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A look at the stats behind Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd target Zakaria

Posted on January 10, 2022

There are a host of players across the continent who are now free to discuss pre-contracts with potential employers with the view of leaving for pastures new upon the culmination of their current deal at the summer. One of those is Gladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria, with the Bundesliga side recently confirming the Switzerland international will be leaving, at the latest, at the end of the season. That news has alerted the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, among others, who are all believed to be keeping tabs on the Gladbach star.

This leaves the German side in a testing predicament. The 25-year-old has started 14 of 18 league games this season, so is a key man for Adi Hutter's side, but they'll need to sell him this month if they are to turn a profit on Zakaria or lose him for free at the end of the season.

Die Fohlen ended the Hinrunde on a five-game winless run and approached the second half of the season just two points and two places above the relegation playoff spot. As such, Gladbach will be looking to keep their core players in their bid to beat the drop, yet in turn, this is the last window they can raise funds to spend elsewhere.

A WhoScored rating of 6.86 isn't one to inspire confidence, but for an underwhelming Gladbach side, Zakaria is their fourth best rated player this season. A knee injury sustained in 2020 that forced the midfielder to miss most of the year has stunted his development, yet plenty of sides remain interested in Zakaria, and for good reason.

A key asset to Zakaria's game is his quality in possession when he does drive from deep, reinforcing a statistically calculated strength of 'dribbling'. Indeed, of the 48 players to attempted 30 or more dribbles, only RB Leipzig's Josko Gvardiol (73.5%) has a better dribble success than Zakaria (70.7%) in the Bundesliga this season. "I've been compared to [Patrick] Vieira and [Paul] Pogba – two more players I really respect and, in a way, see as role models," the player himself has said in the past, and when the French pair have been on song, they have been difficult to stop, and that is very much the case for Zakaria.

There is perhaps a common misconception that Zakaria is merely a ball winner and he can operate impressively in dispossessing opponents where needed, averaging a respectable 1.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per 90, but he is a better player on the ball than he is out of possession. 32.2% of his 758 attempted passes in the Bundesliga this season have been deemed forward passes and while he creates little, averaging just 0.6 key passes per 90, that Zakaria is prepared to get the ball forward to the final third is important for a deep-lying midfielder like himself.

In addition, Zakaria carries out this task with aplomb. Only centre-back Nico Elvedi (92.5%) has a better pass success rate than the in-demand midfield (90.1%) of all Gladbach players in the Bundesliga this season, so he is able to pick out a teammate with ease where required. It's not only short passing that boosts Zakaria's reputation, but an ability to find a teammate over great distances that stands out, too.

Of the 135 outfield players to have attempted 35 or more long balls this season, Zakaria (72.2%) boasts the best long ball pass success rate in the Bundesliga. To go with a clear willingness to play the ball upfield frequently, that he is able to pick out a player from range would help teams that seek to transition upfield quickly.

Ill-discipline could well be perceived as a weakness of Zakaria and in a player in his position, he is more likely to be reprimanded by officials than others on the pitch. A return of 1.2 fouls per 90 may not seem like much, but when you consider Gladbach rank fifth for possession (54.8%) in Germany's top tier this term, there are fewer opportunities for Zakaria to work his way onto the naughty step.

Nevertheless, and despite missing much of 2020 due to injury, no player has been booked more times than Zakaria (34) since the start of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season, but crucially; he has never been sent off. It's proof that Zakaria is able to successfully navigate the disciplinary tightrope and this master of the dark arts approach is an appealing trait to potential suitors.

While Gladbach didn't miss Zakaria in their surprise 2-1 win at an understrength Bayern on a chilly Friday night, his departure will be a blow for Hutter's side, be it this month or the summer. Zakaria's development was dented by that knee injury in 2020, yet he is a progressive midfielder that would improve the squads of those monitoring his situation in Germany.