Who are the most creative players in Europe?

Now that most European leagues are entering their final stages, I wanted to look back over the season and pick out the players who have been the most creative. In this piece I will use StrataData to investigate which players were involved in either scoring or assisting the most chances and goals, while also looking at expected assists from Great and Good Chances.

Although Stratagem covers 15 domestic league competitions in Europe, I have only focused on 9 for the purpose of this blog. In essence I have only looked at the top leagues from each country and ones that follow the typical August-May calendar:

Austrian Bundesliga
Dutch Eredivisie
English Premier League
French Ligue 1
German Bundesliga 1
Italian Serie A
Scottish Premiership
Spanish Primera Division
Swiss Super League

Players Involved in Most Chances and Goals

Rather than just looking at Goals and Assists, I wanted to delve a bit deeper and consider players making and taking Great and Good Chances. At Stratagem we define Great Chances as situations that players would be expected to score from, while Good Chances are situations that players could score from but would not necessarily be expected to.

I calculated the number of Goals, Great Chances and Good Chances that each player was involved in and adjusted it per 90 minutes to reflect those who have missed time during the season. To be included in the final list, each player had to have featured for at least 900 minutes and the top 35 players were ranked as follows (data correct as of 5th April 2016):

1

Expected Assists

As a further indicator of creative play, I then looked at the expected assists using the same conditions as above. Expected assists were defined as actual assists of goals plus primary creation of Great and Good Chances, adjusted by arbitrary conversion rates.  This then produced the following list of top 35 players, again adjusted per 90 minutes:

2

There are a lot of familiar names at the top of both lists, though perhaps a few unexpected ones as well. Leigh Griffiths of Celtic, Matias Delgado of Basel and Florian Kainz of Rapid Wien may raise the most eyebrows as they sit amongst world stars such as Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Angel Di Maria.

A couple of other notable entries are Wahbi Khazri and Ciro Immobile. Both of these players are included despite not being at the same club for the whole season. Khazri moved to Sunderland in the January transfer window, so his data is based on his first half of the season with Bordeaux. Immobile is perhaps even more impressive, with his underlying chance creation numbers being incredibly good despite only playing for current club Torino since 16th January 2016.

When calculating the European Golden Shoe award (top goalscorer in European leagues), UEFA use a weighting system that rewards players for scoring goals in tougher competitions, so as to create a “fairer” comparison. This system takes the UEFA league coefficients and allocates a multiplier for each league; 2 is used for the 1st-5th ranked teams, 1.5 is used for the 6th-21st ranked teams and 1 is used for 22nd and beyond. For the leagues I considered, the multipliers used are as follows:

3

Naturally, I wanted as fair a comparison as possible when looking at Europe’s most creative players, so I applied UEFA’s league multiplier to both the Adjusted Involved Per 90 and Adjusted Expected Assists Per 90 data:

45

Perhaps the most surprising name on the second table is Gerard Deulofeu of Everton. Deulofeu is undoubtedly a gifted footballer, but at this stage of his development he remains highly inconsistent. If he were able to produce his current numbers over more minutes on the field, then it would be no surprise to see Barcelona invoke the reported £6.3m buy back clause in his contract.

Some perhaps less well known players who appear to have had excellent seasons in chance creation would be Hiroshi Kiyotake of Hannover, Florian Kainz of Rapid Wien and Simon Gustafson of Feyenoord. Kiyotake has been playing in a very poor Hannover team, who are rooted to the bottom of the German Bundesliga, while Kainz has recently broken into the talented Austrian national team and hopes to be selected for their Euro 2016 squad. Gustafson is a 21-year-old midfielder who has played in less than half of Feyenoord’s games so far this season. He has also recently broken into the Swedish national team and, if he maintains his levels of creativity from this season, he will certainly be one to watch out for in the coming years.

In order to conclude who the most creative players in Europe have been this season, I averaged the rank of all players in each of the two measurements. The following table gives the top 10 players across the leagues considered, weighted for strength of competition:

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It will be no surprise to most observers to see Barcelona’s front three featuring so highly. Manchester City fans may wonder what might have been if Kevin De Bruyne had remained injury free this season, with the expectation being that they would’ve made a much more sustained challenge in the Premier League. With Ciro Immobile only on loan at Torino, it will also be interesting to see if parent club Borussia Dortmund take another chance on him next season, especially if current striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moves on.

For more in-depth team analysis, trading ideas, statistical modelling, proprietary data and unrivalled trading tools/execution, start your 30-day free trial of StrataBet today.

Mark McAfee (@AvonBets)

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