In a series for OptaPro, TruMedia Networks’ Paul Carr uses ProVision to analyse stand-out players and teams from leagues and competitions across the globe. In this second article, Paul explores the French Ligue 2 in further detail.
Different systems ask different central defenders to do different things. That’s not breaking news.
One central defender may be expected to start attacks from the back. Another may simply be asked to put out fires by prioritising clearing the ball out of danger.
For these reasons and many others, statistically scouting centre backs can be difficult. That won’t stop us from trying, this time using France’s Ligue 2 as a testing ground.
Diving into ProVision, we can quickly filter down this season’s Ligue 2 central defenders who are currently under age 25.
First, the counting stats. Le Havre’s Denys Bain jumps out initially, ranking first in both clearances and interceptions, and third in recoveries. Viewing his ranks shows that he’s in the top eight in every prominent counting category.
Counting statistics can of course be misleading. For one thing, Bain has played nearly 200 more minutes than any other player in this pool. On a per-90-minute basis among those with at least 900 minutes, Bain ranks well but is not as impressive, dropping a few spots in clearances and interceptions, while ranking in the bottom half when it comes to tackles and aerial duels won.
For a simpler visual, here are Bain’s comparison charts, where the difference in his raw numbers and per-90 stats is stark:
Per 90 Minutes
The biggest beneficiary from the per-90 ranks is Clermont’s Julien Laporte, who ranks in the top five in most counting stats and no lower than 12th in any of them.
You might wonder if the rankings for any defender are team-dependent. And the answer is that they certainly are. Intuitively, defenders from top teams rarely rank highly in counting or per-90 numbers, because their teams tend to dominate the ball. Teams that are regularly parking the bus will produce defenders with ‘better’ numbers.
Another sensible approach to scouting defenders (and this isn’t limited to statistical scouting) is to look for what your team needs.
More and more in the modern game, teams look for centre backs who are comfortable with the ball at their feet and can initiate a team’s attack. So let’s switch to ProVision’s passing tab, sticking with central defenders under age 25 who have played 900 minutes in Ligue 2 this season.
Exploring pass completion percentage, Bain again leads the way at 89.6%. However, when sorting by the percentage of passes that were played forward, Bain is dead last among the 23 qualifiers, with 27.3% of his passes going forward.
In lieu of trying to eyeball which player has the best combination of accuracy and forward passing, scatter charts allow for an easy comparison of any two statistics. Doing this visualises and highlights Bain’s extremes, and it also showcases Laporte as perhaps the best combo in this scenario.
Laporte has now jumped out from the numbers twice, so let’s examine his passing in greater detail. He’s not just nudging the ball to a midfielder to carry up the pitch, he’s getting the ball into the attack effectively. Per 90 minutes, Laporte averages 6.6 passes into the attacking third this season, third-most out of these 23 defenders.
Getting more granular, Laporte has also completed the most passes from the defensive third to the attacking half, both on a total (56) and per-90 (2.2) basis this season. He’s also completing those passes at a higher rate (59%) than any of the others, as his passing map shows (green = successful).
Combine all that information with a map of his touches over the past five games…
…and you have a strong picture of a defender who stays back, does the requisite dirty defensive work, but also seems to contribute well in the early stages of attack.
The 24-year-old Frenchman, who is not directly related to Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte, has been with Clermont’s first team since 2015, and he appears to have little transfer buzz. Then again, that’s not surprising, since few Ligue 2 defenders sell for more than £3M. However, Julien Laporte’s output from this season hints that he might be worth exploring for a club seeking a solid all-around centre back.
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