Full backs. This position is played by Opta’s classified position ids 2 & 3 in any formation which has a back four or five.
In much the same way as my goalkeeper analysis I began by looking at the fields with the strongest positive or negative correlations to wins (where a draw counts as half of a win), goals for and goals conceded. Passing success and number of touches on the ball play a large role here, which is unsurprising really as the best teams are generally better at keeping the ball – so a lot of the time full backs in strong teams will have more time on the ball to pick a pass, and will spend more time attacking in the opponent’s half. Some of the more significant correlations are listed below:
In order to reduce the bias to the best teams, I removed some of the passing statistics that might artificially add to a defender’s score, eg. successful passes, of which there are many categories, all correlated with team wins but I chose to include ‘all successful passes’ and ‘successful passes middle third’. For these categories I incorporated the ratio of successful passes to unsuccessful passes to further try and remove ‘big club bias’.
I also filtered out any players who played fewer than 1000mins in the full back position. As a result some notable names are missing from my FB analysis including Boyata, Ivanovic, Santos, Smalling and Kolarov. I was left with 50 players to try and determine the best full backs (or at least most consistent) in the league last season.
I am experimenting with a few different techniques as I analyse the different positions. This time I used the following fields, and I split the players into 5 groups of 10. The best group received 5pts, and the worst performing group 1pt.
- Touches opposition box per min
- Ratio successful passes to unsuccessful passes all
- Ratio successful passes to unsuccessful passes middle third
- Headed clearances per min
- Ratio duels won/lost
- Ratio tackles won/lost
- Yellow cards per min
- Challenge lost per min
- Touches per min
To explain some of the stranger measures in my analysis, I have included yellow cards with an equal weight to everything else, not only because of its correlation to goals conceded but it also makes a certain amount of sense. Although in some instances I would agree that a yellow card is preferable to allowing an opposing attacker past in a potentially threatening situation, in general I would assume that frequent yellow cards show those defenders who are caught out more easily, and perhaps not able to adapt quickly in difficult situations.
Readers with a keen eye will have spotted the odd correlations between aerial duels lost in the above table, and no mention of it in my key factors. I hypothesize that this aerial duels lost gives a ‘false’ correlation. A defender that loses more aerial duels is probably not a favourable quality! Perhaps the correlation arises from losing opposition team’s propensity to play the long ball in desperation, which puts full backs under aerial threat. Either way I have taken the analyst’s prerogative here and chosen to focus on the wider ‘duels’ stat instead.
Then we have 4 further fields: goals, assists, errors leading to goals and red cards. None of these fields occur particularly often for any full back, so I gave any player with a goal or assist an extra point, and deducted points for errors leading to goals and red cards.
The final list, in order of rank, is shown below:
|1||Micah Richards||41||Manchester City|
|2||Patrice Evra||40||Manchester United|
|4||Kyle Walker||36||Tottenham Hotspur|
|5||Stephen Ward||36||Wolverhampton Wanderers|
|6||Russell Martin||36||Norwich City|
|7||John Arne Riise||36||Fulham|
|8||Phil Jones||35||Manchester United|
|12||Pablo Zabaleta||34||Manchester City|
|13||Benoit Assou-Ekotto||33||Tottenham Hotspur|
|15||Gaël Clichy||32||Manchester City|
|19||Angel Rangel||31||Swansea City|
|20||Liam Ridgewell||30||West Bromwich Albion|
|22||Martin Olsson||29||Blackburn Rovers|
|23||Nicky Shorey||28||West Bromwich Albion|
|24||Davide Santon||28||Newcastle United|
|25||Nedum Onuoha||28||Queens Park Rangers|
|26||Neil Taylor||27||Swansea City|
|28||Kyle Naughton||27||Norwich City|
|29||Paul Robinson||27||Bolton Wanderers|
|30||Emmerson Boyce||27||Wigan Athletic|
|31||Maynor Figueroa||26||Wigan Athletic|
|32||Steven Reid||26||West Bromwich Albion|
|33||Stephen Warnock||26||Aston Villa|
|34||Armand Traore||26||Queens Park Rangers|
|37||Marc Tierney||24||Norwich City|
|38||Luke Young||24||Queens Park Rangers|
|39||Ronald Zubar||23||Wolverhampton Wanderers|
|40||Ryan Taylor||22||Newcastle United|
|41||Alan Hutton||22||Aston Villa|
|42||Grétar Steinsson||22||Bolton Wanderers|
|43||Taye Taiwo||22||Queens Park Rangers|
|44||Sam Ricketts||20||Bolton Wanderers|
|45||Danny Simpson||20||Newcastle United|
|46||Billy Jones||20||West Bromwich Albion|
|47||Richard Stearman||18||Wolverhampton Wanderers|
|48||Jason Lowe||18||Blackburn Rovers|
|49||Marc Wilson||16||Stoke City|
|50||Andy Wilkinson||12||Stoke City|
So Micah Richards and Patrice Evra are my top full backs from last season. Micah Richards’ relative weaknesses in duels won and touches per min were well compensated by a high level of consistency elsewhere and a contribution of 6 bonus pts for a goal and 5 assists. This attacking threat bonus was only matched by Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Interestingly, Wolves’ Stephen Ward and Norwich City’s Russell Martin make 5th and 6th place respectively. Ward was consistent in all categories, only falling into the bottom 40% for tackles won/lost. Martin made the top 20% for duels, challenges and yellow cards.
At the bottom of the pile sit 2 Stoke City players, which perhaps suggests a bias in my model which does not reward the tactics Stoke play to. Both players made the top group for headed clearances, but scored poorly in pretty much every other category.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Ashley Cole’s rank of 35th. Arguably one of the best left-backs in the world, he scored poorly in headed clearances, duels, tackles won/lost, yellow cards and challenges lost.
**UPDATED: Full player table now below for those interested: