVID SILVA
So, the two team mates get drawn together. It just goes to show how fantastic a season Tottenham have had when you look at the players involved in this ‘competition’ and the individual stats of their players which obviously reflects their impressive league position.
Only one 90 minutes is the difference between the two’s Premier League playing time this season. In role comparison, Bale plays the game a lot more direct, with pace and power his distinct attributes, where as the Croatian plays a more thought-out game, with patient possession and innovative link play. However, both players have a very similar job from midfield – supply, support, score!
Modric outdoes his Welsh compatriot when it comes to passing – 9% more of the Croat’s passes are accurate. He also plays 2% more of his passes forward than Bale, and Bale plays 8% more of his passes backwards.
Modric is the slightly better ball carrier, completing a successful dribble every 1.52 games compared to 1.67 for Bale and although the wideman has produced significantly more crosses, Modric does have the better crossing accuracy.
When it comes to supply and score, Bale is the outright conqueror. He’s created 7 more chances than Modric, 3 less from set plays, and he has 7 assists to his name as opposed to Modric’s 4. Add Bale’s 9 league goals (6 more) to that and you get your champ.
WINNER – GARETH BALE
A battle far easier to gage than Terry’s previous encounter – a full back versus a centre back can be judged on sheer defensive qualities, the ability to stop the opposition scoring. Evra has started 2 more games than the Chelsea captain, a total of 116 minutes difference.
For ground 50-50’s, Evra has been involved in notably more and has 10% less success rate than Terry. Tackle-wise, Evra peaks above the Chelsea man, winning 76% of 19 more tackles than John Terry, compared to his 70%. And, aerially, both players have been involved in 54 duels this season, John Terry being the considerable winner – 78% wins to 52% from the Frenchman.
Terry has produced more interceptions, allowed passed less dribbles and lost possession 22 less time than his Man Utd opponent and, although Evra has made 2 less defensive mistakes, it has to be the former England captain that progresses here.
WINNER – JOHN TERRY
Into the real ‘meat’ of the contest now and not many could argue with the remaining 4 players, although John Terry may surprise one or two. Many would have predicted this particular stat battle as the final and it’s not one that comes easy to figure out. Silva has played 1,969 minutes of elite football in England this campaign and van Persie 2,164.
Again, positionally these two bare some similarity, but Silva does play in a deeper role than RVP and won’t be presented with as many goal-scoring opportunities as the Dutch international. The best thing to do here, is to run through all 3 areas of comparison – defensive, passing and goal threat.
RVP has been involved in more ground 50-50’s (249-202) but has won a lesser percentage of them (37%-44%). In tackles, Silva has been the more active, 35 to RVP’s 11, with the Dutchman just coming out the medallist , 64% to 63% of tackles won. Aerially, RVP has committed to 8x more aerial duels (80-10) than Silva, winning 3% more of them (33%-30%).
When it comes to spreading the ball, there aren’t many better in world football than David Silva. The Man City man has a pass succession rate of 86% against RVP’s of 69%, from nearly twice as many passes in the Premier League (1,524-826). He also produces more successful dribbles than van Persie (1.2-1.16), but the Arsenal forward creates more crosses with the same accuracy.
In terms of creating chances, as aforementioned, Silva is the league’s leader with 12 assists, but RVP isn’t far off with 7, which for a forward who is scoring plenty himself, is not a bad return at all. Silva has though, created 15 more chances than Robin van Persie despite playing 195 minutes less, with only 3 from set plays compared to 17 from the Dutch frontman.
The goals speak for themselves, although it wouldn’t be too fair to look too closely at them considering the roles these two play, and when it comes to shooting, again David Silva is very similar to RVP in terms of accuracy (55%-57% respectively). Van Persie does have double the chance conversion rate of the Spaniard however (12%-24%).
