The Stoke City captain’s recent call up to the England squad under Roy Hodgson begs an obvious question: is Ryan Shawcross good enough for international football? If many Stoke fans are correct in arguing that Shawcross should have been a part of the squad a long time ago, then why has his second call-up been such a long time coming?
Shawcross has undoubtedly been a towering figure in the Stoke defence over his past five seasons with the club (both in influence and physical stature), becoming a major contributing factor towards his club’s success in the Premier League. Here is how the 25-year-old stacked up against the other centre backs in and around the England squad in the 2011/2012 season:
Shawcross started 36 of Stoke’s Premier League matches last season, in itself testament to his disciplinary record, despite reservations in some quarters to the contrary. Additionally, the fact that he is supremely fit and injury-free is a major plus point, and something for Roy Hodgson to think about when selecting his squad.
When considering squad composition in the build up to a major tournament, a team needs consistency, which when the team is playing well helps breed momentum and form. Having a player like Shawcross, who plays week-in, week-out at the highest level, clocking up significantly more playing time than his rivals Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka, and Steven Caulker, should be an attractive asset.
At this point you may be wondering why I bothered to include Steven Caulker in my discussion. Well, because Caulker has been called up to the England squad in recent times, seemingly at the exclusion of Shawcross.
Getting amongst opponents and putting them under pressure is a key role for a successful defender: it forces attackers to make mistakes, rush their passes, and ultimately to lose possession. Although Shawcross has the highest number of ground 50/50’s, Joleon Lescott scores the highest if you consider per minute on the pitch, with the Stoke man in second place. Having said that it is obvious that Shawcross is not scared to challenge physically, even more so than his “competitors”.
Despite having played 500 fewer minutes than Shawcross and more than 100 fewer than Lescott, Phil Jagielka made the most tackles of the four contenders. In terms of tackles per minute, Shawcross was third best behind Lescott, with Jagielka taking the top spot.
Shawcross is well behind his rivals in terms of interceptions made. This highlights one area of his game that does need fine-tuning: positioning. One tendency that he can be guilty of on occasion is being in the wrong position when the ball comes into the box. Clearly, to be the best he will need to work on this side of his game.
In terms of number of occasions on which a defender is dribbled past, it is important to take in to account playing time, as Steven Caulker here scores a deceptively impressive tally. That said, given his greater playing time, Shawcross stands out from the crowd. In a league that possesses some of the finest attacking talent in the world, the ability not to be beaten easily is essential. His tall frame helps with an extended range when forwards attempt to go around him, whilst his long stride length helps him to keep up with the quickest players.
Centre backs in particular are dangerous from set-pieces such as corners and free kicks. Goals from these situations can be a great weapon for any team at any level. Shawcross had the most shots out of the four, which is undeniably down to Stoke’s emphasis on set-pieces. Add to the mix the infamous Rory Delap long throw and you have a match made in heaven for “big lads” like Shawcross. Is this relevant to England? A goal from a set-piece can be priceless, especially at international level. In games where England have limited possession, against the top teams, a “cheap goal” from your centre half from a corner could make a massive difference.
Is Shawcross good enough for England? That was the question posed at the start of this article and after analysing the stats above I’d like to suggest that he is. Shawcross is clearly a commanding physical presence in both boxes and has proved over the last four years in the Premier League that he has what it takes to compete at the very highest level.
However, as I eluded to a little earlier, there is room for improvement. If he can work on his tactical awareness and positioning, there is absolutely no reason why Ryan Shawcross cannot go on to make a significant number of appearances for his country.