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What is Liverpool’s best defensive duo? | Stats comparison

The current season is full of mixed feelings for Liverpool fans. The Reds play wonderful football and destroy their opponents one week and a few days later suffer a horrible defeat in a match they should have won. There are some positives as Brendan Rodger’s team scores much more goals than Kenny’ team last year and Luis Suarez seems to be contending for player of the year award whilst Steven Gerrard has regained the form that made him renowned as one of the very best midfielders in the world.

On the other hand, Liverpool has some serious defensive problems that make them concede way too many goals. It obviously raised the questions about who should start in the centre of defence. Liverpool have six central defenders at the moment, but only four of them are in contention for the two central slots as André Wisdom and Martin Kelly are forced to play as full-backs due to the lack of options in that area.

Liverpool defenders

It makes Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher and Sebastian Coates the only ones, who could play a central role in Liverpool’s defence. With Agger and Skrtel seeing much more football than Coates and Carra, this comparison is based on percentages and minutes per error/loss of possession etc ratios.

Error Comparison

The Reds have some major problems with their defending and seem to be really error-prone, as they have conceded 10 goals from 23 shots faced after their own mistakes (those numbers are very similar to the Arsenal team, who are known from some sloppy defending). Pepe Reina and Joe Allen are the most guilty here, as the first one committed the highest number of mistakes, that led to goal (4), and the second one’s complacency allowed his opponents with the highest number of shooting opportunities (5).

If you look at the central defenders, Martin Skrtel is by far the most error-prone of them, as 3 of his mistakes led to shot and 2 ended up with opposite team scoring a goal. Every 629,3 minutes Liverpool faces a shot that is a result of Martin’s mistake, and every 944 minutes Slovak’s complacency costs them a goal. Actually Sebastian Coates doesn’t look too good when it comes to error making either. The Uruguayan defender made just one mistake that led to shot, but he needed only 139 minutes to do that, which leaves him with the worst minutes per error led to shot ratio (Editor’s Note: a little unfair as he has only played 139 minutes!).

Jamie Carragher seems to be the most consistent of all the compared players. The Anfield legend hasn’t committed even single mistake in 542 minutes he spent on the pitch. Though Daniel Agger made one error that led to shot, I believe he’s like Jamie here as he’s played much more football than the rest of compared players, which means his minutes per error led to shot ratio is at 2200.

However what these stats don’t show is that Agger has been at fault for goals off of set-plays or any that are marking related. He has anticipated what the opponent is going to do and he’s allowed free runs at him for goals. Unfortunately these are not counted as mistakes by Opta but we’ll ask and see if this can be done in the future.

Tackles, Ground and Aerial Duels

When it comes to tackling and aerial ability, Martin Skrtel seems to be the best one of compared players. He has won the ball with 84% of his tackles, and beaten the opposition player in 70% of his aerial duels. Jamie Carragher is just behind him in terms of tackles with 78% of his challenges ending up with the Legend winning the ball, he’s the weakest one at aerial duels though. He wins just 31% of his aerial duels, which means the difference between him and Skrtel is 39%. Still, Carra has never really been the most dominant in the air, being rock-solid on the ground instead. Daniel Agger is the worst at tackling of the four defenders, as only 57% of the tackles he attempts are successful. He is the best at ground duels though with 67% won of this kind of challenge and the second best at aerial duels. Still, he’s some way behind Skrtel in terms of aerial ability, as the difference between them is 11%. It’s also worth a notice that the difference between second ground duelist in Carra and third in Martin is just 1 %, so they’re pretty even here. Sebastian Coates stats are really worrying though. He’s by far the weakest one when it comes to ground duels, and only the third one in terms of tackling and aerial duels. His poor aerial record is the most surprising stat here, as you’d expect the player who’s almost 2 meters tall to be really dominant in the air.

Possession and Interceptions

Sebastian Coates is again the weakest one when it comes to losing possession. The Uruguayan loses the ball every 9,3 minutes, which is much worse than the best Jamie Carragher’s 13,55 and Martin Skrtel’s 11,2 minutes. Daniel Agger is just above Coates with the ball being lost by him every 9,8 minutes, so it looks like he’s almost as vulnerable on the ball as Sebastian. Analysing the Danish defender’s style of play explains it though, as Agger is a typical ball-playing defender. He loves to get forward with the ball, producing some advantage in the middle of the park, but also putting himself under higher pressure and risk of losing possession. Daniel is also the one with the highest number of interceptions, when you take into consideration time spent on the pitch though, Martin Skrtel comes first here as he intercepts the ball every 52,5 minutes compared to Agger’s 55. Third placed Coates makes interception every 69,5 minutes, and the worst Carragher needs 135,5 minutes to win the ball this way.


Ability to pass the ball accurately is now a real asset for a Liverpool player, that’s why I look at the passing stats in every piece I do on Brendan Rodger’s team. Jamie Carragher surprisingly seems to be the winner here. Throughout his great career Carra built up a reputation that accused him of always “hoofing” the ball away every time he got it. It was his trademark, just like the brave last-ditch tackles and never-say-die mentality.  Now, as his footballing days are drawing near the end, he’s changed his habits a bit and become the tiki-taka master. He has the highest passing accuracy of all the compared defenders, though both Skrtel and Agger are really close to him.

Only Sebastian Coates looks really pale here, with passing accuracy of 81%. Every one of those four players has good own half pass accuracy, as the difference between the best in Skrtel and the worst in Coates and Agger is just 2%. The difference is the attacking half pass accuracy. That’s where Sebastian falls off thanks to the miserable 65% of his passes finding the teammate. Daniel Agger is the best attacking passer with 81% pass completion, and Carragher-Skrtel duo, who are second and third are really close to each other as the difference between them is just 2%.

Conclusion – who should start in centre of Liverpool’s defence?

With Sebastian Coates being far from good enough to become the Reds regular starter, only Carragher, Agger and Skrtel are real options for Brendan Rodgers. Daniel Agger seems to be the best Liverpool defender (despite his recent lapses in concentration) and I’d play him as much as possible. He’s great on the ground and quite solid in the air and passes the ball well. The only problem seems to be his tackling, but both Carragher and Skrtel can compensate for that. As for the second starting place then, it’s hard to give a verdict here.

The stats show that both Jamie and Martin are playing at the similar level, Skrtel is somewhat error-prone this term, and Carra finds it difficult when it comes to the aerial battle. That’s why I’d play Carragher and switch him with the Slovak defender every time I’d have to deal with the team that prefers to play long balls to some big, strong target-man.

I'm a law student, Liverpool supporter and English football worshiper, who likes to analyse his beloved sport. You can follow me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/PawelWolecki
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