The phenomenal Leighton Baines has inspired a post dedicated to the most creative defenders to ply their trade in the Barclays Premier League this term. We’ve take a look at a number of statistics including passing, dribbles attempted, chances created and goals to compile a list of five of the top creative defenders going forward. We typically believe that defender goals can not be predicted and use players like John Terry as an example. Prior to Terry’s six-goal haul in the 2011-12 season, the Chelsea skipper had scored only six goals over his previous three Premier League campaigns combined.
Honorable Mention. Rafael, Manchester United
It is worth noting that we expected to find Manchester United’s Rafael on this list but elected to leave him off in favour of our No. 5 choice. If we revisit this list again at the end of the season, we expect to see the young Brazilian supplant our No. 5 defender – Branislav Ivanovic – and perhaps move as high as third overall. Rafael has created the most chances of any United defender (7) this term, been successful with 100% of his five dribbles and made 31 final-third entries – behind only Carrick (90), Scholes (64) and Cleverley (37) for the Red Devils this season. The right-back has also been exceptional defensively, winning 16/22 tackles and 30/54 ground duels — both TOP for Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad — and 9/15 aerial duels, despite his diminutive size. If you feel honorable mention is a slight to his extraordinary ability, you have our permission to mentally re-arrange this list to suit your fancy or personal bias.
It would be difficult to leave Ivanovic off this list. The Chelsea player leads all defenders at this early stage of the 2012-13 season with two goals scored and has converted 100% of his clear-cut chances this year (2). While Ivanovic has scored twice, club teammate Ashley Cole has created one more chance (5) than the Serbian international and has attempted eight dribbles — successful on 38% — while Branislav has only attempted three. For Cole, the goal in Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Stoke City marked his first goal in over two years for Chelsea.
Where Ivanovic has made his mark in Chelsea’s attack is with his passing. He has competed 15 of his 22 long balls, completing at least one in Chelsea’s opening six Premier League fixtures, and he has made 34 final third entries. Final third entries are passes made into the attacking third of the pitch. Ivanovic has made at least four such passes in each of the Blue’s six league fixtures this term. The Serbian defender has completed 199/243 total passes (82%) and three of his 21 crosses to date.
4. Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson, Arsenal
Arsene Wenger’s two wing-backs are hard to separate this season and both have been given a bit of license to press the attack down their respective flanks. Gibbs is third among the current Gunners with seven chances created, behind Santi Cazorla (24) and Lukas Podolski (8). The left-back is level with Mikel Arteta on chances created and has created only one more than Jenkinson (6). While Gibbs has embarked on nine dribbles, Jenkinson has attempted 10 – completing an impressive 50% of those. Between the two defenders, they have created better than two chances, and completed more than one dribble, per Premier League fixture this term.
Gibbs has pressed more in recent matches. After creating a single chance over the Gunner’s first three fixtures, he has created three, two and one chance(s) over the last three. The 23-year-old has attempted at least one dribble in five of the Gunners six fixtures this season. His counterpart on the right has created at least one chance in four of six matches and attempted three, one, four and two dribbles over Arsenal’s last four Barclays Premier League fixtures. Both Jenkinson (19 crosses, 21% success rate) and Gibbs (27 crosses, 15% success rate) have been involved in building the attack with their passes from the wings, as well with passes out of their own defensive end. Jenksinon has completed 21-of-37 long balls this term – 57% – and Gibbs has completed 9-of-12 – 75%. While Bacary Sagna’s return to fitness may limit Jenkinson’s opportunities over the course of the season, Gibbs has performed well enough to solidify his place in Wenger’s first-choice starting XI.
Next Page: The Top 3 Creative Defenders in the Premier League
In the 2011-12 season, under manager Kenny Dalglish, Johnson played 1952′ and created 22 chances – one chance every 89′. Under Brendan Rodgers this term, the Liverpool right-back has created eight chances in 524′ – one chance every 66′. A number of his underlying statistics point to more involvement in the build-up, unsurprising given the change in footballing philosophy which endeavours to rebuild Liverpool into a totaalvoetbal side.
What is surprising at this early stage is that Johnson is taking a shot on goal every 75′, significantly more frequently than his one shot per 115′ last term. The change in tactical focus is also readily evident in Johnson’s role in the build-up, as less of that involvement is through the air. Last season, the left-back attempted 65 crosses with 18% accuracy. This term he has attempted 16 — on pace for 59 in the 1952′ he played a season ago — with 25% accuracy.
