10 Best Passers in Europe According to Stats
Both the simplest aspect of the sport yet the most difficult to truly master, the pass is a pure art in football, the one common foundation that all clubs have in common.
Perhaps one of the more wonderful benefits of our growing fascination with facts, figures and how technology helps us to track those statistics is the ability to apply those numbers over both the long and short term.
We've taken a look at the passing numbers from both the 2013-14 and 2012-13 seasons, grading each of our candidates on an aggregate from those campaigns in order to give as fair and contemporary result as possible.
Accuracy, length, passing frequency and the effectiveness of each attempt (i.e. how lethal their pass turns out to be), have all been taken into account for the following study. With the help of Squawka stats, it's the midfielders who unsurprisingly reign as victors in this particular battle. But just how do Europe's biggest names (and some of the more unexpected) truly compare?
Regardless of how popular a player might be or how well they fare in other facets of the game, be it shooting, tackling or otherwise, this list deals strictly with the passing side of things and how effective that dimension of their game is.
Therefore, a centre-back boasting a perfect passing record doesn't quite count due to the fact that most of those will simply be to a goalkeeper or fellow defender. Feel free to make your suggestions in the forum below if you feel your favourite passing playmaker has been left out, but be sure they've got the numbers behind them to back it up.
With Edinson Cavani now recently departed to join Ezequiel Lavezzi at Paris Saint-Germain, Marek Hamsik is the only surviving member of Napoli’s Holy Trinity that lit up Serie A for two very productive seasons.
The Slovakian remains the Naples outfit’s premier playmaker, however, and came second in amount of scoring chances created in Serie A last season. Roma’s Francesco Totti created just a couple of more for a total of 102.
Hamsik’s passing accuracy has taken a slight bump up so far this season, with the 26-year-old finding his target 86 percent of the time, averaging just under two key passes per game.
Steven Gerrard's time as Liverpool's resident pass master is a well chronicled part of the club's story going on 15 years now.
Last term, the Merseysider's 1,987 successful passes were one of the most reliable parts of his club's campaign in what's become a familiar story for the Anfield masses.
Gerrard's consistent numbers are made all the more impressive when one considers he's now 33 years of age, but positioning, vision and great footwork are thankfully some of the last assets that tend to decline in a player's latter years.
Granted, the Austrian plays most of his football from Bayern Munich's left-back spot, but the versatile David Alaba has been a huge help to his club as a midfield utility when needed.
That being said, the 21-year-old Alaba has shown that he can make his presence felt regardless of where he's deployed. He boasts a passing accuracy of 89 percent in 2013 and has already created 12 scoring chances this term, just two less than the amount made in all of last season's Bundesliga outings.
10. Michael Carrick
It's been well covered over the last nine months that Michael Carrick slipped under the radar as one of Manchester United's more understated heroes last season.
Though not necessarily adding the finishing touches all that often, the former Tottenham playmaker thrived as the creative catalyst behind the Red Devils' midfield motions—easily one of, if not the most consistent components over the course of 2012-13.
The midfield anchor made the most passes of any player last season with an incredible 2,397 of 2,728 passes completed, and he is once again head of the quantity charts this term, having attempted a league high of 712 passes in 2013-14.
Yet to claim an assist this term, however, Carrick's subdued state often relies too heavily on seeing those around him make the right moves in the final third, regardless of whether or not it might be his prerogative.
9. Roberto Trashorras
Roberto Trashorras might be a surprise inclusion considering his side haven't featured in European competition while he's been at the club, but the veteran's individual talents speak of a player who is perhaps deserving of more.
Last season saw the Rayo Vallecano maestro create a staggering 87 scoring chances for his club as they raced to an eighth-place finish in La Liga, only to be held back from Europa League participation due to their failure in obtaining a UEFA license.
Trashorras, an ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid academy member, nevertheless appears to be one of those players only reaching his best during the later stages of his career.
Last term, the 32-year-old was the only player outside the Barcelona squad to attempt more than 2,000 passes, a theme that's continued this campaign. Trashorras has already made 27 key passes, the highest in La Liga.
8. Borja Valero
Like the aforementioned Trashorras, Borja Valero is another midfield master who's only reaching his more prolific days now, following a fairly strange period of inactivity with the Real Madrid academy, Mallorca and West Brom.
Since moving back to his native Spain with Villarreal in 2011, however, Valero's success has taken a rather extreme turn for the better, Fiorentina now the club benefiting most from his creative talents.
In last season's Serie A campaign, only two others ranked above the 28-year-old in assists made (11), and Valero's 1,873 successful passes were good enough for an 88 percent pass rate.
Those numbers have taken a slight dip this season, but Valero's passes have still been highly effective when unleashed, having two of his 12 key passes so far being converted into goals.
7. Yaya Toure
Yaya Toure is once again among Manchester City's main influences as they push to regain the Premier League title. Toure is already one of only two players to make more than 650 passes in the division, with 685 of his own.
