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Playmaker Award race: How the contenders compare

Adrian Clarke 30 Mar 2022
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Adrian Clarke runs the rule over the players in the race to win the 2021/22 prize for assists

Adrian Clarke explains why a trio of outstanding Liverpool players lead the race for the 2021/22 Playmaker Award, presented by Castrol

Between them, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Mohamed Salah have produced 31 assists, for 16 different players.

In fact, Thiago is the only Liverpool goalscorer not to have received a Premier League assist from either of these three.

Trent Alexander-Arnold - 11 assists

No one has created more chances than Alexander-Arnold's 77, so it is no surprise to see him leading the way in the assist charts.

Jurgen Klopp’s style of play does rely heavily on the full-backs supplying the bulk of the width.

Deploying a narrow midfield three and two inverted wide forwards, who are at their best inside the penalty area, it is imperative for Alexander-Arnold and Robertson to provide a consistent supply line from the flanks.

Defenders with most passes into the box
Player Passes into the box
Alexander-Arnold (LIV) 318
Cancelo (MCI) 189
Robertson (LIV) 161
Cresswell (WHU) 129
Targett (NEW) 121

Liverpool's right-back is on another level when it comes to playing passes or crosses into the area.

His total of 318 passes or crosses easily eclipses Manchester City's Joao Cancelo (189), who ranks second in that department for top-flight defenders.

Alexander-Arnold also leads the way overall, 68 ahead of James Ward-Prowse at Southampton.

The 23-year-old has only managed one assist in his last seven outings, but there is no clear tactical reason why that should be the case.

His most cherished recipient this term has been Sadio Mane, who has scored three times from Alexander-Arnold assists, each coming at Anfield.

Alexander-Arnold's April fixtures
WAT (H), MCI (A), MUN (H), EVE (H), NEW (A)

Andrew Robertson - 10 assists

Since late November, the left-back has been the league's assist king, teeing up nine goals in his last 14 outings.

Displaying a tremendous appetite to impress – possibly because of how well Kostas Tsimikas has performed as his understudy – the Scot has been a superb outlet for Liverpool.

When you compare his early season form with how he is playing now, his increasing influence is clear.

Robertson's steady progress
Matches 2021/22 Chances created Assists
First 8 11 1
Per 90 1.43 0.13
Last 14 35 9
Per 90 2.53 0.65

Robertson has been given additional set-piece responsibility in recent months and profited from that with a pair of near identical out-swinging corner assists for Virgil van Dijk.

His dynamism down the left has also helped Diogo Jota plunder some extra goals this season.

He stood up a fine cross for Jota to head home in a 2-2 draw at Tottenham Hotspur and supplied neat passes into the box for him to score against both Southampton and Everton.

Robertson's recent assist for Roberto Firmino in a 2-0 success at Emirates Stadium was also top class.

He is the Playmaker Award contender with the most momentum coming into the closing weeks.

Robertson's April fixtures
WAT (H), MCI (A), MUN (H), EVE (H), NEW (A)

Mohamed Salah - 10 assists

Salah has already achieved the double-double of hitting 10+ goals and assists this term, something he also achieved in 2017/18 and 2019/20.

The Egyptian started the campaign in sparkling form, delivering nine assists in his first 14 matches (alongside regular goals), but his creative output has slowed recently.

Since 5 December, Salah has created just one goal in Premier League action, this coming in February's 6-0 triumph against Leeds United.

However, Salah has been the competition's second-most creative player in open play this season, bettered only for chances created by Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United.

No one has assisted more open-play strikes than Liverpool's leading scorer either, so it is likely Salah will conjure up more assists between now and the end of the season.

Most chances/assists in open play
Player Chances created in open play Player Assists from open play
Fernandes (MUN) 66 Salah (LIV) 8
Salah (LIV) 51 Alexander-Arnold (LIV) 8
Bernardo (MCI) 49 Robertson (LIV) 6
Odegaard (ARS) 43 Pogba (MUN) 6

Since joining from Roma in the summer of 2017, Salah has averaged 31.6 direct goal involvements per season, proving that he is one of the most dominant all-round attackers in Premier League history.

Salah's April fixtures
WAT (H), MCI (A), MUN (H), EVE (H), NEW (A)

Paul Pogba - 9 assists

No player can match Pogba for goal-making efficiency in 2021/22.

The Man Utd star has made a goal once every 126.8 minutes, delivering nine assists in just 13 starts.

Putting that into context, though, Pogba did make four of his assists on the opening weekend against Leeds.

Since mid-September, the Frenchman has only created two goals, so his form is not especially strong as we approach the business end of the campaign.

Pogba's connection with Fernandes is the standout tactical angle. Four of the Portuguese's goals have been created by the Red Devils' gifted No 6.

Pogba assists by position
Position Formation Assists 
LM 4-2-3-1 5
CM 4-2-3-1 3
AM 4-2-3-1 1

Where Pogba is used within the starting XI does not tend to affect his ability to create chances.

Only one of his assists arrived when he was used as a No 10, and that was his precise through-ball for Jadon Sancho in the recent Manchester derby.

His other contributions arrived when he was used as an orthodox central midfielder or on the left side of an attacking midfield trio.

Pogba is a natural improvisor, capable of sublime through-balls, but 10 other Premier League players (min. 13 starts) average more chances created in open play per 90 minutes than the Frenchman (1.81).

Based on Pogba's overall form this term, he is an outsider to end up claiming the Playmaker Award.

Pogba's April fixtures
LEI (H), EVE (A), NOR (H), LIV (A), ARS (A)

Also in this series

Part 1: Golden Boot race: How the contenders compare
Part 3: Golden Glove race: How the contenders compare

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