Expected Assists

Who are the most creative players in Europe's top five leagues?

We looked at Expected Goals, now we look at the xA leaders in Europe's elite competitions

1:00pm on Tuesday 7th April 2020
Paul Macdonald

Let's look at Expected Assists.

EXPECTED ASSISTS (xA) measures the likelihood that a given pass will become aN assist for a goal. A total of xA gives us an indication of how many assists a player of team should have had based on their build up and attacking play, irrespective of the team's forwards ability to finish. FootballCritic Definitions


Expected Assists (xA) is a useful metric because it shows how creative players are beyond the concept of the assist.

Firstly, a player can't be held responsible for the ruthlessness, or lack of, from the forwards they are providing passes to. All the creator can do is load the bullets - they aren't responsible for the end result.

Secondly all assists are not made equal; a pace to a player fifty yards from goal who then proceeds to dribble past the entire team and score counts as 1, just as a provider stopping the ball on the goal line for a forward to tap in. These assists are not equal but from a number counting perspective, they are. Therefore xA tries to identify the quality of the chances that a player creates, on their own merits.

Min 1,000 mins, min 5 assists


Player Assists v xA

#Player NameTeamAxA
1Kevin DE BRUYNEMan City1714.7
2Angel DI MARIAPSG1413.9
3Thomas MULLERBayern1612.1
4Serge GNABRYBayern910.7
5Kylian MBAPPEPSG510.6
6Lionel MESSIBarcelona129.9
7Trent A-ARNOLDLiverpool129.8
8Jadon SANCHODortmund158.7
9Christopher NKUNKURB Leipzig128.6
10Riyad MAHREZMan City88.6

It's not exactly breaking news, but Kevin De Bruyne is a fantastic playmaker, maybe the best in the world at the moment. His xA is clearly the best in Europe and his Key Passes of 3.9 P90 is the highest he has had in his five seasons at Man City.

Angel Di Maria continues to light up Ligue 1, benefiting from the fact that that Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have suffered injuries at times across the season.

In Germany Thomas Muller's fantastic and unexpected renaissance is shown by his ability as a creator, while Serge Gnabry's great season is further shown by his underlying numbers.

Lionel Messi makes his presence felt as we would expect, while Trent Alexander-Arnold's status as a playmaker from right-back is solidified by his xA stats.


Player xA P90

#Player NameTeamxA P90
1Thomas MULLERBayern0.70
2Kylian MBAPPEPSG0.63
3Angel DI MARIAPSG0.62
4Kevin DE BRUYNEMan City0.61
5Serge GNABRYBayern0.59
6Riyad MAHREZMan City0.56
7Christopher NKUNKURB Leipzig0.53
8Lionel MESSIBarcelona0.47
9Jadon SanchoDortmund0.43
10Josip ILICICAtalanta0.42

We look specifically at Expected Assists P90 for the same reason we look at xG P90 - it allows us to analyse players' effectiveness independent of how many minutes they play - it allows players who are rotated - for example Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero - to be compared with those who play more regularly.

Thomas Muller started the season out of the Bayern team and ostracised from Germany, but has turned his form around to such a degree that he is, pound-for-pound, the most creative player in Europe in 2019/20. It truly is an astonishing turnaround.

Behind him is the omnipresent Mbappe. It really is something of a marvel just how many metrics in which he competes near the very top, while team-mate Di Maria continues his excellent ability to provide.

De Bruyne, Mahrez and Gnabry retain their slots, too, and while Jadon Sancho is spectacularly overperforming his Expected Assists total, his xA P90 is still among the top 10 in Europe. And it's lovely to see a true all-rounder - the fabulous Josip Ilicic - break the top 10.


Player xA v A Diff

#Player NameTeamAxAxA Diff
1Kylian MBAPPEPSG510.6+5.6
2Raheem STERLINGMan City15.9+4.9
3Robert LEWANDOWSKIBayern36.8+3.8
5Dmitri PAYETMarseille46.9+2.9

In the list above we see players whose xA is well ahead of their actual assists, and once again, Mbappe is here making his presence felt. Per his xA he should have nearly six more assists than he currently has.

Raheem Sterling, meanwhile, has saw his form drop off recently but his assist total could and should be much higher than his paltry one for this Premier League season.

Lewandowski shows he is more of a goal creator for team-mates than his three assists suggest, while the appearance or Richarlison shows that the Everton man is a creative force than is likely to come good eventually at Goodison Park.

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