As their match finished in an improbable 2-2 draw last weekend, one of the standout features of the Inter-Cagliari fixture was the neatness both sides displayed in possession. Inter just shaded the overall figure, managing to keep the ball for 52 per cent of the encounter but both displayed some incredibly accurate passing with no fewer than fourteen of those who set foot on the field managing to complete no less than 85% of the attempts they made.
Daniele Conti was perhaps the best on show for the Rossoblu, completing 91% including all ten of his long ball attempts, while Javier Zanetti was almost flawless at 95%. It is nothing out of the ordinary for these two teams however, ranking as they do among the very best in Serie A when it comes to taking care of the ball. The Nerazzurri rank seventh in overall possession (52.2%) and fifth in pass completion (83.3%) while the Sardinian outfit are surprisingly better still, ranking fifth (53.4%) and fourth (83.7%) respectively.
It marks something of a shift in style across the league as the slow-slow-quick-quick-slow pace which once was such a hallmark of football on the peninsula has been replaced by something approaching the widely admired tiqui-taca so closely associated with Spanish football. The bigger clubs have almost all embraced this trend as Milan and Juventus top the charts in the two aforementioned categories, but it is also some of the more provincial sides who have taken a chance on it too.
Perhaps nowhere epitomises this more than with Fiorentina as new Coach Vincenzo Montella has at his disposal a plethora of neat ball players. Alberto Aquilani is joined in the Viola midfield by David Pizarro, Adem Ljajic and the wonderfully gifted Borja Valero, formerly of Valencia. This has seen them storm into the Champions League places above some far more expensively assembled squads only a season on from finishing closer to the relegation zone than the top of the table and the fact they rank fourth in terms of possession (55.1%) and third for pass completion (85.1%) is testament to that leap in quality.
Given this new found faith in the passing game we can – using the statistics available here on WhoScored.com – look a little closer at some of the leagues better performers in each of the major passing statistics, some of which are a genuine surprise while others are of course exactly what you would expect to find.
When thinking of intricate passing, our minds often tend to think of that brilliant generation of Spanish midfielders rapidly approaching their thirties – Xabi Alonso, Mikel Arteta and of course the peerless Xavi – and it is perhaps no surprise to see Valero, one of their ilk, lead Serie A in assists with five. He is joined on that total by Palermo’s unheralded Franco Brienza – a standout performer in this past weekend’s Sicilian derby – and Marek Hamsik, a player thriving in the greater creative responsibility thrust upon him since the departure from Napoli of Ezequiel Lavezzi.
If Valero is a new name to Serie A watchers then the two leaders in this next category need no introduction, having graced stadia on the peninsula and beyond seemingly forever. Francesco Totti (3.2 per game) narrowly leads Andrea Pirlo (2.9) in terms of chances created and another player whose quietly superb contribution has been lauded previously in this column – Atalanta’s Luca Cigarini – trails slightly behind the two World Cup winners with 2.7 per game. Another well-known face, that of Inter’s Antonio Cassano sits fourth with an impressive 2.6 per outing in his new colours.
The Bearded Genius that is Pirlo once again dominates this category, managing 79.4 passes per game, a significant lead over second placed Enzo Maresca (68.7). However, the impact of having to play two games per week has seen a marked reduction in the Juve man’s performance as, having led Europe’s top five leagues for much of the last campaign, his numbers this season are only good enough for sixth place behind Xavi, Arteta, Michael Carrick, Yaya Toure and Sergio Busquets.
Torino’s Angelo Ogbonna is the name topping this particular category thanks to an impressive 93.6% completion rate, which is even more eye-catching when noting he averages nearly fifty passes per game for a newly promoted club. It is also the fourth highest total in Europe, where Xavi again leads the way with 95.3%. Ogbonna’s team-mate Kamil Glik sits joint third on 92% with Milan’s Nigel De Jong while Daniele Bonera (second with 92.6%) and Mario Yepes (eighth, 90.9%) make for an impressive trio of Rossoneri players in the top ten.
Not a particular strong suit for players in Serie A – as this excellent piece from Martin Laurence highlighted – the leader is Cagliari’s Andrea Cossu whose average of 2.6 per game is narrowly better than Manuel Pasqual’s 2.5 for Fiorentina. Those figures see them rank ninth and eleventh across Europe’s top five leagues and make them two of only nine Italy based players to rank in the top sixty for this category.
Another statistic dominated by familiar faces, it is Francesco Totti (1.9 per game) who leads the way in slipping the ball through to his team-mates, some distance ahead of closest rivals and fellow Azzurri veterans Pirlo (1.4) and Cassano (1.1). Marek Hamsik also averages the same as the Inter man, while Juve’s Arturo Vidal rounds out the top five with just 0.8 per outing. Incredibly, this group of players are split by only Steed Malbranque of Lyon – who averages one through ball per game – across Europe’s top five leagues.