Zone 14 – the area located in the middle of the pitch immediately outside the opposition’s penalty box – is often described as the zone teams should try to get the ball into as often as possible in order to maximise their ability to score more goals.
The problem is it can also be the most congested part of the pitch and requires players to have the technical ability needed to thread passes through the opposition’s defence.
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It might come as no surprise then, that Manchester City lead the Premier League for chances created through the middle third as a proportion of their total (42.9%). No player has created more chances from that zone in the league than Phil Foden (13), who leads Man City overall for chances created this season, both from open play and when you include set pieces.
Julián Álvarez, who is playing a slightly deeper role this season, has also chipped in with 12 chances from the middle third.
Foden’s 13 chances created in the middle third is tied with James Maddison, and his creative brilliance is why Tottenham are second highest (38.3%) for the proportion of their chances that come via central areas. Son Heung-min has also been highly effective playing through the middle as a central striker and, as well as being the team’s top scorer, is their third-most creative player from open play (2.0 chances per 90). Overall, Son has created 10 chances in the middle third.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is Everton who are next (38%), with the charging Abdoulaye Doucouré a strong creative force this season. He leads Sean Dyche’s side for chances created (16) and half of those have come via the middle third.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are Arsenal, who have created a league-low 22.3% of their chances through central areas. That’s a huge drop of 13.5% from last season, when Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka caused havoc in central areas, in an attack that saw Arsenal rank in the top five for the proportion of chances they created centrally.
Those chances have shifted to the right-hand side this year, with Mikel Arteta’s side leading the league for chances created via the right third of the pitch (49.5%). It’s the same players that are causing the damage, though. Saka’s created 19 chances from that side – only Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier has created more (22) – and Ødegaard’s production seems to have also moved out wide. The Norwegian created 45.3% of his chances centrally last term but that’s fallen to 26.7%, with 60% of his production now coming from the right.
West Ham are similarly right-side dominated, and their threat has come from the set-piece delivery of James Ward-Prowse (15) and the marauding Vladimir Coufal (13). The Czech full-back is enjoying his best season for a few years, already delivering as many assists this campaign as he did across the entirety of last season, despite playing 18 fewer games. His chance creation numbers overall are back at the levels of his first season at West Ham, when Coufal finished runner-up in their ‘Hammer of the Year’ award.
Bournemouth (42.7%) and Chelsea (41.9%) come next in terms of those creating the most from the right attacking third. While Bournemouth’s threat from the right is evenly shared between multiple players, Enzo Fernández, who has created eight chances from that zone, has been effective as a right-sided 8 with license to push forward, while Sterling (also eight chances) has been a good outlet.
Manchester City create a league-low 19% of their chances from the right-hand side, a massive 11.2% drop from their production last season. Here’s where we can really see the absence of Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian midfielder has made the right half-space his best friend over recent seasons and created a team-high 43 chances from the right third for City last season. That production has completely gone with his injury. Similarly, the departure of Riyad Mahrez, who was able to go past players on the outside as well as cutting in, has seen City really focus on creating chances in the middle and left thirds.
Brighton (24.4%) also rank towards the bottom for right attacking third chance creation, instead choosing to utilise the ball-carrying skills of Kaoru Mitoma and, before his injury, the relentless engine of Pervis Estupiñán on the left. Between the two of them, they’ve created just shy of half of all Brighton’s chances from that left zone this season.
Luton (44.2%) rank the highest for the proportion of chances they created from the left attacking third. Alfie Doughty has been a bright point in an otherwise difficult start to Premier League life for Luton. The young left-back has created more chances from the left third of the pitch than any player in the Premier League (16), with his whipped crosses from corners a particularly effective way for Luton to generate chances.
Rob Edwards’ side have created 42 chances from set pieces in total this season, worth a combined 3.1 expected goals. Both those figures are in the top eight among all teams in the league. Doughty’s deliveries will be crucial if Luton are to keep their head above water.
Lastly, Nottingham Forest are an interesting case. Last season, they created a higher percentage of their chances via central areas than any other side (43.7%). Pretty much all of that was thanks to Morgan Gibbs-White, who not only played almost every single minute for Forest, but created all their chances too. He fashioned 59 chances in the attacking half last season, over double that of the next-highest Forest player, Brennan Johnson, and 23 of those came in the middle third.
That chance creation is still there from Gibbs-White – he’s actually creating more per 90 this season than last – it’s just shifted out right. His touch zone comparison map above shows just how many more touches he’s making in the right attacking third.
Forest’s chances created via the right flank have increased by 10.1% this season and it’s no surprise that’s where Gibbs-White is spending more of his time.