Analyzing the best defenders at playing out from the back

Statistical analysis of Premier League defenders who are best at playing out from the back by utilizing K-Means clustering analysis on possession and passing statistics. Furthermore, computing scores by creating a ranking-based scoring metric for passing and possession play. Football is constantly going through a transformation in tactical approaches and ever since the arrival of Pep Guardiola the culture of attacking football has transitioned to tiki-taka, rondo, and attractive approach of possession play. The major drivers in this new era are passing from advanced areas or progressing the ball into wider areas in the pitch. The most important part of this possession play aka playing out from the back is the involvement of defenders in the attacking plays. The center backs and goalkeepers are now considered the first attackers of the ball and playmakers at the same time. The figure provided by Opta sports portrays a clear picture of the passing domination of the big-6 compared to the EPL average. In 2012/13 the average number of passes attempted by center backs was 30 per 90 minutes. Fast forward to 2018/19 where average passes per 90 minutes have increased 50% to 60 passes per 90 minutes. The trend not only applies to the big-6 but the rest of the EPL has also followed the Guardiola philosophy of "Possession is the best form of defense". Dashboard The given dashboard is a scouting tool that compared defenders from the premier league based on 6 statistics. Live Passes (live ball touches), total touches, 1/3 possession (carries that enter the final third of the pitch), progressive distance, and the possession score. Possession score is calculated by: possession Score = live touches + successful dribbles + carries+ 1/3 possession + carries into the 18 yard box - no. of dispossessed - Mis (failed to control the ball) + number of targetted passes. Click here to interact with the dashboard on full screen. Key Takeaways: As predicted Man City defenders are leading in all given statistics, the likes of Kyle Walker, Jaoa Cancelo, and John Stones are leading in total touches, progressive passes, and possession score. Ruben Dias (509.7), John Stones (506), and Thiago Silva ( 493) are the top 3 leaders in the possession scores. Consistent with my assumptions that Man City defenders are a class apart in terms of possession. Surprisingly John Stones leads the league in Progressive distance, beating every fullback and his Man City colleagues. Cluster Analysis While the dashboard is a greater tool for comparing stats, we will dig further to understand the skills needed to excel at playing out at the back. Therefore, to account for the best passers of the ball, I use a scoring model based on 8 variables to rank defenders. The ranks are based on the given model: Passing scores: Passes completed (Long, medium, and short) + total distance of the passes + progressive distance of the passes + KP (passes that directly lead to a goal + 1/3 (passes that enter the final third). The interactive figure below illustrates three different clusters based on the passing scores on the y axis and possession scores on the x-axis. The following analysis uses a machine learning model known as K-Means clustering to group similar players together based on their respective scores. The three clusters are ranked from red being the best, blue, and yellow being the mid-tier, and lower tier of the clusters respectively. Click here to view the chart in full screen. Key Takeaways: The surprise Inclusion of Luke Ayling at the top of the red cluster points to his work rate to excel in Marco Beisla's impressive Leeds team. Making 34 appearances this season covering an average of 18 yards per game. As expected the yellow cluster consists of mostly mid-table and lower position teams, as these teams are more focused on long balls rather than possession play, eg: New Castle, Burnley, and Crystal Palace. Three Arsenal players David Luiz, Gabriel, and Rob Holding make it to the red cluster providing a good example of how Mikel Arteta's side relies heavily on possession play and not achieving optimal results. Playing out from the back has provided mixed results in the EPL. While clubs like Man City are a great example of how possession play and high-intensity pressing provide a better quality of football. Clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool point out the flaws in playing out from the back and high press done wrong can be quite disastrous. Many clubs if not most expect certain clubs to make mistakes while playing through the back lines and choose to stay back and let them make mistakes. The table below shows how Liverpool has given away a staggering 11 goals this season due to errors. While playing out from the back worked for Liverpool in the first season, this season has proved to be disastrous without the likes of Van Dijk and Matip for a majority of the season. While the system under Klopp remains the same the quality of football has dropped due to relying on players on Phillips and Kabalk to replicate VVD. Hence this season is a great example of the pros and cons of playing out from the back and maybe the quality of players is just as important as the system, formation, and tactics. References data: fbref.com https://www.statsperform.com/resource/passing-out-at-the-back/

Analyzing the best defenders at playing out from the back