Ranking Real Madrid's Most Effective Passers
It might not be tiki-taka, but Real Madrid's passing excellence propelled them to the top of world football this season.
The club enjoy a wealth of options in all positions, rotating star players throughout the campaign without concern. A possession rate of 58.8 percent ranked Los Blancos third in La Liga, and a pass completion percentage of 85.8 was good enough for second in the division.
While Madridistas are familiar with the passing prowess of their club, I will rank the team's best passers based purely on statistics via WhoScored.com.
The metric used will be a combination of completion percentage, key passes per game, long passes per game, crosses and assists. I first divide their passing percentage by 10, then simply add the number of long passes per game, key passes per game and crosses per game to that number. I divide the assist value by a 10th of their appearances in order to better reflect efficiency and add that to the tally as well.
By combining these values, we can expect to yield a result that best represents not only passing accuracy, but effectiveness of passing, regardless of position. Here are Madrid's top 10.
10. Asier Illarramendi, 13.33
The former Sociedad man had a solid yet somewhat underwhelming start to his Real Madrid career. Though he may not have been the driving force behind his side's Champions League triumph, Illarra did his job in the engine room of midfield. He isn't flashy, but his consistency and vision help set him apart.
In total, Illarra made 29 league appearances and completed his passes an impressive 88.9 percent of the time. That statistic helped boost his score, though, the midfielder also tallied an assist and sprayed 3.3 long balls per game.
The 24-year-old has plenty of room to grow, and with an aging Xabi Alonso, he is the natural heir to the throne as a deep lying midfielder. With a combined score of 13.33, he just managed to sneak onto this list at No. 10.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo, 13.73
He is the reigning world player of the year and the planet's most recognizable footballer. He is known around the globe for his remarkable scoring exploits in addition to his theatrics. But, one role in which Ronaldo is underestimated is that of distributor.
The winger passed with a completion rate of 80 percent and tallied 1.6 key passes per game. Not only that, but despite smashing home 34 goals on the year, he managed to add nine assists to that tally. At 29 years of age, we are finally witnessing the final product. Ronaldo has steadily improved all areas of his game, passing included.
While his completion percentage is not among the league's highest, Ronaldo takes risks that other players simply do not. He is constantly in attack mode, searching for the perfect pass in the final third. He is a complete forward, and that is evident by his statistics.
With a score of 13.73, Ronaldo slides into our rankings at the No. 9 slot.
8. Marcelo, 15.15
The Brazilian full-back was a surprise result of the rating system. When one thinks of Marcelo, they usually associate his fluffy hair with overlapping runs on the left flank, but it turns out his passing statistics are quite impressive.
At just 26 years old, Marcelo has enjoyed immense success with Madrid. This season, the defender completed more than 85 percent of his passes while hitting two long balls per game. His most surprising statistic, however, is the six assists he dished out this campaign.
While Marcelo plays on the left side of defense, his attacking abilities are quite obvious. He has featured often up the pitch getting involved in the final third.
Combining his passing statistics, he gained a score of 15.15, good enough for No. 8 on our list.
7. Gareth Bale, 15.27
What a year for Gareth Bale. After an injury-plagued autumn, the winger came on strong in the final months of the season, culminating in his extra time game winner in the Champions League final. The Welshman will be disappointed to miss out on the festivities in Brazil, but he will certainly benefit from some deserved time off.
Despite passing a comparatively low percentage of 76.3, Bale certainly made his passes count. His job was not just to keep possession, but to do something with it. That is why the metric rewarded his 12 assists in La Liga. That tally put him fourth in the division and second on his team.
Bale was one of the league's most complete attacker by the end of the season, recording 15 goals in 27 appearances.
His passing score of 15.27 made him the No. 7 most successful passer on the team this year.
6. Isco, 15.49
Another new signing for Real Madrid, Isco came out of the gates flying. His bright start to the year left many wondering if Mesut Ozil would even be missed. Unfortunately, his form did not continue the entire campaign, but at the tender age of 22, there is much to expect down the road.
The Spanish midifielder played in a variety of roles throughout the year, including various central midfield positions and some time on the left. His scoring form was most apparent as an attacking midfielder, and Isco managed to notch eight in league play.
In his debut season for Los Blancos, Isco was a remarkable passer of the ball. His completion percentage of 88 is remarkable considering how often he was involved in attacking movements. The rest of his statistics are equally as impressive. Isco managed 2.2 key passes, 1.7 long balls, and 0.9 crosses per game. Throw in six assists and it is easy to see why Isco was among the team's best.
