By now, some of the features of my analyses are starting to become consistent. As before, I have filtered out any players with fewer than 1000mins playing time in the position of centre back. This means any player with postion ids 5 or 6 (always centre back regardless of whether or not the team plays a back 3,4 or 5). Then I also added players who played position 4 in a defensive 3 or 5. The most notable absence from this list is Nemanja Vidic who only managed 502mins playing time last season.
Next I reviewed strong correlations between wins/draws/losses, goals for and goals conceded against this shortened list of players. I sorted the list by the strongest negative and positive correlations to try to ascertain the key contributing attributes of central defenders to winning games. As ever, several passing fields showed up (all of whom also have strong cross-correlations), so I have been selective in which passing fields I kept and which I removed in order to reduce the bias to teams that either pass much more than average or whose central defenders have more work to do. Any fields that I was able to use a success rate ratio (eg. tackles lost vs tackles won) I did, otherwise I generally used a rate per minute measure.
Much like my previous system for full backs, I split the players into sectors and gave them points (1-6, worst to best) depending on how good they were relative to their peers. Then I added/deducted bonus points. In a similar vein to the full backs analysis, the bonus points cover goals scored, assists, errors leading to goals, penalties conceded and red cards.
Compared to full backs, heading statistics are much more important for centre backs. Headed clearances and aerial duels both had relatively significant correlations to winning games – and not only defensively, but about 2/3 of the goals scored by central defenders (40 out of 62) came from headers. As a result I used both headed clearances and aerial duels in my model, even though they are probably closely correlated. Similarly, ground duels, tackle success and challenges lost may also all be closely linked, but I considered this such an important part of central defender’s role that I included all three – thereby artificially increasing the weighting to those fields.
The final scores are below for all 54 central defenders analysed by this system, with something of a surprise at the top!
Yes, according to my system, Clint Hill was the best centre back last season. Having spent the first part of the season in the Championship (on loan at Nottingham Forest) he came back into favour under Mark Hughes’ reign but still only just played more than 1000mins to qualify for this list (1080mins to be exact). Say what you want about Clint Hill, but he was certainly consistent across most areas, dominating clearances, aerial duels and tackles. Touches per minute and passing success were relative weak points to his game but in a struggling QPR team that is probably not much of a surprise – it seems as though when he did touch the ball, he cleared it! UBT, if you are wondering, stands for ‘unsuccessful ball touch’, another area in which Hill does well.
For those of you doubting my system due to its unconventional winner, the rest of the top 10 (or so) may comfort you, particularly as Kompany and Vermaelen are joint second on 42pts. Kompany didn’t clear the ball anywhere near as frequently as Hill, or indeed most other centre backs, but he excelled in every other area.
By including both clearances and headed clearances I have effectively doubled the contribution of 2 fields which are very closely linked and also related to the team in which the defender plays – this is food for thought if I revisit this rating system in the future, considering that both Kompany and Vermaelen were certainly disadvantaged by this.
For a Newcastle fan, it is sad to see Coloccini sitting rock bottom of the list, particularly as his performances won so much praise in leading Newcastle into 5th place last season. Mike Williamson, his partner for much of the season, was only a few places above in 49th position. Also, England’s centre back pairing at Euro 2012, John Terry and Joleon Lescott (14th and 25th respectively) underperformed several other English defenders – including Rio Ferdinand who was controversially left out of the squad.