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EPL 2016/17: Who are the best passers in the Premier League this season?

Only one player has completed more than 2,000 passes this season. Will it be two on Sunday?

18 May 2017, 20:13 IST
Cesar Azpilicueta most passes completed Premier League
Cesar Azpilicueta has completed more passes than anyone else in the Premier League

With the Premier League season finally coming to an end this weekend, it has come to our attention that among all the players in the “best league in the world” has only one player who has completed more than 2,000 passes in the league this season. And what makes it more surprising is that it isn’t a midfielder or winger but a defender!

Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta is the only player to complete 2,000 passes in the league this season. Having initially played six games as a left-back in Antonio Conte’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he was quickly shifted to a right central defender alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill in the 3-4-3 formation that has proved to be very successful for the Blues. 

The Spaniard is the only outfield player to have played each and every minute in the Premier League this season – 37 games, 3330 minutes – an astounding stat only matched by two other outfield players (Ben Gibson of Middlesbrough and Steve Cook of Bournemouth). 

What’s more; he also set up the title-winning goal for Michy Batshuayi when Chelsea struggled to break down West Bromwich Albion.

His versatility has allowed Conte to experiment with three-at-the-back and it saw him benching John Terry as a result. Azpilicueta’s calm assurance on the ball and his passing range have allowed the Blues to build from the back.

While it is easy to say that defenders can complete passes in their own half (lest they lose the ball and allow opponents to counter-attack), he is also the only Premier League defender to complete 1,000 passes in the opposition half (1,003 passes).

Granit Xhaka making strides in the Premier League

Granit Xhaka Premier League passes
Granit Xhaka is closing in on 2,000 passes

When Arsenal signed Granit Xhaka for a reported fee of £35m, many questioned what he would bring to the table. The Switzerland international midfielder was known to have a cannon of a left foot but was rash in the tackle which has already seen him get sent off twice in the league this season. 

But as he adapted to Arsenal’s style of play and Wenger experimented with various midfield combinations, the second half of the season has seen Xhaka grow into his role in the centre of the pitch. The 24-year-old shields the ball well when he wins it back and also has the ability to initiate attacking moves with a range of passing not seen at the club since Mikel Arteta’s peak years at the Emirates. 

So far this season, he has quietly gone about his business and completed 1,921 passes. If he plays the final game against Everton, he could be the only other player to breach the 2,000 passes mark this season. And he has done it in far fewer games than Azpilicueta.

It makes fans wonder what could have been had Santi Cazorla been fit to partner him in midfield. Xhaka’s long balls over the top and to the wings have also been very effective in pressure situations while his blossoming telepathy with Mesut Ozil is a good sign for the future (provided the German playmaker stays at the club). 

With Wenger adopting a new 3-4-3 formation, it has brought out the best in the team that have now won seven of their last eight games. As they look to seal a Champions League spot (which requires help from teams above them), Xhaka’s evolution has been key to strengthening Arsenal’s midfield. 

Among the top 10 passers in the Premier League, it is Xhaka who has the best pass accuracy, finding teammates at a rate of 89.18%. Not bad for his debut season in England.

Paul Pogba proving his worth

Paul Pogba EPL Passes
Paul Pogba was the first player to complete 1,000 passes in the opposition half

With a £89m price tag hanging over his head this season, Paul Pogba has done reasonably well to make Manchester United’s midfield tick. The French midfielder returned to Old Trafford four years after an acrimonious exit under Sir Alex Ferguson and has thrived in Jose Mourinho’s squad. 

While many criticised his ability to control the tempo of the game or create opportunities, Pogba became the first player to complete 1,000 passes in the opposition half (back in February). With no clearly defined role in midfield over the course of the season, Mourinho has given Pogba the freedom to roam and trust his instincts whether United have the ball or not. 

When Mourinho does invest in the summer to replenish a squad that could be without midfield options following the departure of Michale Carrick and possibly Wayne Rooney, the Portuguese manager would do well to find one that would be the perfect partner to the France international. 

Also read: 5 possible partners for Paul Pogba at Manchester United

1Cesar AzpilicuetaChelsea372,04087.18%
2Granit XhakaArsenal311,92189.18%
3Paul PogbaManchester United291,81684.94%
4Ander HerreraManchester United311,81587.59%
5N'Golo KanteChelsea341,78388.66%
6Harry ArterBournemouth351,76788.17%
7Jordan HendersonLiverpool241,76785.91%
8FernandinhoManchester City311,76186.32%
9David SilvaManchester City331,69587.33%
10Mesut OzilArsenal321,68186.47%

EA EPL Stats
Data courtesy of EA SPORTS
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