Dribbling v. Carrying the Ball

Andrea Pirlo

I want to give credit to our Head Trainer, Thomas Shenton, who gave me the name for dribbling when you are not necessarily beating an attacker.  Watching the Euros this summer, I couldn’t help but notice Pirlo’s role on the Italian team–he didn’t necessarily beat defenders with the dribble, but he dribbled a lot.  The phrase for how he plays is called “carrying the ball.”  In fact, the Italian team ran their offense through him.  So, if you watched the Italians play, you would see an older, long haired Italian circling around the ball, receiving it, then “carrying” the ball around the field, drawing pressure to him, then distributing.  In the picture to the left, you will notice he is scanning the field with the ball at his feet – a typical Pirlo siting.

For the current Arsenal team, Santi Cazorla is providing a similar service.  It seems, though, that Santi eliminates defenders on the go too (what Opta would consider a “dribble”).  The soccer stat site whoscored.com, as I documented here, is a wonderful site to review statistics for soccer.  I cannot find, however, a stat that measure “carrying” the ball.  So, on whoscored.com, Pirlo is averaging 1.8 dribbles per game.  Given how much he handles the ball in a game, that seems a bit hard to understand.  This season, Santi averages 2.5 dribbles per game.  Another new Arsenal player, Lukas Podolski plays a different style–he “runs at defenders” with the ball.  He is more direct and dribbles forward (primarily).  He is currently averaging 1.5 dribbles per game in the Premier League.

Santi Cazorla

The highest rated “dribbler” for Arsenal currently is Gervinho, at 5 per game.  Walcott is second.  Again, this is not tracking how often he is dribbling, but how often he is dribbling passed a defender.  It is obvious from watching Arsenal that Cazorla has the ball the most.   All stats are taken from the site http://www.whoscored.com/Statistics.

I like all the different styles and am glad to have Podolski on Arsenal because that is something we have lacked (it would be nice to see more long shots too).  If anyone knows a stat that tracks “carrying the ball” or how to use the Opta stats to figure it out, I am interested.  I think “key passes” would be a good indicator for these type players (or passes resulting in scoring chances or even passes resulting in good service).  But, I think it would be interesting if there was a stat that tracked how long a player had the ball during a game (that is what I am looking for and cannot find).  I am sure it is out there.

For example, looking at key passes per game, Santi Cazorla is averaging 4.5 and ranks eight of all players.  Pirlo ranks eleventh with 4 per game.  The top of the list includes these players (some of which I know are not ball “carriers”):


1.  Clement Grenier (CM) – 7/1

2.  Leigthon Baines (LB) – 6.5/1

3.  Adel Taarabt (AM) – 5/2

4.  Antonio Candreva (AM) – 5/1

5.  Hiroshi Kiyotake (M) – 5/2

6.  Wesley Sneijder (AM(C)) – 5/0

7.  Iago Aspas (M) – 4.5/.5

8.  Santi Cazorla (CM/AM) – 4.5/2.5

9.  Aaron Hunt (AM) – 4/3

10.  Andrea Cossu (CAM) – 4/1

11.  Andrea Pirlo (CDM) – 4/2

Stats taken from whoscored.com.  KP = Key passes/game; DRB = dribbles/game.

Interestingly, only one defender makes the list.  I am sure this list will change as the year progresses.

Playing your best passer and ball handler in a position where they will handle the ball more makes sense.  The more this type of player touches the ball, the better your chance that something good will happen.  These types of players tend to include other players and are good passers.  In youth soccer, if I have a player that handles the ball well, has good vision and some tactical awareness, I like to put them in the middle of field where they will involve the other players.  (At the same time, I make everyone play this spot, some just are better at it than others).

Lukas Podolski

While there is definitely value in running at defenders with the ball Podolski-style, carriers of the ball can have great effect in the game by dribbling sideways and backwards, creating space for other players.

Love to read your thoughts...