For Paul Lambert, it was a tough first season at the helm of Aston Villa. Villa were nearly relegated and only picked up 41 points last season. A major contribution to the poor season may have been the lack of stability at the back. Villa had the third worst defensive record in the league, conceding 69 goals – the worst among teams that stayed up. They started the season with four at the back then switched to three at the back, then reverted to their original formation. Villa were leaking goals all season and were only able to keep four clean sheets, including a stretch where they conceded 15 goals in three games.
Because Villa are building a team, it is necessary for them to have a strong spine, and a big part of that spine is the center back pairing. The team have three center backs who made 25+ Premier League appearances for them, those being Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark, and Ron Vlaar. But what exactly is their best center back pairing? This will be a big question for them to figure out in the upcoming season.
50-50 duels and being dribbled past
Baker attempted the most ground 50-50 duels with 106 and won the most, with Vlaar coming in second and Clark coming in last. Vlaar, though, won a very impressive 79% of his ground duels while Baker won 63% and Clark won 51%. In the air, Baker again attempted the most duels and won them most often. When it came to percentage won, they were all very close with Vlaar at 63%, Baker at 62%, and Clark at 61%. In terms of being dribbled past, Vlaar was the best and was only dribbled past four times while Clark and Baker were both dribbled past a lot more. It happened to Baker nine times and Clark 11 times.
Tackling, interceptions, and errors
Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark were very close when it came to tackling percentage, and left Nathan Baker well behind them. Vlaar had a tackling rate of 70.91% and Clark 68.42%, while Baker had only 59.5%. Baker also struggled in last man tackles, not making a single one all year, while Clark made two and Vlaar made four. Vlaar had the most interceptions, with 83, Clark coming in a close second, with 82, and Baker came in last with 71. In defensive errors, Vlaar had the least with two, Clark had four and Baker, again struggling in this section, had 5.
Passing and possession
In the modern game, defenders need to be able to pass the ball and need to have some ball skills. Baker made the least passes and he completed the lowest percentage of them at 78%. Vlaar slightly edged out Clark in passing percentage with an 82% completion percentage as opposed to Clark’s 81%. Clark lost possession of the ball the most and Baker lost it the least, but the minutes per possession loss were nearly identical with Vlaar and Clark both losing it every eight minutes and Baker losing it every seven minutes. There were no major differences in these categories but Vlaar was slightly better than the other two.
Villa looked dangerous at times last year and they have kept the young core of the team together, tying Christian Benteke down with a new contract, and could be a dangerous team next year. If they are to be dangerous though, they will need to have a strong spine and stats showed that Vlaar was clearly their best center but their second best center back was much less clear. Baker did well in the 50-50 duels but was not great when it came to tackling, interceptions and defensive errors while Clark hovered in the middle in the majority of the categories. At this point, I would give it to Clark, because he has the tiebreaker of being more experienced not only in the Premier League but also on the international level. It is very close, however, and really could go either way. For Villa to be a threat next year, they will have to be strong at the back and will need to find the best center back pairing. Changes could obviously happen where someone has a massive performance drop off or maybe their new signing, Jores Okore, will step in and play well. Villa do, however, currently have three decent center backs and we hope they’ll form the strong defense every team needs.