There may not be a better sight in football than a player dribble his way through opponents on the ball.
Hark back to England’s 2-1 defeat to Argentina in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, when Diego Maradona scored twice en route to winning the competition for his nation.
While the game will very much be remembered for Maradona’s Hand of God, the Argentine magician also scored one of the greatest goals ever by dribbling past five different players after having picked up the ball inside his own half.
In more recent years, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has proven himself to be the king of take-ons, having pulled off a goal similar to Maradona’s vs England against Getafe in April 2007.
Messi received the ball just inside his own half before beating four players with a mixture of skill and pace and rounding the goalkeeper to finish off what may just be his best-ever goal aged just 19. And that’s saying something given how many he would go on to score.
It will come as a surprise to precisely no one, then, to hear Messi has completed more take-ons in Europe’s top five leagues than any other player since Opta records began in 2006/07.
The Barcelona man has completed a ridiculous 1,880 take-ons, 660 more than any other player in that time. He also boasts a pretty good completion rate of 57.20%, the second-best of those in the top 10.
Current Real Madrid star Eden Hazard is the only other player to have completed over 1,000, clocking in 1,220 for Los Blancos, Chelsea and Lille since breaking through. Hazard is one of five players on the list to have featured in the Premier League, with Sergio Aguero, Cristiano Ronaldo, Hatem Ben Arfa and Roberto Firmino all making it into the top 10.
The Liverpool ‘false no.9’ may be bottom of this particular (and truly elite) pile, but boasts a completion rate inferior only to Messi, Hazard and Andres Iniesta. Perhaps more surprising is the fact he’s currently ahead of compatriot Neymar.
Aguero is as high as fourth, but he sits 107 behind third-placed Franck Ribery, who has enjoyed spells at Marseille, Bayern Munich and now Fiorentina. There is also room for Neymar at no.10, with the Brazilian completing 734 so far.
Messi’s former Barcelona team Iniesta sits just five take-ons ahead of Neymar and will presumably drop out soon due to his departure from Europe’s top five leagues. However, the current Vissel Kobe midfielder does have the best success rate, completing an impressive 60.9% of his attempted take-ons.
The top 10 dribblers since Opta records began:
1. Lionel Messi – 1,880 take-ons completed (57.2%)
2. Eden Hazard – 1,220 take-ons completed (57.1%)
3. Franck Ribery – 939 take-ons completed (47.9%)
4. Sergio Aguero – 832 take-ons completed (46.6%)
5. Cristiano Ronaldo – 816 take-ons completed (44%)
6. Joaquin – 798 take-ons completed (50.9%)
7. Hatem Ben Arfa – 770 take-ons completed (50.6%)
8. Andres Iniesta – 739 take-ons completed (60.9%)
9. Roberto Firmino – 736 take-ons completed (56.8%)
10. Neymar – 734 take-ons completed (50.2%)
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Europe’s top dribblers in 2019/20
Messi may rule the roost when it comes to completing take-ons since records began, but he does not crack into the top 10 for the 2019/20 campaign in Europe’s top five leagues; although it is only a matter of time till he makes the cut and his current tally of 30 is highly respectable considering he has played just seven games.
The crown currently belongs to Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha, who has completed 55 take-ons in the Premier League so far – 11 more than any other player. Nice’s Youcef Atal comes in second on 44, while Norwich City midfielder Emiliano Buendia completes the top three on 41.
Wolves’ Adama Traore is the only other player to have completed at least 40 take-ons, sitting one ahead of Angel Di Maria and Denis Suarez who have 39 for PSG and Celta Vigo respectively.
Best 10 dribblers in Europe’s top five leagues this season:
1. Wilfried Zaha – 55 take-ons completed
2. Youcef Atal – 44 take-ons completed
3. Emiliano Buendia – 41 take-ons completed
4. Adama Traore – 40 take-ons completed
5. Angel Di Maria – 39 take-ons completed
=. Denis Suarez – 39 take-ons completed
7. Nabil Fekir – 39 take-ons completed
8. Jeremie Boga – 38 take-ons completed
9. Nicolas Pepe – 36 take-ons completed
10. Jonathan Ikone – 35 take-ons completed
=. Gaetano Castrovilli – 35 take-ons completed