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Who are the most complete attacking players of the Spanish football? The term complete can have various meanings in football, depending on the point of view and on the aspects of the game that one considers. Here, by complete attacking player we consider those players that give significant contribution in many aspects or elements of the attacking play. The elements we have considered are: goals scored, successful dribbles, dribble success rate, passes attempted, chances created, and chances created by through ball. A complete attacking player would have relatively high performance in all of the above mentioned elements.

We have considered those players who have scored 10+ goals in a season in the Liga, during the last seven seasons, from 2009/10 to 2015/16. Since we are taking into account individual seasons, some players feature multiple times in this set of data, since they may have scored 10+ goals in more than one season. In overall, 155 sets of data make the cut. We compared the relative performance of these players to each other and ranked these performances for each category or element of the play. In order to see how players perform in each category, we have used the percentile rank. In case you are not familiar with the percentile rank, it is defined as (Wikipedia): ‘The percentile rank of a score is the percentage of scores in its frequency distribution that are equal to or lower than it. For example, a test score that is greater than or equal to 75% of the scores of people taking the test is said to be at the 75th percentile rank.’ To put it simple, higher the percentile rank for a specific category, the better. For example, a 95th percentile rank in goals scored for a player means that this player is better at scoring than 95% of all the other players (he is in the top 5%).

Using the above-described methodology, we can create an idea on who are the most complete attacking players in the Liga. Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi is the player that dominates this ranking (Graph 1). His 2011/12 season is the most complete attacking performance of any player in the Liga during the last seven seasons.

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Graph 1 – The most complete attacking players in the Liga during the last seven seasons. Lionel Messi’s performance in the 2011/12 season is the most complete. Messi’s 2014/15 season is ranked second.

During the 2011/12 season, Messi ranked in the 99th percentile in goals, 99th percentile in successful dribbles, 92nd percentile in dribble success rate, 98th percentile in passes, 95th percentile in chances created and 100th percentile in chances by through balls. His minimal percentile rank was 92nd. Madness!

The second most complete attacking performance of the Liga in the last seven seasons is Messi of the 2014/15 season, with a minimal percentile rank of 90th (Graph 1). Actually, Messi holds the first five positions and seven out of the first 12 positions, in the ranking of the most complete attacking player in the Liga (Graph 5). All Messi’s seven seasons are shown in Graph 2.

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Graph 2 – Lionel Messi’s performance during the last seven seasons in the Liga. His upper five seasons (lines) are the best of all players.

The closest player who can challenge Messi is, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. His 2010/11 season is ranked sixth during the last seven seasons, after Messi’s first five positions. This is Cristiano’s most complete season in the Liga, featuring a 84th minimal percentile rank. Actually, Cristiano’s 2010/11 season is the only record with a minimal percentile rank higher than 80th (despite Messi, who has achieved it in six seasons). This is how the two player’s last seven season’s performances compare (Graph 3):

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Graph 3 – Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s performances during the last seven seasons in the Liga.

Regarding the current 2015/16 Liga season, the most complete attacking player is still Messi, with a minimum percentile rank of 88th. After Messi we have (Graph 4): Gareth Bale, 75th minimum percentile rank; Neymar, 72nd minimum percentile rank; Karim Benzema, 43rd minimum percentile rank; Antoine Griezmann and Nolito, 36th minimum percentile rank.  Bale’s and Neymar’s current season’s performances are the only in the last seven seasons that have a minimal percentile higher than 70th (not counting Messi and Cristiano).

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Graph 4 – Top 4 most complete attacking players of the 2015/16 season in the Liga: Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale, Neymar, and Karim Benzema.

Th last image, Graph 5, shows the top 11 most complete attacking players of the last seven seasons. Here we can have an idea how they compare to each other and to the all 155 players that are considered.

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Graph 5 – Top 11 most complete attacking players of the last seven seasons in the Liga: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Neymar.

 

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