Premier League 2011-12: Position Analysis FB

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:

Player Total Pts Team
1 Micah Richards 41 Manchester City
2 Patrice Evra 40 Manchester United
3 Bacary Sagna 39 Arsenal
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
9 José Enrique 35 Liverpool
10 Kieran Gibbs 35 Arsenal
11 Glen Johnson 34 Liverpool
12 Pablo Zabaleta 34 Manchester City
13 Benoit Assou-Ekotto 33 Tottenham Hotspur
14 John O’Shea 33 Sunderland
15 Gaël Clichy 32 Manchester City
16 José Bosingwa 32 Chelsea
17 Stephen Kelly 32 Fulham
18 Tony Hibbert 32 Everton
19 Angel Rangel 31 Swansea City
20 Liam Ridgewell 30 West Bromwich Albion
21 Leighton Baines 29 Everton
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
27 Phillip Bardsley 27 Sunderland
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
35 Ashley Cole 25 Chelsea
36 Kieran Richardson 25 Sunderland
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:


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