With their ability to prise open an opposition’s backline, top-quality creative players are currently in high demand from European clubs.
Looking through the data on WhoScored, we’ve picked out the top 10 players who make the most key passes per 90 minutes in Europe’s top five leagues, filtering out any players that have played fewer than 500 minutes so far this season.
A key pass is defined as the final pass before a team-mate takes a shot.
=9. Thomas Muller – 3.2 per 90
It helps having the most lethal centre-forward in European football ahead of him, but Muller has played the No.10 role to perfection in recent times.
The German tied Lionel Messi for the most assists (21) in Europe’s top five leagues last season, and tops the charts again in 2020-21 – one ahead of Harry Kane on 14.
=9. Angel Di Maria – 3.2 per 90
After bringing in the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, some questioned whether Di Maria would have a natural place at PSG, but he’s consistently plugged away and made himself an asset to the club.
The Argentinian’s versatility, able to play in midfield or the forward line, has been particularly useful, and he continues to find his team-mates in dangerous areas, registering 54 key passes in Ligue 1 in 2020-21 so far.
“I’ve been anxious in the last games to reach 100 assists,” Di Maria said recently after extending his contract.
“It’s something very important to me and to then reach 103 and surpassing [Safet Susic] and reaching 104.
“It would be something important because it would remain in the history of the club and would be marked forever until someone is able to pass me.”
— Ligue1 English (@Ligue1_ENG) February 5, 2021
=6. Ruslan Malinovskyi – 3.4 per 90
Malinovskiy took some time to establish himself as a first-team regular in an entertaining Atalanta side but has impressed when given a chance, and now finds himself with a spot in their best XI following Papu Gomez’s move to Sevilla.
The Ukraine international is one to watch.
=6. Yusuf Yazici – 3.4 per 90
The 24-year-old Turkey international hasn’t racked up that many minutes at Lille this season – 17 of his 26 Ligue 1 appearances have come off the bench – but he’s evidently a useful squad player to have in their unlikely title charge.
Not only is he a creator for others, but he’s scored seven goals in Ligue 1, while he also scored seven goals in eight appearances in Lille’s Europa League campaign.
=6. Jack Grealish – 3.4 per 90
Aston Villa’s homegrown talisman seems to get better every season and has stepped things up a level once again in 2020-21, as well as impressing for England.
With the likes of Ollie Watkins and Ross Barkley brought in over the summer, Grealish now has players around him that can finish the high volume of chances he’s creating.
Only Memphis Depay and Bruno Fernandes have created more chances in total, which is especially impressive when you consider the Villa man’s been sidelined for over a month.
— HomeOfTheVilla (@TheVillaHome) November 12, 2020
=4. Kevin De Bruyne – 3.5 per 90
After finishing top of this list in 2019-20, De Bruyne was always going to be involved here.
The Manchester City midfielder has already registered five goals and 11 assists in the Premier League so far this season. His team-mates coped well when he was out injured, but he’s nevertheless been a standout player for the champions-elect.
=4. Christopher Nkunku – 3.5 per 90
After an impressive debut season at RB Leipzig, Nkunku has reasserted his status as one of the most creative players in Europe in 2020-21, albeit that only resulting in four Bundesliga assists.
His performances have seen him linked with a move to Arsenal, among others.
3. Josip Ilicic – 3.6 per 90
One of the stars of Gian Piero Gasperini’s dazzling Atalanta, Ilicic showed what a special player he was by scoring four goals in one game to knock Valencia out of the Champions League in one of the final games before lockdown last year.
But he suffered a horrible few months from there, battling depression after contracting coronavirus. It’s been particularly wonderful to see the 33-year-old Slovenian lighting up Serie A again in 2020-21 – only two players in Europe create chances at a greater frequency.
=1. Aleksandr Golovin – 3.7 per 90
The Russia international missed four months of the season for Monaco, and he’s been eased back in gently, with just six starts and a further eight appearances off the bench.
So this is from a much more limited sample size – just 610 minutes in Ligue 1, compared to Calhanoglu who has maintained his rate of creativity nearly three times as much playing time, 1786 minutes in Serie A – but Golovin has done very well with his limited opportunities.
Not only is he consistently creating chances for the Ligue 1 dark horses, but he’s registered four goals and seven assists, a direct goal contribution every 55 minutes. To put that in context, Harry Kane (17 goals, 13 assists) is averaging one every 78 minutes in the Premier League.
=1. Hakan Calhanoglu – 3.7 per 90
Calhanoglu has enjoyed a brilliant season at AC Milan, central to their resurgence, reportedly attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United and Juventus ahead of his contract expiring this summer.
His Milan team-mates had a tendency to miss the chances he was laying on a plate for them in the early weeks of the campaign, but he’s racking up the assists now with eight in total in Serie A.