England’s Right-Backs: An Analytical View

min read

Grading England's Right-Backs - ZICOBALL

Home » The Vault » England’s Right-Backs: An Analytical View

England’s right-backs…whether it be coaching style or a generational quirk, England have a plethora of very good right-sided defenders.

And it’s perhaps no surprise that Gareth Southgate picked five of them for the last international break back in November.

But with the likes of Luke Ayling and Tariq Lamptey now coming into this bloated equation, the England boss has even more of a headache ahead of the upcoming March international matches, and ultimately the Euros this summer.

So we thought we’d give him a helping hand by running our ‘RSD (right-sided defender) Stats Matrix’ to identify the best performers this season to date.

As part of our analysis, we’ll also bring in the DAVIES (Determining Added Value of Individual Effectiveness including Style) model, categorising players by role, not position, to understand how they each play slightly differently.

In the model creator’s words: “Players are sorted into one of nine categories based on where they are usually on the ball and what they usually do with it.”

Indeed, that model shapes our decision to call this group of players right-sided defenders, given the term right-back does not do justice to their broad skillsets.

First and foremost, let’s start by looking at all the English right-sided defenders currently playing in Europe’s top five leagues.

We will also list their ‘Play Style’ as per DAVIES, which we’ll explore below:

Seeing them listed out, three things stand out compared to previous eras:

  1. The incredible choice Southgate has in this position
  2. The young ages of the players; the average age is 25
  3. That so many of them are first-teamers at their clubs, and big six ones at that, i.e. Walker, Wan-Bissaka and James

With a sense of the talent pool, the next step is to delve into what the DAVIES ‘Play Style’ descriptions mean.

Before we do, it’s important to point out that the model focusses on what type of action certain players complete, rather than how good they are at a certain action.

Our ‘RSD Stats Matrix’ will do the latter.

So, onto the descriptions:

England's Right-Backs

What’s fascinating here is how these player groupings make the common ‘right-back’ term so much more nuanced.

We finally have something that shows us, for example, how different Alexander-Arnold (an Offensive Wide Progressor) and Walker (a Defensive Central Progressor) are as players and what they do differently on the pitch.

And as a result, we can see what they can bring to this England team in their different ways, and who would be more suited to playing against certain teams.

Now for the fun bit, as we start to rank each of the 12 players using our Stats Matrix.

Here’s what each metric in the matrix shows:

And here’s how each player ranks:

England's Right-Backs

Straightaway there are some fascinating findings.

None more so than Luke Ayling topping the progressive carrying metric, as well as coming second in the progressive passing charts. Ayling – perhaps unsurprisingly under Marcelo Bielsa – also tops the successful pressures category and scores well across the piece.

Another man to come out of this analysis well is Reece James, combining strong defensive stats with good offensive ones, such as his shot-creating actions per 90 minutes, where he comes second only to Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Alexander-Arnold’s defensive stats don’t paint him in such a good light – winning only 18% of aerial duels, for example – and though he has fewer of those to deal with due to being part of a usually dominant Liverpool side, it would be more of a concern if he were to play in a back four for England.

There would seem to be fewer aerial concerns for Kieran Trippier, given his 68% success rate in those duels – the highest of those listed.

For someone of only 5ft 7in, that is pretty remarkable and a testament to his defensive improvement under Diego Simeone.

Lastly, it’s no surprise to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka lead the tackles and interceptions rankings. The Manchester United man is outstanding in 1v1 situations and could be a useful asset for Southgate if England are concerned about teams with a strong left side in the summer.

That is, if the 23-year-old remains eligible for England, with rumours abounding that if he’s not selected for the March friendlies, he will declare allegiance to DR Congo.

Of course, there are caveats to any data set, and this one is no exception. For example, progressive passing distance depends on the recipients of those passes and whether they can therefore be marked as completed.

Also, you can see how team style plays a part in the data. For example, Kyle Walker’s defensive stats are almost an anomaly given how little defending Manchester City have to do in a game.

It’s therefore hard to extrapolate exactly how he is performing in that regard, particularly as he has also been in and out of the side due to the form of Joao Cancelo.

His low shot-creating actions numbers also show how much more he plays infield these days as opposed to the almost right-winger of old.

Let’s now see who comes out top when we amalgamate all the numbers (1 being best for a category, 11 worst):

England's Right-Backs

And it’s Ayling who tops the pile, with the 29-year-old showing how rounded he is with no score lower than a six.

Should he get a call-up for the March matches based on these findings?

James is another who has few weak categories and shows his greater creativity going forward by his strong shot-creating actions numbers.

That, in part, explains his DAVIES role being ‘Offensive Wide Progressor’ as opposed to Ayling’s ‘Defensive Wide Progressor’ label.

He’s also not made a single error leading to a goal this term and is well-thought-of by Southgate.

Alexander-Arnold and Trippier would’ve scored higher but for one category letting them down, and they are both likely to be in contention for England’s starting XI.

But let’s put our neck on the line and share who we think should feature in the starting XI (depending on formations and oppositions):

Let’s see what Gareth really does in the coming days…

Words by Rob Hemingway – @Rob_Hemingway

*Excluded from the data analysis are those with less than 10 league apps this season e.g. Maitland-Niles, as well as those who’ll be injured for the Euros e.g. James Justin