The Carry Kings of Europe
Who doesn’t love a player that enjoys running at opposition defences with the ball at their feet? Our ball carries metric looks at players who travel at least five metres with the ball – but which attacking players are the most productive from these moments?
Here, we look at the players across the big five European leagues in 2021-22 who have produced the most attacking contributions following a ball carry.
2020-21 saw Lionel Messi (90) have the most shot involvements following a ball carry during his final season at Barcelona, but limited playing time so far in his first season at Paris Saint-Germain has hindered him and he’s posted a third of this total (30) in Ligue 1.
The leading players for goal involvements following a carry are Spurs’ Son Heung-Min (14) and the precocious talent of Erling Haaland at Borussia Dortmund (also 14), but neither make the cut for this 2021-22 list.
Vinícius Júnior has been one of the best players in the Spanish top-flight this season, with one of his best attributes being his ability to run with the ball at opposition defenders.
The young Brazilian has seen 55 of his ball carries lead to a Real Madrid shot this season, either by himself (29) or creating a chance for a teammate (26) – this total tally is more than any other player across Europe’s big five leagues in 2021-22.
Despite only playing 60 more minutes of La Liga action this season than in 2020-21, his output from carries has dramatically increased, with his total of 55 shot involvements over double that of last season (25) and his four goals and three assists from carries a huge improvement of a single assist in 2020-21.
Undoubtedly Newcastle United’s star player since joining the club from Nice in August 2019, Allan Saint-Maximin has impressed all with his ability to terrify opposition defences with his dribbling.
The 24-year-old has seen 54 of his ball carries in 2021-22 end in a shot involvement – just one fewer than Vinícius Júnior – but only three of these have produced a goal for the Magpies.
Since his first season in the Premier League in 2019-20, he’s had the fourth-highest shot involvements following a ball carry (135), but that tally is over double the next highest at Newcastle across that period, with Miguel Almirón (67) following Saint-Maximin. A look at his final season in Ligue 1 with Nice in 2018-19 would have told Newcastle what type of player they were purchasing. Saint-Maximin was involved in a league-high 71 shots following a carry (42 shots, 29 chances created), ahead of another player who came to the Premier League that summer – Arsenal’s Nicolas Pépé, who tallied 62 involvements at Lille.
Nabil Fekir is the player who has attempted the most shots following a ball carry among the big five European leagues in 2021-22 so far (39). Overall, he’s the third-most prolific player for shot involvements following a carry (51).
His ability to shoot from situations like this aren’t a new phenomenon – since his arrival in Betis in the summer of 2019, he’s attempted more shots than any other La Liga player from ball carries (116), admittedly helped by the fact that Lionel Messi left the league ahead of 2021-22, with the Argentine following on 106 shots.
It’ll come as no surprise that Kylian Mbappé makes this list, with every football fan having witnessed his powerful runs at opposition defences on the biggest stage in both club and international football on many occasions.
We saw this in the first leg of PSG’s UEFA Champions League last 16 tie with Real Madrid, with Mbappé scoring an injury-time winner following a ball carry, jinking his way between two defenders before slamming the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
50 of his 138 open-play shot involvements in the league this season have come following a ball carry, with that total being the highest in Ligue 1 in 2021-22.
Overall, since making his Ligue 1 debut in 2015, Mbappé has been involved in the most shots (265) and the most goals (50) following a ball carry.
Mohamed Salah might not be leading the shot involvement from ball carry charts, but he’s been involved in more goals via this method than any other player in the big five European leagues in 2021-22 (10).
His ability to cut in on his left foot from the right side of the pitch has left opposition defences often feeling useless against his ability to ghost past them – 15.3% of his carries this season have led to either a shot or a chance created for a teammate.
With 10 goal involvements following a carry this season, he’s now just one away from his best Premier League campaign in this metric – 11 in his first season at Liverpool 2017-18. Four of these 10 goal involvements from carries have been assists for teammates – already a personal record for Salah within a Premier League campaign, while his six goals from ball carries has already surpassed his tally of four last season in the competition.
Domenico Berardi is the leading Serie A player this season for both shot involvements (43) and goal involvements (8) from ball carries.
The 27-year-old Sassuolo winger is another left-footed player that’s deployed on the right side, with his ability to cut inside off the wing a major threat for the 10th placed Serie A club.
With a phenomenal 23 goal involvements in 25 Serie A appearances this season (12 goals, 11 assists), Berardi has more goal involvements than any other Italian top-flight player in 2021-22 and is just one off his seasonal goal involvement tallies in both Serie A 2020-21 and 2019-20 (24).
Only four players across the big five leagues this season have double figures for both goals and assists – Berardi is one of these, alongside Mohamed Salah, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé. Not bad company to keep.
Back in November, we profiled Christopher Nkunku as a “player with no weaknesses”, and our view hasn’t changed.
Nkunku is the leading Bundesliga player for both shot involvements (39) and goal involvements (9) following a ball carry in 2021-22. When he runs at opposition defences with the ball, they need to be on high alert – 15.2% of his total carries this season have ended with either a shot or chance created.
Playing for one of the best counter-attacking sides in the German top-flight helps, with RB Leipzig scoring a league-high eight goals from fast breaks in 2021-22.
Seko Fofana has been linked to many Premier League clubs over the last six months and it’s easy to see why. As a youngster, Fofana spent years at Manchester City before transferring to Udinese.
Fofana has now been at Ligue 1 club Lens for two seasons following his four years in Italy, and he’s become a key part of the French club that currently find themselves in the top half of the table.
He’s the only central midfielder in this list of players, with his ability to drive from deeper lying positions and both attempt and create shots from carries a key attribute.
The only central midfielders to have carried the ball further up field this season in Ligue 1 than Fofana (2,322m) are Jordan Ferri (3,053m) and Mattéo Guendouzi (2,843m), but neither have been as involved in chance creation from these as the Lens star – Fofana’s 38 shot involvements is more than Ferri and Guendouzi’s totals combined (32).
Leroy Sané might have less playing time in 2021-22 than the other players in this list (just 1,555 minutes), but his ball carrying outputs have still made him one of the most threatening players across the big five European leagues this season.
The Bayern Munich winger has the second-most shot involvements in the Bundesliga this season (38), just one behind Nkunk,– with six of these ending in either a goal or an assist.
On average, Sané is involved in a shot following a ball carry every 41 minutes across league action in 2021-22 – the same as Fakir and Mbappé, and more frequently than Salah (47 mins).
Armand Laurienté might not be a name that the ‘average’ football fan is too familiar with, especially if you don’t regularly watch Ligue 1. However, his 38 shot involvements following a carry this season place him in the top 10 across the big five European leagues in 2021-22 so far.
Of the 10 players in this list, Laurienté is the player that sees the highest proportion of his ball carries ending in either a shot for himself or a chance created for a teammate (18.2%) and he will be a key player in the final months of the season as Lorient battle against relegation from the French top-flight.
…A Special Mention
Whilst this list looks at players who have performed well in the ball carries metric across 2021-22 in the big five European leagues, it would be unfair not to mention new Liverpool forward Luis Díaz.
Díaz still leads both shot involvements (46) and goal involvements (10) following a ball carry in the Portuguese Primeira Liga this season, despite last appearing for Porto on 23rd January. Since joining Liverpool, he’s added 10 more shot involvements and scored once from a ball carry. This takes him to 56 shot involvements – above Vinícius Júnior (55) – and 11 goal involvements – above Mohamed Salah (10) – across the 2021-22 domestic league season.
Liverpool look to have got themselves some player.
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Banner art by Matt Sisneros