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Samir Nasri’s performance against Sunderland is the holy grail of Premier League passing

Football, at its very core, is a chaotic and clumsy game, comprised of 22 players running in any and every direction they see fit.

Forty-four legs battle for possession. Half of those legs are unfamiliar and awkward when presented with the seemingly-simple task of caring for the football, unless they happen to be attached to Santi Cazorla’s ambidextrous hips.

The grass surface can be altered at a manager’s whim, varying wildly between the green ice rinks favoured by Pep Guardiola and Tony Pulis’ fields of long-throw inducing treacle.

Any excuse to use this picture of Santi Cazorla’s sensational mullet

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Any excuse to use this picture of Santi Cazorla’s sensational mullet

Add in other factors- such as the breakneck speed of the game, weather patterns better suited to Olympic canoeing and the thousands of fans heckling every strained sinew- and it’s a wonder a single pass is completed during 90 minutes of football.

And yet, since Opta began recording Premier League data on the subject ahead of the 2003/04 season, 255 players have finished a 90-minute performance with 100% pass completion.

Spare a thought for Per Mertesacker who, with 109 successful passes from 110 attempts against Aston Villa in 2014, is one of the 1,015 players to fail with just one pass across 90 minutes of top-flight football.

Had the German not missed his mark he would have completed, by quite some distance, the most prolifically efficient passing performance in Premier League history.

A Premier League passing genius and Mesut Ozil

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A Premier League passing genius and Mesut Ozil

Instead, that distinction is held by another German centre-back. Last March, Antonio Rudiger completed all 91 of his attempted passes during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Wolves. In doing so Rudiger wrote his name into Premier League folklore, to be chanted by xG merchants at football forums for years to come.

Impressive, no doubt, but for pinnacle of Premier League passing you need to look further forward. Completing 100% of your passes is a simple task from the comfort of centre-back, where the game is played in front of your watchful eyes and there’s always a team-mate on hand to offer a route out.

The midfield, where the game requires 360-degree vision, the composure of a psychopath, a velvety-soft touch and the ability to thread passes through avenues that either don’t exits or are swarming with defensive midfielders, is an entirely different beast.

It is for this reason that Samir Nasri’s display against Sunderland on 16 April 2014 remains the holy grail.

Sealed with a kiss

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Sealed with a kiss

Nasri, wearing the blue of Man City rather than Arsenal red, completed an immaculate 77 passes during a 2-2 draw at the Etihad. No midfielder, or attacker for that matter, has been able to better the Frenchman’s efforts.

It’s often forgotten amidst the acrimonious transfers, drip doctors and *checks Wikipedia* eight games at Antalyaspor just how good a player Nasri was at his peak.

His playing style- languid, carefree and mischievous, with a keen eye for the improbable- flies in the face of finishing a game with 100% pass success rate.

And yet, on that Wednesday night, Sunderland’s rottweilers of Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole played the role of chocolate teapot to Nasri’s steaming Early Grey.

As close as Colback got that night

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As close as Colback got that night

No one could accuse Nasri of being a flat-track bully, picking and choosing his passes in search of the perfect performance. Nasri’s 77 attempted passes were the most on either side, while his completed passes tally was only 32 short of Sunderland’s entire midfield trio.

He even found time away from painting the perfect pass map to net City’s equaliser, having recovered from a stupor brought about by witnessing Connor Wickham score twice in ten minutes.

That Nasri didn’t end up on the winning side remains one of the Premier League’s great injustices.

But the legacy of his passing masterclass will be forever be kept alive by those that treasure Riquelme over Ronaldo and Pirlo over Pele.

Now, ten points to Gryffindor if you can name Nasri’s current club without the use of Google.

Pass or shot?

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Pass or shot?

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