This Premier League has been the year of the full-back, with many managers using full-backs to create width on the pitch, namely Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, Kyle Walker, Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta.
In this article I will look at a permanent fixture in Swansea City’s defence so far this season and while it hasn’t been a totally successful campaign for them in the Premier League this season, one defender, Ben Davies, has looked impressive. I will examine Ben Davies’ performances this season, while comparing him to other young left-backs in the Premier League such as Luke Shaw, Danny Rose and Kieran Gibbs.
*Note: Games played – Danny Rose, 13. Kieran Gibbs, 19. Ben Davies, 24. Luke Shaw, 25.
The modern full-back is encouraged to attack, but it is pivotal that they can actually offer something in the defensive department, a rarity in the game nowadays, especially in the Premier League.
To begin, we’ll start with the two left-backs who have played the most games out of the four in total. Luke Shaw, in terms of these stats, looks more difficult to beat in one on one battles, with the 18-year old winning 55% of his ground duels, 55% of his aerial duels, and has been dribbled past just 15 times in 25 appearances for the Saints.
In comparison, Ben Davies has won 49% of his ground duels, 43% of his aerial duels and has been dribbled past a total of 44 times in his 24 games.
Despite the stats stacking heavily in Shaw’s favour, Davies has a superior tackle success rate compared to his English opponent, winning nearly 84% of his 56 tackles, compared to Shaw’s 82.6% success rate over 46 tackles.
In terms of minutes per duel and tackle, Davies edges out Shaw, with Davies averaging 38 mins per tackle (Shaw 46 mpt), 20.2 mins per aerial duel (Shaw 25 mpt), although Shaw comes out on top in regard to minutes per ground duel; Shaw averages 10.78 mins per ground duel (Davies 12.63 pgd)
While Rose and Gibbs have endured injuries throughout this season, especially the former, they have relatively impressive defensive statistics.
The North London players are close in terms of total ground duels, with Kieran Gibbs edging out his rival, winning 58% of his ground duels, compared to Rose’s 55%. In terms of aerial duels, Gibbs has competed for more aerial duels (75) to Rose (29), but with Gibbs winning just 49% of his aerial duels compared to Rose’s 59% it may be an unfair comparison.
Like Davies, Gibbs has an impressive interceptions rate, with 44 interceptions. Rose in just 13 games has made 25 interceptions, an impressive tally, considering Luke Shaw has made just 23 in 25 appearances.
Gibbs is averaging 31 mins per tackle, compared to Rose’s 39 mins; with Rose winning 79% of his tackles, compared to Gibbs’ 63%.
Creativity and Possession
Bombing down the wing is an aspect of the game that is expected of the modern day full-back, but keeping possession and creating chances for your team-mates is also fundamental if a full-back is to affect the game.
So far this season, despite Davies regularly bombing down the left wing without possession, the Welsh full-back has completed just 24 dribbles, of which 13 have been successful. To show what a poor attempt this is from the 20-year old, Southampton’s Luke Shaw looks far more comfortable on the ball, attempting 60 dribbles, successfully completing 32. Whether this is a tactic from Mauricio Pochettino and the Argentinian is encouraging Shaw to get on the ball as often as possible, and whether Michael Laudrup, before his departure, didn’t emphasise Davies command the ball, or whether this is just part of the two young full-backs’ game.
One aspect of these two left-backs of which they are not afraid to do, is to plant crosses in the box for their team-mates (although with a poor accuracy).
Shaw has attempted a total of 98 crosses, of which only 19% have been accurate – similar to Shaw, Davies has found only his target 19% of the time from his crosses, although with a slightly smaller total of 78 crosses.
In terms of chances created, Davies tops the category, creating a total of 27 chances for his side, while Shaw has created 22, with Shaw adding an assist.
Looking at the North London left-backs, Gibbs and Rose have identical stats in terms of successful and total dribbles, with Rose just edging out Gibbs in terms of crossing accuracy. Spurs’ left-back has accumulated a 17% crossing accuracy from 63 crosses, compared to Gibbs’ 16% crossing accuracy from 61 crosses.
In 13 games, Rose has created 12 chances, compared to Gibbs’ 9. This shows how much Spurs rely on their full-backs for creativity, with Kyle Walker the most creative right-back in the league; whereas Arsenal have a host of options to create goals.
Looking at the quartet in terms of possession, it’s a close contest.
In terms of games played, Davies has the best rate of loss of possession, losing possession 311 times in 24 games, compared to Shaw’s 446 in 25 games, Gibbs’ 299 in 19 games and Rose’s 250 in just 13 games, an awful statistic for the young English left-back.
Davies seems more comfortable on the ball than his three competitors, with Davies dispossessed just 15 times in 24 games, compared to Rose’s 16 in 13 games.
Out of the four left-backs analysed, Ben Davies is the only player to have added goals to his team’s cause with two goals.
Interest in the summer may be high for the Southampton and Swansea City players, with Luke Shaw on Chelsea and Manchester United’s radar, and Spurs and Liverpool could look to add competition for their left-back slot with the ever encouraging performances from Swansea City and Wales international Ben Davies.