Johnson is remarkably versatile, having started at left-back in five of Liverpool’s opening six Barclays Premier League fixtures while lining-up at right-back against Arsenal on Sept. 2. The England international has attempted slightly fewer dribbles this season (1.39 in 2011-12 compared to 1.17 in 2012-13), but is completing a higher percentage of all passes and his open-play passes. In fact, given Liverpool’s dearth of scoring prior to the five-goal outpouring against Norwich on Saturday, Johnson’s season is all the more remarkable. He is contributing at a higher-level in all offensive facets of the game and has already contributed one more assist (1) this season than he did all last year. The first-choice right-back for England and Liverpool is 28-years-old and should have several seasons left in his prime. Provided he continues to integrate himself in Rodgers tactics with his current level of success, there is no reason that 2012-13 can not be the best of his professional career.
2. Kyle Walker, Tottenham
Walker has been dynamic moving the ball forward this season. Walker has created as many chances, nine, as teammate Mousse Dembélé, Magpies winger Hatem Ben Arfa and Swansea’s Michu. He has been efficient with his passes, completing 247/298 – 83% – of his total passes and 13/28 long balls with 57 final third entries. It is impressive that Walker has been able to create nine chances as he plays in a side with dominant attacking wingers including Gareth Bale (18 chances created) and Aaron Lennon (15).
One of the reasons we’ve moved Walker this high up our list of attack-minded defenders is the consistency with which he is involved. Walker has embarked upon 11 dribbles this season — 36% success — and at least one in five of six Spurs Premier League fixtures this term. The 22-year-old has attempted at least three long balls in every Spurs Premier League match this season and made no fewer than five final-third entries in each fixture. And his involvement in the attack has not appeared to impact his defensive efficiency. The England international has made 30 clearances — 14 successful — and has won four fouls while not conceding one to date. He has won 13/16 tackles (81%), 24/34 ground duels (71%) and 4/8 aerial duels.
[quote]2285 – Kyle Walker has played more minutes than any other outfield player in the Premier League in 2012. Available.
Opta(@OptaJoe) October 3, 2012[/quote]
If the 22-year-old is able to maintain his current pace, Walker will finish the season with 57 chances created. In 2011-12, only Leighton Baines (67) created more chances while playing defense on a routine basis. In fact, Walker’s club teammate Benoit Assou-Ekotto, currently absent through injury, was the second best defender at creating chances in 2011-12. Assou-Ekotto created 45 chances last term — level with Ryan Giggs and better than Swansea’s Nathan Dyer (43) and Manchester United’s Ashley Young (42). Walker posses the youth and skill-set to grow into AVB’s system, assimilating himself into the tactics and forging an understanding with the emphatically creative cadre of midfielders in Spur’s stable. Provided Assou-Ekotto is able to regain full-fitness, the duo of wing-backs could provide the attacking edge that Andre Villas-Boas needs to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title.
Baines is, through six weeks of Barclays Premier League fixtures, leading all players with 28 chances created. Only Baines and Santi Cazorla (24) have managed to create better than 18 chances and Baines is building on a remarkable 2011-12 season in which he created 57 chances. Unlike other defenders, Baines does commit to the offensive end of the pitch and some of his defensive numbers are not among the best at his position. The England left-back is a perfect 10/10 winning tackles this term, but has not even attempted a tackle in the Toffee’s last two Premier League fixtures. He is less efficient winning duels, winning 25/46 (54%) of ground duels and 3/6 aerial duels (50%). But it is not his ability to win a duel that keeps his name in David Moyes’ squad sheet, it is his remarkable contribution with the ball at his feet.
The 27-year-old has completed 271/322 (84%) of all passes and 16/26 long balls. He has made an incredible 66 final-third entries and has sent over 59 crosses, connecting with 41% (24/59). Baines is highly efficient with the ball in his own end, completing 92/102 passes in the defensive half, and he is also proficient in the final third – completing 110/142 final-third passes. Baines has created two clear-cut chances and is one of only two defenders to have created more than one. Interestingly, the other is Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron who has only created two chances this term and each was clear-cut, but neither was converted leaving Cameron without an assist.
The England international is clearly a unique player in the current incarnation of the Premier League. He routinely finishes in the Top 10 among all players in chances created — having finished eight with 77 in 2009-10, ninth with 74 in 2010-11 and 11th with 67 in 2011-12 — while few other defenders manage to finish within the top 40. Having finally earned the call for England, it is fair to say that Baines star is one on the rise. But the increased media and fan attention has not manifested in an attacking slump for the left-back and, indeed, it appears to be driving him to attain a greater level of success.