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Talking Tactics

Season trends: Flair players run up dribbles at record rate

Adrian Clarke 16 Apr 2020
Saint-Maximin, Newcastle

Premier League matches are featuring more take-ons than ever before and Adrian Clarke says we have Pepe, Saint-Maximin and Boufal to thank

Adrian Clarke looks at tactical trends of the 2019/20 season so far.

Take-ons at all-time high

Premier League players are dribbling more often than ever before.

Why? An influx of flair players.

Ahead of the season a number of clubs invested in players who have a top-class ability to run with the ball.

As well as providing great entertainment, summer signings such as Allan Saint-Maximin, Moussa Djenepo and Nicolas Pepe have inspired a 26.6 per cent rise in dribbles from last term.

Double the dribbles

It has continued a steady rise in the quality of dribbling since Opta began recording this skill 14 years ago.

Back in 2006/07, Premier League fans witnessed an average of only 11.01 completed take-ons per match. The current figure is almost double that at 21.61.

Never before have we seen players taking the ball past opponents as often.

Dribbling stats in last five seasons
Season Succ. dribbles/90
2019/20 21.6
2018/19 17.1
2017/18 19.6
2016/17 19.6
2015/16 20.1

But why is dribbling an increasingly desirable trait?

Well, the Premier League is getting increasingly quicker and more technical.

This trend has meant managers at both ends of the table are prioritising the recruitment of speedy, skilful players able to provide game-changing moments.

In the past these types of footballers were perceived as luxury players.

This was because head coaches instead favoured aerial power and playing percentage football, or setting up to avoid defeat.

However, with most teams now looking to play front-foot football or adopt fast counter-attacking strategies, this style of forward has become more of a necessity.

It is fascinating to note that nine of the top 15 dribblers so far this season did not play in the division last term.

Most succ. dribbles this season
Player Per 90 Player Per 90 Player Per 90
Boufal* 6.3 Buendia* 4.1 Antonio 3.6
Traore 6.3 Anderson 3.9 Pulisic* 3.3
Saint-Maximin* 5.7 Kovacic 3.7 Neto* 3.1
Zaha 4.8 Pepe* 3.7 Hernandez* 3.1
Djenepo* 4.3 Ndombele* 3.6 Hudson-Odoi 3.1

*did not play in 2018/19 Premier League

With the ball spending more time on the floor than ever before and athleticism an increasingly vital attribute to have, it should be no surprise fast dribblers are in high demand.

It is also on trend for managers to set up their teams to profit from counter-attacks and turnovers.

Again this promotes the importance of players who can carry the ball at speed.

Watch the top dribblers in action
CC

The end result means that starting XIs are containing two wingers or twin attacking midfielders on a more regular basis than in recent seasons.

It seems the art of dribbling is alive and well, much to the excitement of Premier League fans around the world.

See: Adrian Clarke's season trends

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