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Thursday 23 January 2014

Talking Tactics: Who is the perfect No 10?

Adrian Clarke looks at how the best playmakers in the Barclays Premier League compare and contrast

  • Pic 1: Mesut Ozil likes to probe from the flanks, rather than directly behind Olivier Giroud

  • Pic 2: Rooney doesn't want to just play in the opposition half; at Hull he contributed all over the pitch

  • Pic 3: Chelsea win the ball back in the opposition half a lot more often thanks to the industry of Oscar

  • Pic 4: Barkley hurt Liverpool by being so incisive in the central region behind Romelu Lukaku

When it comes to fabled 'No 10s' lighting up the Barclays Premier League, we have been spoilt for choice down the years, with genius playmakers such as Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola and Eric Cantona operating behind a lone striker and setting the bar incredibly high.

This week Adrian Clarke takes a closer look at the new breed of these playmakers, and asks what goes into the make-up of a natural footballing architect…

Mesut Ozil – Smooth and clinical

Costing Arsenal a club-record fee last summer, some have argued that Mesut Ozil should have contributed more than four Barclays Premier League goals and seven assists since his arrival at Emirates Stadium, but I believe that’s harsh.

The 25-year-old fits seamlessly into the Arsenal side and the way in which he effortlessly aids their transition from defence to attack should not be underestimated. Gliding around the opposition half, always making an angle for a team-mate, Ozil is the go-to guy whenever Arsene Wenger's men look to spring an attack. Passing rival teams into submission, he persistently makes other players chase the ball.

Unlike a lot of "natural" No 10s Ozil does not often take up positions directly behind the striker. Instead, he will glide from side to side between the lines and probe from the wide areas, favouring the right, as shown in Image 1.

Although a good dribbler, and someone who enjoys carrying the ball, the Germany international's strength is to link play with simple passes to others – performing a fairly unselfish team role. As displayed in Table 1 below, he will still create three chances a game on average, in spite of this willingness to be uncomplicated.

Once inside the penalty area there are few players in the division who boast a greater shooting accuracy. Missing the target just three times all season, there is no one else Arsenal would prefer a chance to fall to other than their record buy. In fact he has the second-best shooting accuracy in the Barclays Premier League, just behind Christian Eriksen, of Tottenham Hotspur.

With such a phenomenal end product, if Ozil can push himself to get into goalscoring and assist-making positions more often, he is sure to score and make a hatful.

Creativity 2013/14
  Ozil Rooney Oscar Barkley
Passes per match
66 47 36 42
Mins per chance created 29 36 54 74
Shooting accuracy 83% 50% 45% 36%
Chance conversion 22% 20% 19% 8%

Wayne Rooney – All-action second striker

The Manchester United forward has so many attributes that he could play virtually anywhere on the pitch. But it is as a support striker where arguably he most excels.

Of the four players featured here, Rooney is the only natural forward and that is reflected in his impressive output in and around the final third. With more assists than anyone else this season, and nine goals to his name, too, the England forward is the kind of playmaker who bases his game around making a difference to the goal tally.

Output in final third 2013/14
  Ozil Rooney Oscar Barkley
Assists 7 9 2 0
Mins per assist 212 162 673 n/a
Shots on target 15 23 14 13
Shots off target 3 23 17 23
Goals 4 9 6 3
Mins per goal 371 162 224 494

Unlike a lot of other gifted No 10s, it is impossible to limit Rooney’s work to inside the danger zone. Instead of concentrating all his efforts on play in the opponents’ half, as with Ozil, he will roam around the pitch (as seen in Image 2), getting involved in plenty of defensive work, making tackles, interceptions and clearances for his team.

It is his ability as a forward that matters most, though. This season David Moyes' midfield have scored seven goals between them and this is why using a goalscorer such as Rooney behind his centre-forward is so vital to United's cause. Within the current set-up, they need their No 10 to score plenty.

Oscar – Intelligence and industry

It is little wonder Jose Mourinho loves Oscar. Having a player with the ability to hurt opponents, who is also happy to run tirelessly to win the ball back for the team, is a manager’s dream.

The Brazilian is the best attacking midfielder in the country at harassing defenders and defensive midfielders in possession, scampering around as if his life depends on it, pressuring their every move.

Selecting someone who is willing to put in this kind of work-rate, covering the left, right and centre, allows Chelsea, a team who defend deep, to press higher up the pitch and win the ball back in good areas. (See Image 3 for a good example)

Without Oscar, or a player of his ilk, the Blues would spend large swathes of each match sitting back and absorbing pressure in their own half. Equally, if this happens, Oscar is still the kind of No 10 who is content to track back towards the edge of his own box and clear the danger.

Tackles 2013/14
  Ozil Rooney Oscar Barkley
Tackles 14 14 54 28
Mins per tackle 106 104 25 53
Tackle success 57.1% 85.7% 79.6% 75%

Flanked by two athletic players who like to run with the ball, in Eden Hazard and Willian, Oscar is also an ideal foil in the attacking midfield trio at Chelsea. He may lack the incisive craft of Juan Mata, but he has pace, a keen eye for goal (scoring six from 31 attempts this term) and links play quickly and efficiently, with an 83% passing success rate. This suits the way Mourinho wants to attack.

Like Ozil at Arsenal, Oscar is the perfect No 10 to suit their system. 

Ross Barkley – Youthful dynamism

Fresh out of the Under-21s, the Everton academy graduate has been a revelation "in the hole" for Roberto Martinez this season.

Unlike the other three players featured, Barkley is arguably more of a natural box-to-box midfielder who has been given licence to play further forward, and because he is young, quick and fearless it is a position that has helped him catch the eye this term.

Against Liverpool at home (see Image 4) and Arsenal away, the 20-year-old was outstanding, darting into holes to escape the attention of his respective markers, Lucas and Mikel Arteta, who both struggled to cope with the dynamism of his movement.

In most aspects statistically, Barkley is not at the same consistent level as Ozil, Rooney and Oscar, but he does have the greatest scope for improvement, especially as he develops his own style in the role.

Where he stands out most, is with his direct positivity in possession. Barkley commits defenders by running at them and getting plenty of shots on goal, 36 so far this term. In an Everton side with two deeper-lying midfielders and wide men who like to come inside and play, it is important for Martinez to have someone like Barkley to provide a threat bursting down the centre.

He is another example of how No 10s can be diverse in approach.

Dribbles 2013/14
Mins per dribble
Dribble completion

Final thought

Natural No 10s can come in all shapes and sizes. It is how the individuals fit into their respective teams that matters most. As can be seen from the data, different players shine in varying ways, even when they are effectively occupying the same position.

In footballing terms, Lionel Messi is possibly the ultimate No 10 who does everything brilliantly, but these four Barclays Premier League stars are each fantastic in their own way.

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Key Points

  • Adrian Clarke takes a look at the leading playmakers in the Barclays Premier League
  • Mesut Ozil's, Wayne Rooney's, Oscar's and Ross Barkley's contributions analysed
  • The No 10s offer differing offensive and defensive attributes