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Norwich City | Their Ultimate Team | Defence via Opta Stats

A few weeks ago I read an article by Stephen McCarthy on EPL Index which aimed to use statistics to identify the strongest team in the Premier League. Using the same approach, with a couple of minor tweaks, I have attempted to carry out the same analysis of Norwich City’s defence. It’s especially interesting because a number of Norwich defenders are out of contract at the end of the season. Perhaps the results would indicate the players worthy of being offered a new contract and those that may be looking for a new club in the summer.

I won’t go into the logic of the statistical analysis, as Stephen covers that adequately in the link above. In short though, a number of statistics covering different attributes (depending on the position) will be analysed, with more points being awarded to the best players. At the end of each positional assessment, the players points total will be calculated.

For the purposes of this article, we won’t include a filter based on the number of passes because not all the defenders will have played enough games. Nevertheless, two defenders, Simon Lappin and Ryan Bennett, will not be assessed purely because they’ve played little over a game each. Points will not be deducted for loss of possession or defensive errors because a) there isn’t much difference across all the players, and b) I’m not convinced they tell the story. For example, Kyle Naughton’s positioning will be viewed by many as a key reason for Fulham’s second goal against Norwich last week, however the defensive error statistic doesn’t account for this.

In terms of formation, whilst Norwich play a variety of systems, they usually keep four in defence. Only in the last two games have they deviated from this by playing a 3-5-2 formation. Nevertheless, we will look at filling the following positions: left-back, right-back and two centre-backs.


A modern full-back needs to be effective not only in the defensive phase but also in attack. Therefore we shall look at passing/possession stats, battling stats and creativity stats:

Passing/possession stats

An interesting mix here but Naughton comes out top for passing and possession. Of particular note is his ability to clear the ball to a team mate.

Battling stats

It’s somewhat of a surprise to see Tierney’s tacking percentage as low as it is. He’s viewed as a no-nonsense defender and yet his stat is lower than Drury’s or Naughton’s. He comes out top for ground duels won though, but it’s tight across all three contenders.

Creativity stats

Drury has by far the best crossing accuracy, bringing a more attacking threat compared to both Tierney and Naughton. Given the aerial abilities of Holt and Morison, this is an interesting statistic. Meanwhile, Naughton shows his attacking qualities by creating a chance or assist every 67 passes.

Total points

Overall, it’s very tight between all three left-backs. Naughton and Tierney edge just ahead of Drury, who’s statistics may be skewed due to the relatively low number of games he has played so far this season.

One thing the stats don’t reveal is just how right-footed Naughton is. This prevents Norwich getting true width down this flank when Naughton is played as a left-back. As a result, defending against Naughton becomes predictable. Also, Naughton not quite as defense-oriented as Tierney and Drury – he has frequently been caught too high up the pitch when the opposition attack.

Tierney was a regular before he got injured earlier the season. He is an attacking full-back with high energy levels, however his final ball sometimes lets him down. A solid player, improving for the experience in the Premier League.

As for Drury, the stats suggest he still has plenty to offer at this level, despite coming towards the latter years of his career. One-on-one he’s still an excellent defender and is rarely caught out of position. Whilst he’s not the type of full-back who bombs down to the byline, he still provides good attacking support and is able to produce a decent cross too. The one big question mark is his general fitness – he was rested by Lambert for the Fulham game, despite having played only a handful of games.

Since this isn’t Naughton’s natural position, we’ll overlook him for the purpose of this article and nominate Tierney as our left-back of choice.

Next Page: Right Back and Centre Back selection…

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