The Scottish football season is finally over and although it was another clean sweep for…
If one thing has stood out during this World Cup it has been the speed and precision of some of the best players in the world as they have glided past opposing defenders. There’s plenty to be said for stout defending and honest goal scoring, but nothing excites football fans quite like a winger dancing past his full-back.
John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times, took a look at the data to see which players were most effective at counter attacks. And by tracking the speed at which players broke by either dribbling or passing the ball he found that Eden Hazard, Ante Rebic and Luka Modric were all at the very top of their game this summer.
We wanted to see if we could apply something similar to Scottish football and by specifically honing in on the top dribblers in the division we got a graph like the one below. On the horizontal axis we have the number of dribbles attempted per game and on the vertical axis we have the percentage success rate of said dribbles. And as we can see it throws up a whole host of questions.
In these kind of graphs you basically want to be as close to the top, right corner as possible and as we can see the closest to that are Brandon Barker and Jordan Jones. The former Hibs forward averaged 13.12 dribbles per 90 last season in the Scottish Premiership and was successful in getting past his man 76% of the time, while Jones averaged 13.66 per 90 and skipped past his opposing number 69% of the time.
This will probably come as no surprise to Hibs or Kilmarnock fans who watched either player week in, week out last season but what is quite staggering is simply how often each player took on his defender. After these two forwards it’s Hamilton’s David Templeton that attempted the most dribbles last season, yet his average is just 9.7 per 90. And as we can see in the graph there’s a notable drop off.
When we turn our attention away from the frequency of dribbles and instead towards the success of them, we can see a few familiar faces towards the top of the graph. When it comes to skipping past players last season, nobody did it with the same level of success as Celtic’s pacy winger, James Forrest. The Scotland international may have averaged a relatively normal 7.13 dribbles per 90 but his success rate was an impressive 85%.
At this point it’s perhaps also worth noting that Jamie Murphy – despite only returning to the league in January – wasn’t too far off Forrest’s impressive tally, at Rangers. The 28-year-old forward may not be the quickest player in the division, but his ability to beat his man is clear for all to see with an 82% success rate.
Beyond the very best in either metric there are a few surprising names leaning towards the bottom left corner of the graph.
If Scott Sinclair’s subpar season needed some context we could perhaps note that the frequency and success rate of his dribbling was nowhere near Forrest’s and lagged behind Tom Rogic and Hibernian’s on-loan Celtic talent Scott Allan too. Similarly, Aberdeen fans can take solace from Ryan Christie’s departure back down the road to Glasgow by noting that the young talent’s dribbling was notably worse than Gary Mackay-Steven and even Greg Stewart’s efforts. And, as ever, Hearts’ tepid representation on the attacking graph is portrayed by Ismael Goncalves and David Milinkovic’s distinctly average stats.