Football Features

The assist king race across Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 17:55, 9 February 2021

Are we surprised that it’s the goalscorers who are primarily idolised considering football essentially boils down to putting a ball object into a net?

No self-respecting team can dream about winning championships unless there’s a serial marksman in their squad. However, being a team sport, that individual cannot undertake those duties without support.

Some players, as it turns out, prefer to provide rather than lead from the front. Playmakers and creators are equally vital and there’s plenty across Europe’s major leagues. As follows are the five duking it out to be crowned ‘assist king’ this season.

5. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)

Division: Premier League

Appearances (minutes): 21 (1,887)

Chances created: 75

Assists: 10

What a difference one year makes. Jack Grealish remains Aston Villa’s most important player but at the start of 2020, his role was quite different. Back then, Dean Smith’s side, back playing in England’s top division, were staring at relegation. They rallied and subsequently maintained their top-flight status on the final day. Now, there are talks about playing European football once again, the Villans are in that group chasing a top-five spot and having a figure like Grealish playing at his very best is making their cause a lot easier. He’s already into double figures when it comes to assists, something the Brummie has never managed in the Premier League before. In fact, this campaign marks Grealish’s most productive since turning professional.

4. Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)

Division: Bundesliga

Appearances (minutes): 20 (1,748)

Chances created: 56

Assists: 10

Halfway through last term, many wondered if Thomas Müller was about to say goodbye and leave his boyhood club. For whatever reason, then-Bayern boss Niko Kovač wasn’t too high on the beautiful game’s first ‘Raumdeuter’ (or space interpreter). He proved any doubters wrong following the Croat’s dismissal when he finished the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign with a record of 21 assists. His crown in Germany’s top division remains fixed — though stiff competition is coming from home — after racing to 10 this season. Müller, who has been exiled from international football, seems revitalised and the 31-year-old could be entering the next phase of what’s already been a stellar career.

3. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

Division: Premier League

Appearances (minutes): 17 (1,408)

Chances created: 54

Assists: 10

Even as the Reds were running away with the Premier League last season, it became undeniable the best footballer in England was playing for Manchester City and not Jurgen Klopp’s all-conquering Liverpool side. Pep Guardiola had missed Kevin De Bruyne the previous campaign, as City claimed a second consecutive league title, but was glad to have the Belgian playmaker back healthy. De Bruyne was a man on fire, ultimately threatening to break Thierry Henry’s record for most assists in a single season. He’d finish on the magic 20 number and it’s going to be a tall order for him to equal that number given those injury demons have resurfaced. However, once he does return from that hamstring setback, it should be smooth sailing towards another league success…

2. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)

Division: Bundesliga

Appearances (minutes): 14 (1,099)

Chances created: 36

Assists: 10

Remember the mention of competition to Müller’s throne? Well, it’s none other than football’s preeminent multifunctional player, Joshua Kimmich, who has unquestionably entered world-class terrain and continues to show why on a weekly basis. Whether stationed in defence (right-back) or midfield, the Germany international exudes regal class and backs it all up by constantly feeding Bayern’s attacking stars. And they’ve been eating well as Kimmich recently became the 10th-fastest Bundesliga player since the 1988/89 season to reach 50 assists. The champions game against Hoffenheim, in which they ran out 4-1 winners, happened to be his 159th league appearance. Former teammate Franck Ribéry holds the record (106) with the aforementioned Müller (134) in third.

1. Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Division: Premier League

Appearances (minutes): 20 (1,746)

Chances created: 31

Assists: 11

None of the four players featured are what you would call out-and-out goalscorers. Müller is possibly the closest, but he’s only registered one 20-goal league season (2015/16) since the 2009/10 campaign. The same cannot be said of Harry Kane, who is among Europe’s most feared number nines alongside Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suárez, so finding him leading this current list must seem bewildering. Should it really when considering he’s playing for José Mourinho, a manager that expects his strikers to be more than just goal-getters? Kane, to his credit, has reinvented himself, often dropping deep in games and feeding Tottenham’s runners, most notably forward Son Heung-min. This new string added to his bow has turned him into football’s latest all-round centre-forward which England could greatly use at the forthcoming European Championships.

On the cusp

Football never stands still so expect the list above to continually change as the weeks go by until all five leagues call time on another season. Grealish, Müller, De Bruyne, Kimmich and Kane though are the first to reach double figures but there’s a contingent of players who can soon break through and join this exclusive group. Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich) and the ever-impressive Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) are one behind, while Jonas Hofmann (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Hakan Calhanoglu (Milan), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Roma) and Jonathan Bamba (Lille) are on eight assists. What about Lionel Messi? Well, he’s only managed two from 19 games played as we speak…