In this data analysis, we will look at centre-backs who play in the Hyundai A-League. The A-League is the premier competition for football in Australia, established in 2004. In 2019/20 season, the Hyundai A-League had 11 teams. The role of a centre-back has rapidly evolved over the past few years. It is impossible to find the perfect centre-back as it is a position where a player will always make mistakes. What the best centre-backs do is, minimise their errors and use their special traits to their own advantage. There are different kinds of centre-backs; ball-playing centre-backs, some are strong in tackling or during aerial duels and many rely on their positional awareness and natural instinct.
We will now have a look at 29 centre-backs who have played for over 900 minutes in the 2019/20 season. They will be included in this analysis and, we will use data and statistics to find the best of them.
In this analysis, we will first have a look at how A-League centre-backs fare in defensive duels. This will help us in determining their defensive abilities. We will consider the number of defensive duels per 90 and the percentage of defensive duels won as per the graph given below. The players mentioned in the graph are the ones who have stood out by winning at least 66.6% of their defensive duels.
Tomoki Imai joined Western United in February 2020 from the J1 League side Matsumoto Yamaga. Although playing only 1096 minutes he helped Western United to finish 5th in their debut season in A-League. Imai has been involved in the most defensive duels per 90 which is 10.84 with a success rate of 68.18%. As, part of a three men defence at United, he provides a somewhat different attacking flair, which is as an overlapping centre-back.
The veteran centre-back Andrew Durante has the highest percentage of defensive duels won this season with 76.58%, but he averages only 5.84 defensive duels per 90. The Western United defender is a vital cog in the team. He has played in A-League since its establishment in 2004 and his experience has helped the players around him in performing better.
Matthew Jurman is an experienced centre-back who has played in various leagues around the world. He joined the Western Sydney Wanderers from Al-Ittihad Jeddah in the Saudi Professional League, for his 11th year in the Hyundai A-League. The Australian National centre-back has been a mainstay in the defence line for the Wanderers this season, missing out only 2 matches. In 2282 minutes, he averages 7.02 defensive duels per 90 with a winning percentage of 70.22.
Another Western United defender who has impressed everyone this season is Aaron Calver. He joined United from Sydney FC and was converted from a right-back to a centre-back. Calver missed out on 8 matches due to injury this season. But still he played for 1250 minutes in 16 matches. He averages 8.57 defensive duels per 90 with a success rate of 69.75%.
Curtis Good joined Melbourne City, the sister club of Manchester City from the English Premier League side Newcastle United in 2018. He has nailed down a spot for himself in the starting XI this season. Out of 26 matches, he has started in 24 of them. He is a ball playing centre-back who’s not afraid to carry the ball forward and join the attack. Although Good has contested in only 5.45 defensive duels per 90, he has won an impressive 73.2% of them.
“Good in the air”
It is a common phrase used in football for players who have an excellent aerial ability which depends on several factors like height, jumping reach and heading. By observing the graph below, we will get to know about the aerial ability of the centre-backs in A-League. We will look at the number of aerial duels per 90 they have been involved in and their success rate.
On top of the list is Harrison Delbridge of Melbourne City. The 1.93 m tall centre-back is a threat in the air. Delbridge stands out from the rest as he is second in the number of aerial duels per 90 at 6.21. He is first in terms of winning percentage of aerial duels which is 74.63%. Delbridge is very good at attacking the ball when it’s there to be won and uses his height effectively.
The Western United centre-back Tomislav Uskok is next in the list. He is ranked first in the number of aerial duels per 90 which is 6.63. Uskok is 1.96m tall, but he only wins 64.71% of it. He is good at attacking the ball but does not use his height effectively because he doesn’t jump very well.
Close to the above two players is Curtis Good. The 27-year-old centre-back averages 5.42 aerial duels per 90 and wins 68.42% of it.
There is one player we cannot forget, Alex Grant of Perth Glory FC. The former EFL defender has been a consistent performer in Perth’s defence line. He possesses a fantastic aerial ability. Despite being only 1.8m tall which means he is smaller than most of the centre-backs in the league. Grant has the ability to anticipate when to jump and his reach is very good. Thus, he averaged 4.79 aerial duels per 90 and won 71.55% of it which is impressive for a centre-back of his height.
Now, we will have a look at the centre-backs who play the most forward passes per 90 and the success rate in% for the same. This will help in determining the centre-backs who help in their team’s build-up play and in progressing the ball up from defence by the help of the graph below.
The 34-year-old Newcastle Jets FC captain Nigel Boogaard has played 23.27 forward passes per 90 this season, which is the highest amongst centre-backs in the league. He holds a success rate of 82.46%. His teammate Nikolai Topor-Stanley is right behind him with the second-highest number of forward passes which is 22.85 per 90 at an accuracy of 82.73%. This tells us that the Jets rely heavily on their centre-backs for the build-up play and to advance the ball up the pitch. Thus, these players are provided the freedom to help in the build-up play of their team.
