Stats don’t always tell the whole story.
For one thing, players are instructed by their managers – so if they’re told to play a long pass instead of a short one, the short pass stats will likely be skewed, for example.
It’s a similar story when it comes to dribbling with the ball. As Pep Guardiola’s team likes to pass its way through the opposition, that might make it unlikely for any of his players to be at the top of the list when it comes to most dribbles completed per game.
But the stats tell us that actually some big name players have shown off their dribbling skills on frequent occasions this season.
Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez did battle in the FA Cup final, and both men were nominated for the PFA Player of the year award, making their way onto the shortlist before N’Golo Kante eventually came away with the prize. Both are on this list, showing that just passing your way through the opposition isn’t necessarily the most effective gameplan.
But then there are other players who appear in the top six on the list of most dribbles completed who aren’t part of the biggest clubs.
Few would argue, though, that Wilfried Zaha has had a fabulous season for Crystal Palace, even if their battle against relegation went on until the penultimate day. Some bigger clubs may spend their summer attempting to lure him away from Selhurst Park because of it.
Sofiane Boufal also makes the list. Southampton’s record signing has shown his explosivity in fits and spurts this season. He’s not had the consistency of Zaha, but he’s certainly shown that he has potential, and may well go from strength to strength when he settles into English football more comfortably in his second season.
But it’s interesting that player who tops this list is also the most erratic player on it. Adama Traore spent this season at Middlesbrough, a team who struggled shamefully to find the net and were relegated for their troubles. Their solid defence gave them a chance at survival under Aitor Karanka, but they lacked a spark up front to turn clean sheets into victories.
It’s ironic, then, that Traore should top this list. Completing five dribbles per game, on average, it’s clear that he’s a livewire and also the kind of player who can beat a man – the kind of quality that leads to the creation of a chance out of nothing. And the fact he’s so far ahead of the others shows he’s very good at it.
Maybe Middlesbrough deployed him badly. Perhaps they could have made more use of a player with a very useful skill indeed. Or maybe Traore’s inconsistency is the very reason that the relegated team couldn’t get the most out of him.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Traore is a gifted player with bags of potential who has shown up Hazard and Sanchez at one of the most spectacular aspects of the game. You’d think that big clubs should be looking at him just as much as they should look at Zaha, but one stat never tells the whole story.