Over the last ten years, dramatic improvements to the pitches clubs play on have ushered in a generation of short, ground-based pass-masters. These short tip-tap passes are central to the 'total-football' model we see being practiced by more and more teams.
Using sport's statistics website: whoscored.com we look at Europe's top passers of the season. To qualify for the list the player had to ply their trade in Europe's top five leagues (English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1). They also must have made at least 20 league appearances this season and completed at least 1000 passes this season.
So with no further hesitation, here is the top ten best passers in European football.
10. Dante | 90.8% pass completion | Centre-back | Bayern Munich
The Brazilian has made a great impact with the Bavarian side in his debut season. With an unbelievably stingy 11 goals conceded in 26 rounds of football, he has contributed heavily to the greatest disparity (20 points!) in any of Europe's top five leagues.
At the heart of defence, he has stayed strong, aerially dominant, and decisive with his challenges. To add a cherry to a fine season amongst Europe's elite, he has kept it nice and tidy in the passing department.
9. Moussa Dembele | 90.8% pass completion | Midfielder | Tottenham
Surprised? A man known for his power and ability to stay on the ball, Dembele is evidently a fine passer as well. He has been a consistent presence for Tottenham this season, carrying the ball through multiple challenges, and finding his teammates with ease.
8. Andres Iniesta | 90.8% pass completion | Midfielder | Barcelona
The Spaniard is practically royalty in this category. Many would argue that his advanced position on the pitch, as compared to compatriot Xavi, shifts a greater portion of the playmaking burden on his shoulders.
The theory is that such a dynamic position often forces him to try riskier passes than his equally reputable teammate, which would explain the relatively lower pass accuracy. Regardless, 90.8% passes on top of his expansive movement makes him all the more impressive considering his positional obligation for riskier passes.
7. Gerard Pique | 91% pass completion | Centre-back | Barcelona
On one hand, you think - a centre-back? But it starts to make sense considering the man. Pique has always been somewhat of an enigma with his versatility. Having played in multiple areas of the pitch in his youth days, perhaps a 91% passing percentage is less surprising considering he has proven to have the touch to be able to fill in at any area of the pitch as needed, particularly in a team like Barcelona.
6. Leon Britton | 91.1% pass completion | Midfielder | Swansea City
Those who don't follow the EPL or know Swansea City will be thinking "huh?" right about now and understandably so. This diminutive metronome has proudly played for the same team in four different divisions of English football. Finally, at the age of 30, he is able to show Europe's finest that he is just as good, if not a better passer than any of them.
Yet another fine product from West Ham's Academy of Football, hails Leon James Britton, son of the English, pride of the Welsh, and 6th best passer in Europe. He clearly deserves to play in Europa next season.
5. Sergio Busquets | 92.1% pass completion | Midefielder | Barcelona
Other than Xavi, this is perhaps the least surprising inclusion on these rankings. One can expect Iniesta to suffer a few percentage points due to the nature of his role, but Busquets is responsible for reclaiming the ball and playing the ball short. As he has shown over numerous trophies, he is exceedingly efficient at it.
4. Per Mertesacker | 92.2% pass completion | Centre-back | Arsenal
Yet another centre-back that has been able to pass over a 1000 times this season with alarming, and surprising accuracy. The gangly German is often made fun of for his lack of pace, but what is clear is that while he and his defenders-in-arms may have lacked decisiveness and clearing abilities this season, he has performed admirably in maintaining the Gunners' philosophy at the back.
3. Ki Sung-Yueng | 92.3% pass completion | Midfielder | Swansea City
Yet another midfielder from the Welsh side, the South Korean comes in at a lofty 3rd on this list. Throughout this season, Ki has passed in virtually every single direction and distance, while adding some height and fancy ball-keeping ability to Swansea's midfield. Along with Britton, the two midfielders have found it easy to out-pass their opponents, though supporters have, at times, lamented the team's ability to capitalize on the possession the two maintain. Ki's passing accuracy has been key in Swansea's quest for European football, and the South Korean should shine next year in his second European adventure.
2. Mikel Arteta | 92.4% pass completion | Midfielder | Arsenal
As an attacking midfielder at Everton, Arteta has seen better days for his core statistics. As a defensive, or at least more centralized role under Wenger, Arteta is seeing his best passing days. It's difficult sometimes to watch the Spaniard restrict himself to simple short passes when followers of his performances at Everton are well-aware of his more expansive range. Given a relatively more rigid role at Arsenal, Arteta is playing it safer; perhaps less glamorously than he'd like to, but being the second best passer in Europe by the standards set above is certainly an admirable accomplishment in itself.
1. Xavi | 95.1% pass completion | Midfielder | Barcelona
El Maestro is the Mayor of this list. Many things change in this world with time but if there was one thing that would be safe to bet on - it would be that Xavi's final act in this world will be lobbing the ball to Lionel Messi.
Here are 10 interesting ways to look at these top 10 current passers of Europe's finest leagues.
1. The best-represented league is the English Premier League with three teams: Arsenal, Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur. By comparison, only one team each from Spain and Germany are represented.
2. Five of the top 10 passers play in the English Premier League. The rest of the rankings are made up of four La Liga players and one Bundesliga player. No Serie A or Ligue 1 players made the ranking.
3. Spain, with five players, is by far the best-represented nationality in this ranking. Five other countries are represented only once each: South Korea, Germany, England, Belgium and Brazil.
4. Barcelona is the most heavily represented team in the top 10 with a whopping four individuals. Even their centre-back is a top passer of Europe.
5. The best-represented position is unsurprisingly midfield with 7, followed by 3 at centre-back. No strikers, goalkeepers (understandably), or flank-based players made the top 10.
6. Europeans dominate this list with eight players. Asia and South America is represented once each.
7. Leo Messi, incredibly, is not on this list. This may perhaps be the only ranking that he didn't make it to this year.
8. Xavi's passing accuracy is higher by nearly 3% compared to Mike Arteta. That is a spread that covers the difference from Arteta down to Dante. Incredible.
9. Ki Sung Yueng is the youngest player on this list at 24.
10. All 10 individuals combine for over 15,000 passes this season in an average of about 21 games - that is approximately 73 passes a game each.
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