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Stat for stat: How does Riyad Mahrez stack up against Mesut Ozil?

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This year’s Premier League is one of the league’s most surprising editions in decades, with rising Leicester defying expectations while Chelsea struggle near the bottom of the table. On the podium, as Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez leads the Foxes to new heights, Mesut Ozil’s consistency has led Arsenal to the top of the league, with both players distinguishing themselves as the league’s most influential game changers.

The wizard and the underdog, the David and the Goliath, both are having amazing seasons, with potential PFA Player of the Year nominations in view. But which has been the league’s best performer? The numbers they’ve amassed over the season’s first half can help answer that question.

SEE NOTE: The top five players through the first half of the Premier League season.

The passing numbers

Ozil has shown a better passing game, making nearly twice as many forward passes as the Algerian, yet he’s also made three times as many backward passes, as well. However, looking at other passing numbers, we can see a difference in mindset. 63% of Mahrez’s passes are made in an attempt to make an offensive move, against a 53% for Arsenal’s playmaker. That may help explain the players’ different completion percentages. Ozil’s is at 89%, with Mahrez having a relatively low 72% accuracy.

The passing numbers can be interpreted in two ways. Either Mahrez tries more risky offensive passes or he spends a lot of time on the wing, playing in positions where completing passes could be more difficult. Either way, Ozil’s passing numbers are out of Mahrez’s league. The German playmaker is the best passer in the league, with twice as many chances created as Mahrez.

But one other passing number needs to be considered: average pass length. Mahrez’s average pass length is at 17.22 meters, 2.22 meters higher than Ozil’s. More crosses? More risky, long balls? This certainly explains, or at least justifies, Mahrez’s lack of accuracy. It also means we can amend our conclusion:

Mahrez, as a prolific and a skillful winger, has an attacking mindset that sets his passing accuracy to a low level. Ozil, attempting more forward passes than backwards passes, is a way more balanced player. In the end, Ozil gets the point for better passing.

SEE MORE: Confidence breeds success for Ozil and Arsenal.

Scoring goals

In goal scoring, Mahrez clearly betters Ozil. Though Ozil has scored only three times, Mahrez has 13, with all of his goals coming inside the area (including four penalties). Mahrez is also known for his step overs and his body feints, skills that help him get into the box and score with his usual finishing skills. But Mahrez is also known for his magical left foot, a foot that helped him to score 10 times, with only one coming from his right foot (the two others being headers).

Although Mahrez scores 0.8 goals per game, he attempts “only” 3.03 shots a game, a pretty good number compared to world-class finishers in other leagues. In comparison, Ozil shoots at 1.4 times per game, having the same shot accuracy as Mahrez’s 67%. Although we might say that this is a good number as well, it is a function of his skill set. Ozil does not finish a well  and does not attempt as many shots as Mahrez, being more a “clean finisher” and not trying to shoot too much in his attacking midfielder role. Mahrez has better shooting and finishing skills, thus attempts more.

Preventing goals

Looking at the defensive and physical side of the game, Mahrez seems to lead by a few miles. With a higher tackling accuracy and a 61% takeons percentage (Ozil with 58%), Mahrez does win more tackles than Ozil. He does provoke a lot more fouls as well, almost twice as many as the German, but that can be explained by the Algerian’s amazing dribbling numbers. Also, surprisingly, Mahrez has a 26% aerial duels winning percentage, more than double Ozil’s 11% despite Ozil being nearly two inches taller.

Finally, Mahrez has 1.3 interceptions per game, more than twice Özil’s rate, not to mention Ozil has not blcoked shot this year. Mahrez has blocked three. Mahrez is also leading in number of clearances (15 to eight), a surprising total for a winger like Mahrez, considering he plays as more of an attacking-minded winger.

SEE MORE: Riyad Mahrez is the engine behind Leicester’s table-topping success.

Remember the differences in playing style

Claudio Ranieri’s fast and fluid counter-attacking game definitely has a huge impact on the numbers. Not retaining possession and attempting riskier passes are some of the characteristics the Foxes’s style, as we can see in their 43.4% possession per game. Wingers tend to play a lot more crosses and through balls, which also influences Mahrez’s numbers. As a team, Leicester have the lowest passing success rate in the league. Arsenal has the league’s best.

But with a strong midfield like Arsenal’s, it is hard to have impressive defensive statistics, as the team’s possession means fewer chances to accumulate numbers. Every game, Leicester have 3.4 more tackles, concede 2.4 more shots and make 3.6 more interceptions than Arsenal. Leicester have a lot to deal with when defending compared to Arsenal, who have many defenders and midfielders capable of retaining possession and clearing the ball with assurance when needed.

Furthermore, Leicester attempt in average 70 long balls per game versus Arsenal’s 49 (lowest in the league). Arsenal also try 510 short passes per game (league highest), which is almost twice bigger than Leicester does. It’s even more reason why Mahrez’s passing numbers (and Leicester’s players’) might pale in comparison to numbers from an Arsenal winger or attacking midfielder.

Conclusion

While Ozil’s passing game has been beneficial to Arsenal, Mahrez laps him defensively and in scoring, with more tackles, interceptions and goals. He also has the Premier League’s highest combined goal-assist total, with 20.

Statistically, Mahrez is definitely PFA Player of the Year material, but some numbers may outweigh others . Who do you think is the most qualified player to win the award?

Statistics are as of December 30th, 2015 (Squawka, WhoScored). Per game metrics used are defined as per 90 minutes numbers. Parts of this analysis were made using Squawka’s Comparison Matrix.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Raza

    January 4, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Mahrez is form & Özil is class… Mahrez is awesome but PFA player of the year goes to Özil

  2. Tom M

    December 31, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    I like both a lot but in your conclusion you say Mahrez: He also has the Premier League’s highest combined goal-assist total, with 20 as if that ends the argument but Ozil has 3 goals with 16 assists for a combined figure of 19, hardly small beer compared to Mahrez.
    Note also that Ozil created 9 chances in the Bournemouth game, an EPL record and has 79 for the season.
    I think it’s a tie. They’re both great engines for their team. Ozil also has Champion League goals, he’s in the FA Cup too. Leicester’s not in any other competitions this year but I hope they get top 4 for Champions League.

  3. VicBklyn

    December 31, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Ozil is the best of the 2. It is harder to keep position than running wild. Ozil is running a team, while Mayrez is directing a team. 2 different brands and positions. Both would behave differently if on opposite teams. Mayrez longterm would might Sanchez on opposite wings beautifully.

  4. Antony

    December 31, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Mahrez is so much more exciting to watch & just keeps getting better but player of the season so far is Vardy for me.

  5. Baz

    December 31, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Comparing Mahrez to Ozil is a bit like comparing Vardy to Sanchez. Ridiculous.

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