Monthly Archives: August 2015

Central defensive profiles: an update

This is very much a quick, Twitter-esque type update to the previous piece on central defensive profiles ( Basically, the idea is that defenders are easier to compare if you take into account their personal styles. This is true of forwards and midfielders too, but we tend to watch them more when they’re on the ball and so naturally pick up on the ways they play more easily.

So, here are a few examples of the ‘new’ CB profiles:

Defensive Profile Test Team stuff added Continue reading


Central defensive profiles

Prompted a bit by Sébastien Chapuis (@SeBlueLion / @SeBlueLion_EN on Twitter), I have started to look at creating some kind of profile for central defenders. Séb’s argument (I say it’s his argument, as I don’t totally agree with it) is that you need to sort CBs by their types/team tactics before you start to compare them because systems can be so different. In the same way that you wouldn’t play try and use Javier Hernandez and Andy Carroll as like-for-like replacements for each other, the same is true for defenders.

The quick notes that I jotted down had:

  • high/low defensive line
  • stopper/sweeper
  • ball-player or play-builder/not

If there are any other traits/types of central defender that you think could/should be included, please let me know. Obviously, a player will have elements of several of these eg a sweeper in a high line defense who isn’t a play-building passer.

I started to look at the stats that I had available for the 2014/15 Premier League season, as these are the centre-backs I know best and so I’m more able to know whether the stats/conclusions to be drawn from them seem ‘right’. I started with the stopper/sweeper aspect, as it seemed like it would be the easiest with what I already had available, which is mainly individually defensive minded.

I figured that a sweeper is most likely to have more ball recoveries (although there are issues with this stat in its current form, as it also includes some defensive actions already counted in, say, the tackles stat, and it also requires the team to complete two passes to count as a recovery, possibly helping individuals on better teams). I got the percentage of a player’s (dominance adjusted) tackles attempts and interceptions out of their tackle attempts, interceptions, and ball recoveries. I then multiplied this by the combined number of tackle attempts and interceptions. This, I think, has twin pincers of ‘doing more’ and composition of what they’re doing, if that makes sense.

I then, as another quick thing to look at, got the percentage of tackle attempts vs interceptions a CB made, so you can have (very simply) proactive and tackler/proactive and intercepter/not proactive and tackler/not proactive and intercepter. These are examples of early prototype ‘results’ (the style ‘inspired’ (nicked) from Dustin Ward (@SaturdayOnCouch)). Interception-focussed is minus and red, tackle-focussed is positive and blue, the + or – is from 0.5, so 52% of Phil Jones’ tackle attempts/interceptions are interceptions. “Proactive’ no” is the sweeper/stopper criteria, with a higher number indicating a more proactive approach (a stopper, probably), and a lower number a less proactive approach (a sweeper, probably).

Defensive Profile TestA drawback of these is that they only show what the players did that season, not what they *could* do. For example, Lovren could have the potential to be an interception-minded player who keeps back and restrains himself from being very proactive, but we can’t tell that from this.

What we can see is that Phil Jones is fairly even in how he chooses to defend, but is very proactive in doing so, while John Terry is reasonably tackle-orientated and, for whatever reason, isn’t as proactive. Mertesacker looks similarly sweeper-ish, but is more interception-orientated.

I also put together some players with kind of similar profiles.

Defensive Profile Test Like PlayersThe names and presentation can be improved but you see the idea. I need to look at these across leagues too. If you’ve got any thoughts, ideas about what other aspects could be included in CB profiles, or how to go about doing ones already mentioned feel free to comment below or get me on Twitter @ETNAR_uk

Does Dejan deserve his rep?

In his first season at Liverpool, in fact in his first few games, Dejan Lovren developed a bit of a reputation and seemed quickly written off as not a Liverpool-worthy centre-back. With it looking increasingly likely that he will be partnering Skrtel in Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice CB pairing, this reputation has reared its head. Lovren wasn’t helped by the fact that he was injured as the team removed Steven Gerrard from a defensive midfield role and switched to a 3-4-3 last year, tightening their defence, adding more circumstantial weight to the belief that he wasn’t good enough. This reputation, though, is slightly unfair.

At the start of the season, it’s certainly true that Lovren wasn’t great. He had positional problems – not that he was all over the place, but there were just too many moments when he was slightly out of place. He also had a tendency to get too tight to opposition forwards, either getting turned easily or leaving space behind him. Despite some lax spots again (but then all defenders have these), his awareness of what was around him was usually good. A tendency for a nervous, sliced clearance, or a poor pass didn’t help the public’s perception of him, or his nerves.

There were times when Mignolet or Rodgers would give him a ‘calm down’ gesture, not because he was charging around all fired up in a Rooney or Barton mould, but because he looked on edge. He was noticeably calmer at some times than others, generally towards the end of the season, and games in which he would visibly settle down after 10-20 minutes. He also seemed calmer beside Sakho or Can in a partnership than he did beside Martin Skrtel for much of the season, which is curious.

Confidence has also been highlighted as an issue at his previous clubs, Lyon and Southampton. His Lyon experience could be said to have similarities to his Liverpool life, making high profile costly mistakes that got the fans on his back, struggling to break out of a run of poor form. At Southampton he settled in quickly and endeared himself to supportive fans, which reads like a stark opposite to his first season on Merseyside.

His particular type of nervousness may be more of a problem for a defender in a team like Liverpool, with their lofty ambitions, media scrutiny, and particularly vocal fans, than it was at Southampton. Hopefully, for everyone involved, the time he’s spent at Anfield so far will mean he is calmer this coming season. His recent statement in which he said that it was the team, and not just him, defending badly adds to the sense of a nervous player, painfully aware of the scrutiny placed on him. Many of his worst clearances, and aspects of his poor passing and decision making can be put down to this, and many of these did leave him eventually as the season went on.

Looking at games from the end of last season, and some pre-season friendlies, his positioning is more consistent, and his awareness remained good and even improved slightly. There was one particular moment in the game against Chelsea in May when Mourinho’s men were counter-attacking which captures what Liverpool’s scouts probably saw in him. Loic Remy was pulling in all directions just behind Lovren, like a good striker should, but Lovren knew where he was the entire time. It’s that kind of spatial awareness, and subtle positioning changes to match it, that marks a good central defender, even underneath all of the nerves.

It should also be remembered that Skrtel and Sakho also have their flaws, and it isn’t helpful in evaluating (or supporting) Lovren to gloss over their mistakes while highlighting his. With Liverpool as a club where they are at the moment, Lovren is of a good enough standard to play for them. There is an occasional laxness in his game that will prevent him from moving much further up the career ladder, but the same is true of Skrtel and, to a lesser extent, Sakho. The worry is that as the 2015/16 season gets underway, the pressurised scrutiny will return and bring the nerves with it.