Nemanja Matic and Victor Wanyama are two of the most in-form players in the Premier League at this moment in time. To many, whether or not a defensive midfielder is in-form is something quite difficult to see. Neither player will regularly bang the goals in week-in, week-out but both are absolutely vital to their team’s recent success this season. Both of these colossals screen their defences in a way that relieves a lot of the team’s pressure and this defensive solidarity is one of the main reasons explaining why Chelsea and Southampton are the current top two in the Premier League. As it stands, Southampton currently have the best defensive record in the league with just five goals conceded in 11 games played. Chelsea’s defensive record is joint second in the league with fifth placed Swansea City – the importance of these titans is there for all to see. So, what do we need to look at when it comes to comparing defensive midfielders? Well, statistics such as interceptions per 90 (p/90), tackles and duels won percentages can be useful, as well as a player’s, discipline, defensive errors and fouls p/90.
The first thing to notice on this graphic is the fact that Matic has played quite a few more minutes than Wanyama. This can mean two things: first, if Matic’s figures are better or close to Wanyama’s then we can see how consistent a player he is because it’s more difficult to keep performance figures at high levels the longer the time period. Second, at this stage, it probably means that Matic is the better player – although this can be attributed to Matic being 26 and Wanyama being a slightly greener 23, so Matic’s experience is a big factor here.
This season, after 11 matches, Matic has been the more successful when it comes to aerial duels won. The Serbian international has won 48.28% of his headed clashes compared to Wanyama’s weaker 38.71%. Although this isn’t the most important figure in this comparison, the higher the percentage, the better. A more important figure is the total duels won percentage and Wanyama is the man to come out on top here. The Kenyan midfielder has won 56.20% of his total duels this term compared to Matic’s 45.39% which is a good victory for the younger player.
One of the best skills that a defensive midfielder can master is the art of positioning. A player can win as many duels as he can but positioning is easily just as important. When a player excels in the positioning department things such as interceptions and blocks become more successful and it’s possible that Matic has a slightly better understanding of his role than Wanyama at this stage of their careers. As it stands, Matic successfully completes 1.73 interceptions p/90 whilst Wanyama falls just short with 1.30 interceptions, on average. Matic also has Wanyama defeated when it comes to average blocks p/90 with the Serbian averaging 0.18 to Wanyama’s 0.14. Matic clearly knows how and where to position himself in this Chelsea setup but it must also be considered that because Chelsea are slightly more open in terms of allowing opposition teams to attack (more goals conceded) it might be the case that Matic has more work to get through which would artificially boost his figures – just a thought but more on that later on.
Discipline is Key
Alongside positioning and patience, another massive aspect of being a defensive midfielder is the level of discipline required in a tense and heated situation. Defensive midfielders must be calculated and cool to ensure they don’t let the team down by making a wrong decision in what is a crucial part of the pitch.
So far this season, neither of these two stellar names have let their teammates down by getting sent off or by making a glaring mistake although Matic has made one defensive error, as defined by Squawka, compared to Wanyama’s clean slate. The error wasn’t fully punished with the opposition failing to score so we’ll let the Serbian off the hook with that one. However, Wanyama has the beating of Matic again with the Kenyan avoiding the wrath of the referee so far this season. Wanyama has been booked precisely zero times whereas Matic has incurred the anger of the referee on three separate occasions already – Wanyama is a very cool customer.
The next two figures are very interesting but also potentially contradictory to a previous statistic we looked at previously. Earlier, it was mentioned that the average interceptions and blocks figures could be skewed by Matic’s extra workload with Chelsea conceding more goals and being more open than Southampton as a team. However, that theory appears to be wrong when we look at the bottom two figures from the graphic above. Wanyama has won more tackles p/90 on average (4.61 vs 2.64) and also committed more fouls on average p/90 (2.16 vs 1.64). The great difference in average tackles would suggest that Wanyama is taking on the higher workload out of the two players because more tackles won usually means more tackles available – therefore a higher potential workload in each game. This would mean that Matic is perhaps significantly better at positioning himself around the pitch compared to Wanyama because despite having a lower defensive workload he is still averaging more interceptions and blocks p/90. From this, you can probably conclude that Matic is better than Wanyama mentally and positionally whereas Wanyama is at least as good as Matic physically – the thing in Wanyama’s favour is the fact that his career curve is three years behind Matic’s so he has time to gain experience and improve the fine details in his game.
From this comparison, and from the league table this season, I believe it is clear to see that both these players are excellent defensive midfielders. They both excel at slightly different aspects of their trade but both are consistent in the fact that there are no glaring weaknesses in their game. As I previously mentioned, I think Matic is currently a better player than Wanyama because of his mental and positional play being that bit more polished but I do believe that Wanyama will be at least as good as Matic by the time he turns 26 – the age that Matic is currently at. I think a big money move to a Champions League club is imminent for the Kenyan midfielder and most teams in that competition could improve with him in their side. One possible destination, would you ever have guessed, is Liverpool. Wanyama is exactly the kind of player that Liverpool are crying out for and the excuse that Brendan Rodgers plays attacking football is nonsense because Wanyama has scored three goals already this season (Matic has one, league only). Replacing Steven Gerrard with Wanyama is one of the things that would wholly improve this poor Merseyside defensive unit – but I suspect that a better placed side will snatch him first, and to be fair, Southampton look good for finishing above the Reds anyway so would he even want to leave the south coast for the northwest?