With a cumulative score of 15.49, Isco managed to sneak in at No. 6 on our list.
5. Pepe, 16.69
Pepe? It is easy to be skeptical, but the Portuguese really has some remarkable statistics for a central defender. He remained solid throughout most of the season, despite sporadic pressure from Raphael Varane to relinquish his starting spot.
Though he eventually missed out on his team's La Decima triumph, he was instrumental in defense all year long, maintaining his reputation as a tough tackler and a consistent nuisance to the opposition.
Let's get to his numbers. Pepe completed 86 percent of his pass attempts, while completing 6.7 long balls per game. That type of accurate distribution helped Madrid jump-start their trademark counter-attacks by transitioning quickly from defense to offense.
His three assists also contribute to his final passing score of 16.69, making Pepe one of the best passing defenders in the league.
4. Xabi Alonso, 16.98
No surprise here.
Xabi Alonso has long been one of the best passers on the planet. His composed demeanor lends itself well to his holding midfielder duties both for Madrid and the national side. The accomplished 32-year-old has now won the Champions League with both Liverpool and Madrid, nine years apart.
His season was hampered a bit by muscle injuries, but Alonso made his time count. As a key distributor in the middle of the pitch, he completed his pass attempts 88 percent of the time. From his deep position he was also able to contribute 6.6 long balls per contest.
Alonso's score of 16.98 pushes him just ahead of Pepe, largely due to his 0.9 key passes per game and 0.3 crosses. That tally makes the bearded Basque man the No. 4 most effective passer in the squad.
3. Sergio Ramos, 17.79
What can't Sergio Ramos do?
The Spanish defender thrust himself into the spotlight in the final weeks of the season. His goalscoring heroics kept the dream alive in the Champions League final, one that will live long in the memories of Madridistas everywhere.
His remarkable athleticism always made Ramos a talent, but this season, he proved that he was an elite player in all facets of the game.
From his role as a marauding central defender, Ramos completed nearly 89 percent of his pass attempts. That statistic alone will turn heads, but it is what he did with those passes that puts him in the top three.
Ramos led the team with 8.3 accurate long balls per game. Such remarkable distribution was the catalyst behind much of the club's success moving the ball up the pitch. He also managed a key pass about every three games and had an assist on the year.
Ramos received a score of 17.79 which was good enough for No. 3 on the list.
2. Luka Modric, 19.03
The formerly shaggy-haired midfielder had a terrific second season in La Liga. Modric found himself regularly deployed in the middle of the pitch, facilitating the movement of the ball to his wealth of attacking options.
Though not included in our metric, Modric was responsible for a whopping 58 passes per game in La Liga. The Croat dictated play, collecting and distributing with ease.
Modric found success in his role. He completed nearly 90 percent of his passes, an incredible mark for the style of football the club play. Not only did he complete nine out of every 10 passes, but they were effective decisions. He managed 1.5 key passes per game to go along with a surprising 6.1 long balls per game.
To top it off, Modric recorded six assists on the year, making his significance to the offense quite clear. His score of 19.03 is good enough to make Modric the second-best passer for Real Madrid this season.
1. Angel Di Maria, 21.31
It should come as no surprise that Angel Di Maria reigns supreme. No matter how I configured the metric, Di Maria always seemed come out on top.
His role was repeatedly called into question last summer with the addition of Gareth Bale, and many feared he would be forced out of the side. While he no longer cracked the starting XI as a right-winger, Di Maria had no trouble remaining on the pitch.
His slight stature is deceiving, for Di Maria is a formidable opponent in the middle of the field. He found himself located as the most forward member of a three-man midfield, a role he excelled in.
Di Maria's attacking flair helped push the ball in the final third, and the Argentine was always searching for the killer pass. His willingness to take risks was a refreshing function of the midfield unit.
He completed 82 percent of his passes, but his other categories speak volumes. The player added 2.7 key passes, 3.3 long balls and 2.3 crosses per game. Filling up all crucial categories made Di Maria such an effective passer. His nimbleness allowed the slender playmaker to dibble out of trouble and draw defenders before releasing his teammates.
But, what sets Di Maria apart is his assist tally. The Argentine led the league with an incredible 17 assists on the year. While Ozil was left a conspicuous gap in the midfield, Di Maria stepped up in a huge way, posting a passing score of 21.31, making him Real Madrid's most effective passer on the year.
All advanced statistics via WhoScored.com.