In Part 1, we looked at the top defences in the Premier League. We saw that Squawka rates Arsenal as the best currently, followed by Chelsea, Burnley, Manchester United and Spurs. All these teams excel in different areas of defence. Some play high and press well, some intercept well, others block and clear well. But defences are made up of individuals. So, in this post, we will look at the top defenders in the league as of now.
Source: Squawka, WhoScored
Top five defenders with the highest Squawka defence scores and having played in more than 4 games are mentioned above. There is no player who excels in everything that a defender needs to do, but all of them are best in at least one aspect and also quite good in on or two other aspects. The net effect is that they have the most influence on the proceedings on the pitch among all defenders. Let us look at them one by one.
As per Squawka, Michael Keane is fifth-best in the league in terms of defensive influence. But in terms of pure defensive stats, he is better than or similar to his peers in quite a few aspects. He puts in almost 10 clearances per 90 minutes, while ensuring great discipline – 0.4 fouls per game and one yellow in 11 games. But he is not that great in either tackles (0.6 per 90, with only 60% success rate) or interceptions (2.4 per 90). Neither his passing accuracy is too good, nor his aerial duel success. He seems to be a typical English defender, focused on clearing the ball and hoofing it as far as possible but who can be vulnerable against quick-footed as well as tall forwards.
Arsenal’s new purchase in defence is great at putting in tackles at a fairly high success rate and in passing out from the back, but not as great in many other aspects. He gets dribbled past the most (0.5 per 90), does not block as many shots, is error-prone and most ill-disciplined (1.1 fouls per 90) among the top five. But he has got excellent cover in the form of Laurent Koscielny. So Mustafi’s role seems to be of a ball-winning and passing defender. Sort of a CD – Stopper kind of a role in Football Manager.
Davies seems like a surprise entry in the table of top five defenders given Hull City’s woes this season. But Davies excels at interceptions (4.5 per 90, 1.1 more than the next best), has not committed any errors and is quite disciplined (0.09 yellow cards per 90, 0.5 fouls per 90), while his pass success percentage is better than Mustafi and Keane. As would be expected from a Hull defender, his clearances are also high (7.4 per 90), while his tackle success rate is second best in the top five as well. In fact, Davies is not the worst in top five for any stat. High interceptions and clearances indicate a deep position, with a well-drilled approach to the game. In some other team, with these kind of stats, Davies would definitely shine brighter.
The United left-back has played many games in the centre this season and has been really good in many aspects. He is rarely dribbled past by opponents (0.2 per 90) and his tackles are quite successful (2.1 per 90 at 91% accuracy). He wins three fourths of his aerial challenges, while passing the ball at a very high success rate. He commits the joint-lowest number of fouls (0.4 per 90), but does not commit errors (none so far), or get carded. A couple of aspects he is not that great in – interceptions (2.6 per 90, second-fewest in top five) and rarely blocks shots. Lowest number of clearances might be due to a predisposition to passing. His stats suggest a role similar to Mustafi’s but with an added aerial dimension.
The Best – Laurent Koscielny
The Arsenal defender is the best in only one aspect – 71.4% of his blocks are against shots. He is second-best in interceptions with Blind but in most others he is in the top three. Fairly high tackle success (87.5%) indicates that although he does not tackle much, when he does he is very likely to be successful. He is joint-worst on aerials and second-worst on clearances. He is also just behind his partner Mustafi in committing fouls, while as expected from an Arsenal player, his passing accuracy is quite high. He seems to be fulfilling a sort of cover role in Arsenal’s defence, ensuring that anything that gets past Mustafi is taken care of, either by blocking or by not allowing the opponents to dribble past.
Notable absentees in the individuals’ list include Chelsea and Manchester City defenders – David Luiz and Otamendi. But Squawka does not rate their defensive influence to be as high as of these five players. It is clear from this analysis that defensive influence is subjective to team’s playing style, the role a player is required to fulfil and how well the player does that. In isolation, Koscielny does not look like the best defender in the league but in terms of the expectations that Wenger seems to have from him, he is excellent. However, Mustafi and Koscielny’s stats on aerials and clearances suggest that Arsenal could be threatened by tall strikers, as well as second balls. Something that United would have loved had Zlatan been available next weekend.