The best way to determine a conclusion to this, the closest battle yet, is to look at whether the two are doing what they should be doing and what they are doing extra. Both players are the best currently in their roles – van Persie is notching more goals in the division than anyone and Silva is creating ahead of his competitors but in terms of ‘extra’, the Arsenal ‘outstander’ is doing far more in the creation stakes than Silva is in the goal-getting ones.
WINNER – ROBIN VAN PERSIE
And so to the second semi-final, another obstinate battle between an attacking player and a defensive one. For fairness to prevail, and at this stage of the ‘competition’, all 3 elements of play (defending, passing, goal threat) need peering at. For context, Bale has started 2 more Premier League games than the Chelsea captain, a total of 157 minutes more.
Bale has been part of 8 clean sheets for Spurs and Terry, just 6 at Chelsea. When the Welshman has played for Tottenham, they’ve conceded an average of 1.05 goals per game and for Terry at Chelsea, its 1.14. Terry comes out on top for ground and aerial 50-50’s, but tackle-wise, it’s Bale who has won the higher percentage (74%-70%).
For the passing numbers, Terry has made 141 more than Gareth Bale’s 1,141 passes in the league this season and produced a significantly higher proportion of successful ones (91%-77%). After that, its all Bale – more crosses, more created chances and more assists, which is to be expected.
In the attacking data, it is Bale again who prevails, again, rightly so. 5 more goals, 49 more shots, and a very slightly better shooting accuracy (47%-46%). However, John Terry does have those 4 goals from defence, which when you look at his conversion rate, he completely surpasses the Spurs man (31%-15%).
If the RVP/Silva battle was a ‘toughy’, then this is a nigh-on impossibility, like the Arteta one. Both players are performing above and beyond in their respective roles for their clubs and both are doing their ‘extra’ bit as well; Bale tackling and Terry getting goals. But, it has to come down to which player would make the biggest difference in a team right now.
Going on current form and progress over the season, Gareth Bale is the triumphant one – it has to be said though, that any ‘dream team’ would have to have both of these players included!
WINNER – GARETH BALE
There won’t be many arguing that these are two of, if not the, best two players in the Premier League on current form. Robin van Persie continues to score goals and drag Arsenal from the depths of despair at times where Gareth Bale has to be the most developed and progressing young talents over recent years.
Considering RVP’s ability in the penalty area and Bale’s desire, hunger and consistency to provide chances, in the same team these two would be nothing short of devastating! But, that’s not the case at present – the question is, ‘who’s best?’.
Only 27 minutes of Premier League football separate these two. Gareth Bale has been the more accomplished passer – 315 more passers than the Dutchman with an 8% better completion rate. He’s also produced 11 more successful dribbles, 0.51 more per game on average. The Welshman has produced 3 more crosses than RVP, with a better accuracy, as well as 1 more goal assist from open play and 3 more total chances created.
As with all battles thus far for Robin van Persie, the goals tell their own story. 0.92 goals per game on average for van Persie compared to 0.38 goals every game for Bale. Van Persie also has the more superior shooting accuracy and the greater chance conversion rate.
Seeming as this is the final, a little look at the defensive numbers will help to give a more comprehensive and ultimate view on the result. And here, it’s the Spurs man that stands out. 2 more clean sheets, less goals conceded per game and higher percentages for ground 50-50’s, aerial 50-50’s and tackles.
To make a decision, it’s important all footballing concepts are considered. Van Persie has an outstanding goal record this season and has provided more than his fair share in terms of chance creation. Bale has undoubted class when it comes to drive and power – he dribbles, he crosses, he creates chances and he scores goals, albeit probably not as many as his performances deserve.
When adding the defensive whitewash, statistically, by Bale the contest becomes a little clearer. Mirroring most of the latest battles, a team equipped with both of these players would be an ideal scenario, but in answer to the question of, ‘who is the best Premier League player at present’, Gareth Bale is the winner due to his sheer consistency of displays in the league this campaign and his impact throughout every 90 minutes his participates in, both attacking-wise and defensively.
WINNER – GARETH BALE
Controversial? Probably and hopefully! ;0)