Comparing Juan Mata to Santi Cazorla: Who Comes out on Top by the Numbers?

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

Comparing Juan Mata to Santi Cazorla: Who Comes out on Top by the Numbers?

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    Despite the turbulent circumstances ongoing at their respective club teams, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla have each had brilliant seasons. Both are exceptional talents who have adapted fantastically to the notorious nature of the Premier League. But as football fans, we are always prone to wondering, “who's better?”

    These two have been the stand out “classic number 10” players in the league this season, but on phone-ins and social media platforms here in England, the arguments on who trumps the other is never far from the forefront of fan discussion.

    Contrasting the attributes of two players who play for opposing sides can often be troublesome. Every team has subtle differences in its style even if the formations are similar. But in terms of Mata and Cazorla, it shouldn’t be too difficult to draw the comparison.

    In this era dominated by the 4-2-3-1 formation, the role of the central player in the attacking midfield three has become pivotal. This is the position both Mata and Cazorla have primarily operated in, with the occasional stint in wide areas.

    Both players are the key creators for their sides. Sides which like to play a passing style and find advanced midfielders between the lines. Styles that have enabled the two Spanish supremos to flourish.

    So with this in mind, lets take a look at the stats on each player and see how they measure up in the battle of the Premier League’s best two attacking midfielders

    All stats courtesy of EPL Index.


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    Here are the passing stats for each player.


    Juan Mata

     Santi Cazorla

    Total Open Play Passes



    Passes Completed 



    Pass Completion %



    % of Passes Forward



    Of the two players, Cazorla is the more archetypal playmaker.

    The Arsenal man does try to operate primarily between the lines, but of the two he is more likely to drop in closer to the two holding midfielders and help dictate the tempo of the game. Mata is more likely to push on and operate as a second striker.

    This is reflected in the passing statistics, as Cazorla shades this in all of the above categories. Granted, he has had more minutes on the pitch than Mata this season (2,412 minutes compared to Mata's 1,957), but his pass completion and percentage of forward passes also pip Mata's comparable statistics. 

    Cazorla is more versatile than Mata in this respect. If his team is under pressure, then he can drop into a deeper midfield role and help dictate the play from deep. Cazorla has also demonstrated an ability to do this in advanced areas, probing at defences that try to "park the bus" on the edge of the penalty area.

    Mata hasn't shown this ability quite yet, with Chelsea preferring to switch to a 4-5-1 shape when they come under pressure. Mata usually occupies one of the wide berths when they do this.

    If you want a player to help dictate the tempo of your team in advanced areas of the pitch, Cazorla is a better bet than the Chelsea man.


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    In terms of creativity, probably the crucial area for these two players, here is how the two measure up.


    Juan Mata

     Santi Cazorla

    Dribbles Attempted



    Dribbles Completed






    Chances Created



    Mins Per Chances Created



    Clear-Cut Chances Created



    One surprising stat is seen in the dribbles attempted by Cazorla in comparison to Mata.

    Typically, you think of Mata as the more direct attacker in terms of carrying the ball forward and running at players. But the stats here would suggest otherwise, as the dribbles attempted by Cazorla, as well as the dribbles completed, far outweigh those of Mata.

    But as I have alluded to in previous articles, Cazorla's lateral movement between the lines is phenomenal. When he picks the ball up in those areas and runs at the back-four, teams have found it difficult to contain his passes in behind for the likes of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski. 

    Despite Cazorla's unnerving ability to find space in front of the back-four, Mata is the more creative of the two.

    Mata creates more openings for his teammates, as demonstrated by his superior chances-created statistics and complimented further by his nine assists this season.

    Mata's vision is probably the strongest feature of his game. He has an eye for a pass and a superb ability to bring other players into play.

    On average, Mata creates a chance for his teammates about every 30 minutes. Cazorla is not far behind, creating a chance every 35 minutes.

    These are remarkable numbers, and if either Arsenal or Chelsea had a prolific striker on their books, then the assists for each player would skyrocket.

    It will be interesting to see how these numbers change if both sides look to strengthen their forward lines next season.


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    The goalscoring stats for each player also make for interesting reading.


    Juan Mata

    Santi Cazorla

    Goals Scored



    Shots Attempted



    Shot Accuracy %



    Chance Conversion



    Cazorla has netted once more in the Premier League compared to Mata, but the Chelsea No. 10 is the more clinical finisher.

    Of the two, Cazorla is more likely to take a pop from distance. His ambidextrous ball-striking skills (he has taken set pieces with either foot this season) and his ability to beat a man make it difficult for defenders to stop Cazorla getting shots off. His goal against West Ham earlier in the season is a prime example of this.

    The defence try and shift the Spaniard onto his supposed weaker side, just before he rifles one into the top corner with his left foot.

    Mata tends to pull the trigger less regularly than Cazorla. Give him a chance to shoot in the box, and he is lethal. He hits the target with 57% of his efforts at goal, scoring 29% of his total shots on target. Mata is the more likely of the two to get into the box and get on the end of pull backs and through balls.

    The Chelsea man also has the edge on set-piece goals, having netted from free kicks against Arsenal and Manchester United.

    This one is a tough call, as they tend to shoot from different areas of the pitch. But if we're looking at it in terms of pure goalscoring, then Mata is the more composed finisher and more likely to find the back of the net.

Big Game Temperament

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    The benchmark for some pundits when running the rule over players is how they step up in the biggest games.

    In that respect, as expected, both have done well this campaign.

    Cazorla has netted away at Liverpool and Manchester United, whilst also bagging a goal in the 5-2 win against bitter rivals Tottenham at The Emirates. Mata matches him yet again in these stakes, however, as the Chelsea man bagged a brace away at Tottenham, two goals against Arsenal and a stunning free kick against Manchester United.

    When looking at the overall experience of both players in the biggest of games, then Mata again has the edge.

    Mata has played in (and won) so many major finals down the years. When you have won the World Cup, European Championships (twice), Champions League and FA Cup in the space of three years, copious amounts of big-game experience will have been gained.

    Cazorla has been a part of some of the Spanish success, too, but from a domestic point of view, he has yet to experience games of the same magnitude compared to Mata. His clubs, Villarreal, Malaga and now Arsenal, have failed to mount a sustained challenge in any of the club competitions during his time with them.

    Mata, on the other hand, was key in Chelsea reaching the FA Cup Final last season with a virtuoso performance against Tottenham in the Semi-Final. This was in additional to the contributions he made in overcoming Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to Champions League glory.

    Big game on the horizon? Expect both players to show up. But overall, Mata has proven he is the man for the big occasion on a more regular basis.

Final Verdict

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    For me, Mata comes out on top. I absolutely love watching him play. His touch, vision, movement, tenacity and goalscoring are all a joy to behold.

    It is no coincidence that Chelsea had such success last season with Mata. He has a real will to win, which just puts him above Cazorla in this particular showdown.

    But it has to be said that Mata has had one extra season to adjust to Premier League football, with Cazorla only arriving at Arsenal last summer.

    Cazorla has had a stellar first season in the Premier League. His performances and linkup with Jack Wilshere have been big positives for Arsenal in a season of overwhelming disappointment.

    Give Cazorla a full season, and things might change. But for the time being, it is Chelsea's Juan Mata who is the best "No. 10" in the Premier League.

    I would love to know your thoughts on this. Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter.