Who is the Premier League's best 'number 10'?

The number 10 role is one that has grown in importance with the shift away from two striker formations, and consequently the Premier League has some absolutely brilliant number 10s. I will consider Mesut Özil, David Silva, Juan Mata, Philippe Coutinho, and Oscar, and discuss who is the best.

Mesut Özil had a fantastic start to his Arsenal career, with four assists in his first two games. The German revitalised the Arsenal squad and with Özil, Ramsey, and Walcott fit and firing Arsenal were top of the league and posing a serious challenge. Injuries to Ramsey and Walcott did, however, lead to a drop of form from both Özil and Arsenal, as you might expect. He needs players who are going to run in behind defences and create space for him, but players like Giroud, Podolski, and Rosický are just not going to do that for him. That said, in his 22 appearances so far Özil got eight assists, at an average of 0.39 per 90 minutes, which is amongst the very best ratio out of all the number 10s as only Silva had a greater ratio. He created over three chances per 90 minutes, and a little surprisingly he completed just under two successful take ons per 90 minutes, which is second only to Coutinho. Özil’s stats are impressive, and show that a lot of the criticism he came in for was totally unwarranted. He did drop off a little, but so did the entire Arsenal team so to hold him specifically responsible for this is a little harsh and unfair. He is expected to return from injury very soon and it will be interesting to see how he finishes the season given that it is a World Cup year and Germany have no shortage of attacking midfielders.

David Silva has enjoyed yet another brilliant season and really has nailed himself down as one of the best number 10s in the world if he hadn’t already. Injury has kept him out of the side for a time, but either side of the injury spell he’s been a pivotal part of the exceptional Manchester City attack. Of the number 10s I’m looking at at he has the most assists, the most key passes, the most chances created, and the largest number of completed passes. The sort of statistical domination highlights just how creative he has been for City this term, and given the injury I’ve mentioned it’s all the more impressive. In Agüero’s absence Silva has been arguably the most important City attacker, and his performance against Liverpool, though City lost, was superb. He does have the advantage of playing for a team of City’s attacking quality, but you can’t use that to take away from his achievements.

Juan Mata has not played a great amount of football this season, but it’s simply impossible to leave him out of the discussion. Sidelined for so long at Chelsea, he got the move he needed to Manchester United but failed to play to his potential on the right side of midfield. Robin van Persie’s injury gave Mata the opportunity to play in number 10, and since then he has been extremely impressive. In United’s most recent match, against Newcastle, Mata scored twice, one a quality free-kick, and pulled of an exquisite back-heel assist for Januzaj’s goal. This was his best performance for United after a run of good form, and he looked every bit the Chelsea player of yesteryear that lit up the league. His assist ratio of 0.39 per 90 minutes is similar to both that of Özil and Silva, and when you consider how poor United have been for most of the season that could perhaps work in favour.

Philippe Coutinho is a very different kind of number 10 than the three I’ve already mentioned. Whilst Özil, Silva and Mata are more classic creative number 10s, Coutinho is a high-energy pressuring attacker, not to say that he isn’t also creative. Whilst his assist, key passes and chances created ratios are still impressive, though noticeably less than the other three, there is more than this to Coutinho’s game. He completes over two tackles per 90 minutes and over two take ons per 90 minutes, and his role as an advanced ball winner is pivotal in Liverpool’s aggressive pressing style of football. He’s a fantastic dribbler too as his pace and agility allow him to go either side of a defender, and really the only criticism is that his shooting is quite inconsistent. He’s coming into his best form just at the right time for Liverpool after his outstanding performance against Manchester City, and will be very important in the run in for the title.

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Oscar is a number 10 with a similar style to that of Coutinho. He plays in an advanced position but as much as he is there for his creativity, he’s also very important as a presser and ball-winner. In fact, he has an even higher number of tackles won per 90 minutes than Coutinho, and though this hasn’t been Oscar’s best year he does have the most goals scored of any of the attacking midfielders I’m looking at. Mourinho preferred him to Mata, and though he isn’t as creative it’s now clear that Oscar is a better fit for for the style of football Mourinho wants Chelsea to play. His skill as a man-marker is exceptional and that could prove vitally important as Chelsea continue in the Champions League against teams with fantastic midfielders that can control games if you let them. He perhaps lacks a certain amount of explosiveness on the ball, but for Mourinho he more than makes up for that with his work ethic off it.

Trying to decide who is the best is a near impossible challenge. All the players have differences, and especially Coutinho and Oscar can be grouped into a different style of number 10 than the other three, and they’d be better in a team that wants to defend from the front and press energetically. Silva, Özil, and Mata are better if a team is going to dominate possession and needs a little bit of creative genius to unlock a packed and organised defence. That said, if I had to rank them on this season alone I would have to say Silva is the best. He’s had a few injury problems this year, but when he has played he has been absolutely brilliant. Özil is very close to him, and if you’d asked me a year ago I would’ve said he was the best number 10 in the world, but, off this season alone, I feel like Silva has been more consistent.

Stats courtesy of Squawka and correct as of 18/04/2014.

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