Dribbling – heroes and villains!

For this post I have looked at dribbling stats, using data from the past 609 EPL games – that is, all matches in the 2011-12 season plus everything so far this year (as at 22 Jan 2013).

I filtered out players who during the period in question have attempted fewer than 30 dribbles and/or played fewer than 400mins. Doing this omits players such as Jordan Slew, who in his 1 minute on the field for Blackburn last season made 1 attempted dribble (which was unsuccessful!), and also Petr Cech who made 1 attempted (successful) dribble in almost 5000mins.

The dribbling statistic, as published here, is given simply in terms of a count of the total attempted dribbles and whether the attacker managed to successfully retain possession of the ball after beating the defender. There is no insight into the difficulty of the dribble or indeed the actions immediately after the event – whether or not for example a successful dribble resulted in a shot on goal or a chance created.

I took a brief look at correlation between dribbling and total shots below:

Total Dribbles vs Total Shots

Successful Dribbles vs Total Shots

These graphs don’t add a great deal of value to the analysis as they simply indicate that players who dribble more often are also more likely to shoot more often. Since the list of players, although filtered, does not account for player position it is probably just telling us that attacking players dribble more than defensive players. This is correlation – not causation. For the purpose of this post it would take more time than I can afford to delve further into the data and test the relationship between dribbling and other stats – eg. opposing team yellow cards.

But what I can do is answer who the most frequent and most/least successful dribblers are!

NB. Total Chance Created stats in the below tables only apply for this season.

Most frequent dribblers

#1 in terms of dribble frequency is that man Luis Suarez, whose propensity to dribble beats even his appetite for shooting! He attempts almost 8 dribbles per 90mins with a rather average 37% success rate. Sammy Ameobi, who has come under some criticism this season, takes second place with just over 7 attempted dribbles per game and a similar rate of success to Suarez.

The most successful dribblers (with a success rate of greater than 60%) are shown below:

Most successful dribblers

N’Zonzi tops the list with an impressive 81% success rate and Arteta is second at 77% – both are quite selective regarding when they choose to dribble as they each average under 1 dribble per 90mins. In this list Diaby is the most active dribbler with an impressive 66% success rate despite a high propensity to dribble (ave 5 per game).

Least successful dribblers

The players above succeed in less than 1 in 3 of their attempted dribbles and would generally be best served passing to a teammate instead of trying to beat their marker. Cameron Jerome has frustrated the Stoke faithful a total of 33 times over the past 1.5 seasons: he has an optimistic rate of ~3 dribbles per 90mins despite a poor 11% success rate.

The last table looks at the players who lose possession most per game (regardless of success rate):

Dispossessed by dribbling

Suarez loses the ball through dribbling about 5 times a game, much to the delight of opposing fans. Michael Kightly is also worth a mention as he has only suceeded in 17 of his 99 attempted dribbles, although perhaps in fairness to him many of those were for last season’s doomed Wolves side.


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