Norwich City | Their Ultimate Team | Defence via Opta Stats

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.

Left-back

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…

Right-back

Norwich are short in numbers of right-backs right now, but both Martin and Naughton make up for that with quality.

Passing/possession stats

When it comes to passing, Naughton outshines Martin, but only just. He appears to have just that bit of extra quality.  But Martin shows his lower-league tenacity with better battling qualities:

Battling stats

Whilst enjoying a similar success rate with their crossing, Naughton again demonstrates his quality by creating chances or assists far more often than Martin. We must be careful with this statistic though because Martin has played many of his games at centre-back, meaning his attacking opportunities have been more limited.

Creativity stats

Overall, Naughton comes out top but playing Martin might be preferable against better quality opposition:

Total Points

With Naughton on loan from Tottenham until the end of the season, it remains to be seen whether Lambert will be able to lure him away from White Hart Lane. Being a young player, he has lots of potential and can only improve with the experience he’s gaining at Norwich now.

Centre-back

Possession and battling stats are the key attributes for our centre-backs. With five main central defenders at Norwich, competition is fierce:

Passing/possession stats

In the few games Ayala has been fit, he has shown an outstanding passing success rate. He also rates comparably when it comes to clearing the ball effectively. Barnett finds himself adrift of the other four centre-backs here though. His ability to find another Canary shirt when he has the ball is quite poor at this level. This won’t come as a surprise to those Norwich fans that watched Barnett week in week out before he fell out of favour with Lambert.

Battling stats

Barnett makes partial amends with his strength and, in particular, his aerial ability. Whilst these qualities are extremely important, a Premier League defender needs to have more about his game. The days of big strong no-nonsense centre-backs are going – today’s centre-back needs to be much more rounded. Other stats worth highlighting are Whitbread’s all-round ability in this category; Ward’s shocking tacking percentage and Ayala’s generally poor showing across all the battling stats.

Total Points

Whitbread comes out the clear winner for the first of our two centre-back berths. Next best are Leon Barnett and Elliott Ward, however both have worrying attributes about their game. Given that Ward has only recently returned from a long injury, he may still have improvement in him as he gets used to the rigours of Premier League football. For this reason, he will take our second centre-back place.

Next Page: Final Positions…

Final Positions

So, based on this statistical analysis, Tierney would play left-back, Naughton at right-back, with Whitbread and Ward as centre-backs.

In the absence of Tierney currently through injury, it is understandable why Lambert is playing Naughton on his wrong side. With Martin covering at right-back and question marks on Drury’s fitness, there is logic behind Naughton’s selection as left-back. However, it comes with a price: namely a lack of width. Naughton is very unlikely to take on the opposition’s full-back and/or cross with his left foot. This makes Naughton very easy to defend against.

As we’ve seen, Naughton is more at home on the right. He is usually preferred to Martin and this is backed up by the statistics. If Naughton can improve on his defensive game, he could become a key player for Norwich. However, until that happens, Martin might be seen as a safer option against some of the stronger teams Norwich will face over the coming weeks.

Whitbread was the clear winner in the centre-backs category. His general game is very good, albeit he’s not the finished article by any means. Whitbread took some criticism for his display against Fulham when Norwich played with three at the back. This change in formation clearly needs work defensively, and Whitbread (like Naughton) was probably caught out by the system as much as anything else.

Martin wasn’t as highly rated in this statistical analysis as his performances at centre-back have perhaps warranted. Nevertheless, he has shown he has the ability to do a good job in that position if required.

Ward pips Barnett to the final centre-back spot although it was tight between the two. Perhaps the most disheartening result across all the centre-backs was the low score of Ayala. Many Norwich fans would like to see him start when he’s fit again, however the stats above reveal his weaknesses. He, like Naughton, is young though, and will hopefully learn quickly. In the years to come, he has the potential to become a very good centre-back.

On the subject of young centre-backs, Ryan Bennett deserves a mention. Having only played one game so far, this young and promising signing from Peterborough was omitted from this exercise. But has already shown enough ability to suggest he is another potential star in the making.

Out Of Contract

Whitbread, Ward and Drury are all out of contract at the end of the season. And Naughton’s season-long loan deal expires too. Based on the information above, can we deduce who Lambert will try to keep and who he’ll let go?

Whitbread’s stats suggest he’s Norwich’s best centre-back. Given the weaknesses of the other centre-backs at the club, Lambert might feel it’s worth offering Whitbread a one or two year contract. One thing that might influence this is Whitbread’s proneness to injury. If he can remain fit for the rest of the season, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t offered a new contract.

Ward suffers quite badly with injuries too. This could count against him when the time for a renewal comes. Whilst he has undoubted ability, some of Ward’s stats are below what would be expected of an established Premier League centre-back. With Bennett and Ayala coming through and Barnett still contracted to the club, Ward may well find himself looking for another club when the season ends.

As for Drury, he has enjoyed a fantastic career at Norwich and deserves his testimonial later this year. However, perhaps the legs aren’t quite what they used to be, given Lambert’s decision to rest him recently. Despite still having lots to offer, Lambert might feel more inclined to look to the future and continue with his strategy of finding talented, young, hungry players. This will be no slant on Drury though – he has been a model professional in his time at Norwich.

That just leaves Naughton. Lambert tried to sign him during the January transfer window but the price was too high. It remains to be seen if Tottenham drop their asking price in the summer. Much may also depend on whether Redknapp is still manager. The stats have shown that Naughton has the quality needed to shine at this level, albeit there are creases to iron out in his game. Lambert will undoubtedly see him as a primary target in the summer – it just depends if a price can be agreed.

All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.comSubscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.