Products You May Like
Keepers make saves. Defenders prevent shots. Midfielders pass the ball, and attackers score it.
Sure, soccer is slowly moving toward the positional flexibility we’re seeing in other professional sports — or perhaps back toward the fluidity that was required to play Total Football. However, there’s still a general expectation that comes with every position on the field, and we laud players for meeting those expectations. Just look at the Ballon d’Or nominees: It’s yet another list filled with goal-scoring attackers, imperious defenders and midfielders who “control” the game.
Today, though, we’re going to honor the guys who do things a little differently. Across Europe’s Big Five leagues, we’re going to celebrate the fullbacks who think they’re attackers, the attackers who want to defend and the midfielders who can’t be convinced that they weren’t born to dribble like a winger.
To earn a place on this list, you have to excel in an area of play that someone in your position is not supposed to excel at. Our time frame begins at the start of last season.
Welcome to the Bizarro All-Stars.
– Reddy: Is Spurs’ era ending as Liverpool’s takes off?
– Shaka Hislop’s Power Rankings: Juve, Barcelona leapfrog Liverpool
– Hunter: Real shouldn’t sack Zidane. They should promote him
There’s unfortunately no Rogerio Ceni or Jose Luis Chilavert tending goal in Europe right now. I’m of the opinion that the health of this sport can be directly connected with the number of free kicks scored by a person wearing a baggy, fluorescent, long-sleeve shirt and a pair of oversized white-foam gloves. Among the Big Five leagues, no keeper has scored a goal since the start of last season, and only six keepers have even taken a single shot. By that metric, the game is terminally ill. But anyway!
Reynet, the 28-year-old Frenchman, gets the nod here due to his creative prowess. Only Watford’s Ben Foster (6) has created more chances and only Hannover’s Michael Esser has created more expected assists (0.43) than Reynet’s five chances and 0.42 xA. On top of that, Reynet leads all keepers in attempted take-ons with four, which is eight times the continentwide average. Now if only we could persuade Toulouse to start letting him take free kicks…
Among all left backs, Alonso is the only one to rank in the top five for both touches in the opposition box and shots attempted. Watch any Chelsea match and Alonso will frequently — magically, even — be higher up the field than any other player on his team. Just, uh, don’t ask him to get back and defend. He has blocked a whopping two shots since the start of last season, giving him the lowest per-minute rate of any player at his position who has played at least 1,500 minutes since the start of last season.
Center back: David Luiz, Arsenal
This was the easiest choice on the list, so much so that we will consider the Brazilian Sideshow Bob as our Bizarro XI captain. Since the start of last season, Luiz has attempted 47 through-balls to kick-start an attack. That’s two more than … the next seven names on this list combined! No other CB has even tried to play more than eight through-balls since August 2018.
Hell, we don’t even need to restrict the list to central defenders to show how special of a passer he is. Among all players, only Lionel Messi (up at an absurd 74) has attempted more through-balls than the 32-year-old Brazilian. To put a little more context on it, Messi’s right above him on the through-ball list and then Neymar, in third, is right below.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume you’ve never heard of Biraschi. He’s one of those people whose station in life carries with it enough fame that he warrants his own Wikipedia page but the actual interest in him personally is so minimal that his entire bio reads: “Davide Biraschi (born 2 July 1994) is an Italian professional footballer who plays as a defender for Genoa.” That’s it. That’s the whole thing.
Well, it’s time to change that. Despite featuring in only 27 Serie A matches since August 2018, he has attempted more dribbles than any other central defender in Europe. It’s not particularly close, either: he’s up at 57 and no-one else has tried more than 40. If one of our center backs is going to try to split the opposing defense with a single pass, then our other one needs to be willing to try to dribble it all the way by himself. Davide and David: it must be something in the name.
If there’s something rarer, and weirder, than a full-back ripping off shots from inside the penalty area, then it’s a full-back who is dominating his opponents in the air.
Given the physical and skill-based demands of the modern full-back — cover an entire sideline, play the ball on the ground through tight spaces, be a de facto winger — there aren’t many towering outside backs anymore. A few years ago, Branislav Ivanovic would have this spot locked down, but he’s in Russia now. Instead, it goes to Gebre Selassie, who broke out with the Czech Republic at Euro 2012, signed with Werder Bremen soon after and has been with the German club ever since.