Aaron Calver has a slightly better accuracy of forward passes (83.07%) than Topor-Stanley and Boogaard but plays lesser forward passes per 90 (22.54) than them.
Tomoki Imai of Western United and Luke DeVere of Wellington Phoenix have the highest accuracy in terms of forward passes in the league which is 84.94% and 84.33% respectively. This shows that these players can be trusted with the ball at their feet as they make good decisions when playing forward passes.
A modern-day centre-back is expected to influence the way a team builds up an attack. Managers and coaches want their centre-backs to be confident on the ball, composed when under pressure and have the mental capacity to be able to play risky forward passes. We will now be able to determine the best centre-backs who help turn their team’s defence into attack by looking at the number of progressive passes per 90 they play and its success rate.
The first name on the list is Macaulay Gillesphey of Brisbane Roar FC. He is a 1.8m tall centre-back bought from Newcastle United in 2018. A typical ball playing defender who can break the lines when in possession. He stands out for the greatest number of progressive passes per 90 which 15.23 at a success rate of 80.33%.
Good and Topor-Stanley have had the highest success rate while playing progressive passes this season. Good has played 11.66 progressive passes per 90 at an impressive 82.87% rate of accuracy. Whereas the veteran defender Topor-Stanley is not far behind, he plays 10.80 progressive passes per 90 at an accuracy rate of 82.39%. These players are not just present to keep the play ticking over but they actually are able to impact the way their team is looking to build from the back.
Grant and Boogard are the only players close to the above three. Grant plays 8.34 progressive passes per 90 with a good accuracy rate of 81.19%. Meanwhile, Boogard is also another player is above average in this category with 10.09 progressive passes per 90 at a decent success rate of 79.19%.
The Final Four
Centre-backs are one of the most crucial players in a team. In modern football, the speed of play is increasing and a lot more physicality is involved which challenges centre-backs immensely. Realistically, not every player can possess all the required ingredients to become an ideal centre-back. We have looked at the players who have different abilities and play in different styles of play. Now we shall include the centre-backs who are the best out of the lot.
The 26-year-old centre-back is a great ball-playing centre-back, ranked as one of the top players in the ball progression and forward passing metrics. The Perth Glory defender makes 18.41 forward passes per 90 at an accuracy of 80.27%, which is quite impressive for a player who plays in the middle of a back three. He’s well above average in terms of ball progression, with 8.34 progressive passes per 90 at a success rate of 81.19%.
Even though he’s only 1.8m tall, Grant averages 4.79 aerial duels per 90. His success rate of 71.55% ranks him 2nd in the league which tells you he possesses an excellent aerial ability.
Good is a very accomplished centre-back, he’s been very imposing in most of the metrics. This season, he has been able to get minutes under his belt and shown what he is capable of. He’s been outstanding in defensive and aerial duels, ranking amongst the best in the league especially in terms of success rate.
He is very good and one of the most creative centre-backs on the ball. Good averages 26.95 forward passes per 90, which is the highest amongst the players in this list. The City defender is ranked 2nd in the league for most progressive passes per 90 and its accuracy rate. He plays 11.66 progressive passes per 90 at an accuracy of 82.87%. His numbers tell us about his aerial and ball-playing abilities. This season, he’s been able to catch the eyes of those around him.
The 1.93 m tall centre-back has been a regular for City since 2018. Apart from the two red cards he has received this season, he has been splendid, helping his team to a 2nd place in the league. In terms of aerial ability, he is the best in the league averaging 6.21 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 74.63%. Delbridge knows how to use his height effectively and bully those who are shorter than him.
He possesses a decent ball-playing ability. Delbridge is ranked amongst the top 5 in the number of forward passes played per 90 which is 22.33 and progressive passes per 90 which is 9.77. He could still improve on his accuracy of progressive passes which is only 74.41%, lesser than the rest on this list.
This season, the former Australian National team defender had his best goal-scoring season, contributing 3 goals. He’s very experienced, having played over 250 matches in A-League. He is one of the best ball-playing centre-backs in the league but his defensive abilities are not that outstanding. Topor-Stanley wins only 64.04% of his defensive duels and 68.52% of his aerial duels which is not very impressive for a defender of his height and build.
Newcastle Jets rely heavily on the 35-year-old defender to progress the ball up the field because of the experience he has. He has started every match for his team and is considered as a leader at the back. His precision and accuracy rate have been 82.73% for forward passes and 82.39% for progressive passes which tells us how good he is on the ball.
We have highlighted the best centre-backs of A-League who have been excellent this season. All of them possess different strengths and are made of different pedigrees. These centre-backs have shown no significant weaknesses. Most of them have reached their peak or are approaching towards the end of their careers. It will be quite interesting to see how their career spans out in the next couple of years. There are a few more players who have got impressive statistics but haven’t been included here because they have played very less minutes. The honorable mentions are Aaron Calver, Tomoki Imai and Nigel Boogaard.