Since arriving from Barcelona in 2010, the 30-year-old has been a constant presence for the Citizens, but it's encouraging to see that the Ivorian can be a jack of all trades, as well as a master of some.
Last term, Toure made no less than 2,655 attempted passes with an accuracy of 88 percent. This time around, the player is already on his way to beating those numbers, with accuracy currently at the 91 percent mark with 10 key passes to his name.
6. Mesut Ozil
Arguably the transfer coup of the summer in terms of value, Mesut Ozil has done tremendously to settle into life at the Emirates so well.
Last season, the German ranked among the world's finest creative assets with his 91 chances created for Real Madrid, and it's this exact knack for construction that's translated seamlessly to his form in North London.
Still just 25, it's clear that Ozil still has his best laid ahead of him. But his priority placement under Arsene Wenger has led to possibly even better standards than what he was producing in the Spanish capital.
Already, the attacking midfielder has made 19 scoring opportunities for the Gunners this term and boasts a passing accuracy of 86 percent, a rise from the 84 percent managed under Jose Mourinho during 2012-13.
One can certainly argue that Ozil doesn't pass as often as others on this list, and his talents are actually more linked with dribbling and scoring, too. But it's the damage done when he does decide to create that makes him such a clinical and efficient source for Arsenal.
5. Phillip Lahm
Under Pep Guardiola, Phillip Lahm has found himself sometimes pushed into a deep-lying midfielder role as opposed to the full-back occupation he's become so famed for.
It's for this reason and the quality shown during that time that the German captain has moved above and beyond his already high status—now something more than just a great defender, but a great athlete in general.
Through both these last two campaigns, Lahm has averaged a stellar passing accuracy of 90 percent, which, while perhaps given a boost by his use in defence, undoubtedly comes under its own share of pressure.
Last season, Bayern's leader made 11 assists for his side as they ran to a domestic and European double. This season, Lahm has already made a Bundesliga-high of 817 passing attempts, almost 100 more than his closest rival and Bayern teammate, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
4. Mathieu Valbuena
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No player created more chances for his side in Europe's top five leagues last season than Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena, who laid on a gargantuan 117 scoring opportunities for his Olympique cohorts.
With 37 Ligue 1 games played in the term, that's an average of almost three key passes per game for the Frenchman, who remains among Les Bleus' more consistent creative outlets.
Although just 5'6" in height, the pint-sized playmaker has shown that his talent stretches in the long term, too.
Valbuena has already made 36 chances in just 11 outings this year, more than twice what his nearest rival, Remy Cabella, has managed.
The Frenchman's 84 percent passing accuracy from 634 attempts isn't the most precise on the continent, but there's no challenging the Marseille man's contributions when it comes to finding that killer ball.
3. Andrea Pirlo
A list of those most learned in the way of the pass wouldn't be complete without a mention of Juventus' Andrea Pirlo, who continues to cut defences in twine at the ripe old age of 34.
Widely regarded as having one of the most fruitful playmaking careers in Italian football, the Old Lady has been good to Pirlo, further rejuvenating the veteran's career after he was permitted to leave Milan on a free transfer.
Last season saw Pirlo attempt more passes than any other player with 2,312. Eighty-seven percent have found their intended target, with an average passing length of 22 metres.
So, not only is the Azzurri stalwart capable of threading the ball through the eye of the needle, but he's able to do it from range, at that.
Yet to claim an assist this term, Pirlo is still up to old tricks, boasting a success rate of 89 percent, showing that even old dogs can learn new tricks after all.
2. Toni Kroos
One of the understated heroes among Bayern Munich's midfield masses, Toni Kroos doesn't quite receive the praise he ought to considering just how frequently the youngster sits as a backbone in the Bundesliga giants' lineup.
Last season, injury and a general lack of playing time meant the youngster finished as only one of two players with less than 2,000 minutes on the Bundesliga pitch to successfully complete more than 1,000 passes (teammate David Alaba being the other).
However, Kroos has evolved once more and, now fit and healthy, is well on his way to eclipsing 2012-13's numbers, already making 570 pass attempts with an accuracy of 91 percent.
Granted, the 23-year-old is greatly helped by the wealth of talent around him, but there's little arguing against such a superb disdain of waste, made even more impressive by the fact that 61 percent of the midfielder's passes go forward.
1. Xavi Hernandez
Was there ever going to be anyone else sitting on the passing throne?
Although some are of the opinion that the 33-year-old Xavi is on his way into decline, one thing that hasn't changed is the Spaniard's inherent ability to get the ball from Point A to Point B in as efficient a way as possible, with defensive devastation being the ultimate objective.
Backward or forward, long range or short, there's really no arguing against the numbers.
Last season, no player attempted more than Xavi's 2,799 passes, 2,652 of which were on target. That 95 percent success rate has since taken a disappointing dip this term; it's now only 92 percent.
Once again, the veritable lord of the layoff, chief of chipping and sultan of slices leads La Liga in pass attempts, with 828 to his name this term. While he may have scored just 46 league goals in the last decade, nobody else compares in terms of passing.
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