No other right back has attempted double-digit headed shots; he has taken 14. On top of that, he’s tied for the lead in headed goals (three) and leads the way in xG from headed shots with 2.78: no-one else is north of 1.22.
If there’s a platonic ideal for the holding midfield role, it would be the tiny Claude Makelele. When he left Real Madrid for Chelsea in 2003 as David Beckham arrived in the Spanish capital, Zinedine Zidane famously said, “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” To that, we say, more gold!
The diametric opposite of Makelele’s understated, organizing influence is the fanfare that comes from scoring a goal. And of all the players classified as defensive midfielders by TruMedia, no one has attempted more shots from open play, registered more xG or scored more goals than Doucoure. However, for players with at least 2,000 minutes at the position, only four players have won a lower percentage of the tackles they’ve attempted. At 5-foot-10, he’s the anti-Makelele.
Central midfield: Teji Savanier, Montpellier
First, picture Xavi or Xabi Alonso in his prime, gracefully pinging the ball up and down or back and across the field, confidently assessing risks and rewards while almost never attempting a pass he wasn’t going to complete. Now picture the exact opposite of that. And that guy you’re seeing — trying to dribble through traffic, crossing the ball left and right, turning the ball over again and again? That’s Savanier.
For players at his position who’ve attempted at least 1,000 passes, he has the lowest completion rate at just 72%. For reference, Toni Kroos is first at 93.4%. Savanier has attempted the second-most take-ons and has launched the fourth-most crosses. Here’s the thing, though: It works. Only four other CMs have created more chances, and not a single one has registered more than Sevanier’s 14 assists since the start of last season.
If our other two midfielders are going to be scoring and creating goals but not doing much else, then we’ll need our … No. 10 … to provide our defensive steel?
I love this team.
Among all center attacking mids, the 25-year-old Dutchman leads the way with 1.43 interceptions per 90 minutes. Only one other player, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Mijat Gacinovic, breaks one. Boetius is also sixth in tackles per 90 minutes (2.04), making him — by far — the most defensively active No. 10 in Europe. Are you paying attention, Mesut Ozil?
Left wing: Ivan Perisic, Bayern Munich
Were we doing this 10 or 15 years ago, Perisic wouldn’t be anywhere near this list. But the game has changed. Most left wingers are now right-footed players who cut in from the sideline and shoot, or create from the half-spaces between the opposing full-back and center back. Gone are the days of the chalk-on-his-boots winger, staying wide and whipping in crosses. Well, they’re almost gone.
For all left-sided attackers, no one comes close to producing Perisic’s barrage of balls into the box: He has played 212 crosses, and Toulouse’s Max Gradel is second with 155. On top of that, Perisic also leads all left-sided players in left-footed shots with 44. The other prominent left-footed stars on the left side? Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, Bayer Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey and Manchester City’s Leroy Sane have all attempted at least 30 left-footed shots.
Center forward: Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund
Nothing says “Bizarro All-Star” more than a striker who doesn’t really try to score. Among the 216 players who have registered at least 900 minutes as a center forward since last summer, only six have taken fewer shots (1.47) per 90 minutes than Gotze. At the same time, only seven have created more chances (2.17) for their teammates.
To get a sense of how weird that is, every other center forward in the top 75 for chances created per 90 minutes also averages at least 1.80 shots per 90 minutes. But hey, it’s not as if this team needs goals. We’ve already got two full-backs and a defensive midfielder who can take care of that.
Right wing: Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund
The goal-scoring right winger has become one of the defining archetypes of the modern game: think Messi, Arjen Robben and Mohamed Salah. Of course, all of those players are left-footed. The Borussia Dortmund phenom, however, is the only right-sided player who has broken double-digit right-footed goals (11) since the start of last season. And he has scored so many goals because that right foot is so special.
Based on Opta’s post-shot expected goals model — more info here — he’s added 4.19 expected goals worth of value to his right-footed shots. No other full-time right-sided player has added even one.