Having recently looked into the best 'all-round' defenders in Europe in the aptly named article 'Stats Analysis: Europe's Best All-Round Defenders', we have decided to take a similar approach in an attempt to gauge the most effective midfielders, going both forwards and backwards.
We, at WhoScored, have calculated the averages per game of midfielders in the top 5 leagues for shots, key passes, tackles and interceptions to do so, and in the event of a tie, also looked at pass accuracy to boot. The players are ranked based on their combined per game statistics across the board.
All of the top 5 players on our leaderboard have mustered at least 1.7 per game for all of the aforementioned stats, so without further ado here's a rundown from 5 to 1.
5. Ever Banega (Valencia): Combined Averages - 8.78
An individual who would certainly make the leaderboard for most ridiculous injury of the year having fractured his ankle after his car rolled over his own foot at a petrol station; Valencia's Ever Banega has been sorely missed since the freak accident in early February. Having started 13 league games for Los Che, the Argentine is streaks ahead of the next best-rated player at the club - Roberto Soldado - in WhoScored ratings with an average of 7.29.
The 23-year-old had excelled defensively, winning 2.85 tackles per game and 2.08 interceptions per game but also showed plenty of craft in advanced areas. With an average of 2 key passes per game he again ranks first for Unai Emery's side, though he has just 1 assist to show for it.
Not frightened to try his luck at goal, his average of 1.85 shots per game (24 total) is pretty hefty considering he hasn't found the net, but the absence of Banega's graft in both directions is taking its toll at the club. Since his injury on the eve of a Copa del Rey second leg with Barcelona, Valencia have lost 4 of their last 8 league games, having lost just 4 in the 21 beforehand.
4. Andrea Pirlo (Juventus): Combined Averages - 8.78
Having amassed the exact same combined averages for shots, key passes, tackles and interceptions per game as Banega, Juventus' Andrea Pirlo just pips the far more junior South American due to a pass accuracy of 86% compared to the Valencia man's all but equally impressive 85.3%. Let go by AC Milan in the summer, few would seriously have predicted the impact that the 32-year-old would have at the Turin giants, but Pirlo is proving any doubters he may have had over the last two seasons wrong.
Starting in all but 1 of Juventus' now 29-game unbeaten season, Pirlo is the puppet master in Antonio Conte's well-drilled machine. With 10 assists to his name thus far, few have ever doubted the Italian international's delivery and creativity, be it from open play or dead ball situations. His average of 3.07 key passes per game is the best in Serie A, but his efforts haven't ended there.
His tally of just 2 goals is perhaps a little low given an average of 1.89 shots per game, but Pirlo certainly still has it in him to pose a significant threat to the opposition goal. Further impressive figures of 1.96 and 1.86 per game for tackles and interceptions respectively indicate that there is certainly life in the old dog at The Old Lady yet!
3. James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion): Combined Averages - 8.79
As you can see by the combined averages of the players so far, the margins at the top are incredibly minute. However, for West Brom playmaker James Morrison to feature above the likes of Pirlo, you know the former Middlesbrough man must have had some season at The Hawthorns up to now. It is, therefore, a terrible shame that the versatile Baggies midfielder could be out for the rest of said season having seemingly picked up a serious knee ligament injury against Newcastle at the weekend.
The Scotland international deserves a great deal of credit as one of only two players in Europe - with the latter to follow - to have averaged over 2 per game for all of the 4 analysed statistics, proving his worth in the heart of West Brom's midfield. His 4 goals have come from 2.14 shots per game on average, while he has 3 assists from 2.07 key passes a match. His excellent attacking output is allied by an assured nature in possession, completing almost 83% of his passes on average.
However, it is defensively that Morrison's statistics perhaps shine and surprise the most. His average of 2.29 for both tackles and interceptions per game have only been eclipsed this season by Youssuf Mulumbu, who offers much less of an offensive threat, meaning Morrison's WhoScored rating of 7.14 is deservedly the best at the club, by some margin.
2. Luka Modric (Tottenham): Combined Averages - 8.81
Many rightly laud the creative talents of Luka Modric, with his average of 2.68 key passes per game indeed his standout statistic here and the best at Spurs, though plenty of people tend to underestimate or overlook the defensive shift he puts in. In an attacking sense, however, a tally of 3 goals, all from outside the box, is fairly subdued given an average of 2.3 shots a match, converting under 5% of his efforts so far.
His assist column also seems fairly underwhelming, with just 4 compared to Adebayor's 11 despite setting up 24 more chances for teammates this season. Of our top 5, the Croat's phenomenal pass accuracy of 88% leads the way and proves that the 26-year-old is a master of his trade, with a range of passing seeing him complete 7.8 long balls and 0.5 through balls per match, which rank him 2nd and 3rd of Premier League outfielders respectively.
When it comes to his defensive exertions Modric has not, as some may have, relinquished all his duties to the workmanlike Scott Parker. His average of 1.7 tackles per game is only behind the defensive minded England captain and Sandro of Spurs midfielders, while an even more impressive 2.1 interceptions betters the young Brazilian.
1. Santi Cazorla (Malaga): Combined Averages - 9.10
The second player in Europe to reach over 2 per game on average for all of the analysed statistics here, Santi Cazrola has been a very astute if seemingly expensive signing for big spending Malaga. With 6 goals to his name, and most recently a stunning last minute free-kick to steal a point at The Bernabeu, Cazorla is only behind striker Rondon in the club's scoring charts, as well as sharing the lead with the Venezuelan for assists, with 4.
In terms of shots per game he is again second to Rondon, with 2.2, though he does top the pile for key passes, with 2.1. Cazorla's passing stats are fantastic given the fact that he has featured on the wings more often than not this season, with an 84.4% accuracy, despite completing 7.1 long balls per game, with 1.6 accurate crosses a match thrown in.
One certainly wouldn't expect that Cazorla would have such an emphasis on the work he does going the other way having looked at his attacking figures, with a WhoScored rating of 7.53 proving that he is something of a complete package. An average of 2.17 tackles and 2.59 interceptions per match have helped Malaga to perhaps become favourites to finish in the third automatic Champions League qualification spot ahead of the faltering Valencia, now level on points with Emery's side and on an unbeaten streak of 6 games.