- In the 2017/18 season, Samuel Umtiti was in imperious form alongside Gerard Pique in Barcelona’s defence. Winning the World Cup with France and La Liga and Copa Del Rey with Barcelona, Umtiti was on his way to becoming one of the best defenders in world football. After his injury early in the 2018/19 season, French compatriot Clement Lenglet has gotten numerous opportunities to establish himself. Here, using statistics, we will analyse whether Lenglet has filled in successfully for Umtiti.
Clement Lenglet is a left-footed defender who slots in, to the left of Gerard Pique. At 186cm and 81kg, the 23-year-old is more than capable of handling physical attackers. Very comfortable on the ball, his specialities are his ground duels and good passing range. As an ex-Sevilla player, Lenglet was the player with the most appearances in the 2017/18 season for the Spanish team where he made his breakthrough.
Samuel Umtiti, too, is left-footed. However, at 180cm and 75kg, Umtiti is not as tall or as heavy as Lenglet. As one of the best young defenders, the 25-year-old is excellent at ground as well as aerial duels. Playing at Lyon as a left-back, Umtiti’s transition to centre-back has been very impressive. The Frenchman has proven his capabilities in either position.
The battle on paper
This season, the Catalan media has fallen in love with Barcelona’s new promising defender in Clement Lenglet. From rambling on about Umtiti’s injury and how it would be a huge problem for Barcelona to being compared as a threat to Umtiti’s position in the starting eleven, Lenglet has proven himself to be a more than capable replacement. Comparing Umtiti’s statistics from last season, free of injury, and Lenglet’s statistics this season we can get a general idea of their comparative abilities.
Barcelona always play with two center backs who tend to spread out as the full-backs drift ahead. Because of this, each defender has to be capable of great one-on-one defending considering the lack of backup. With 7.88 duels per match, Lenglet undertakes significantly more defensive duties in this aspect than Umtiti’s 5.77. However, the latter has a higher success rate of 44% compared to Lenglet’s 33%.
The center-backs of Barcelona play a very high line as Sergio Busquets sometimes drops back to provide cover. Alongside the Spanish midfield maestro, Lenglet or Umtiti along wit Pique make many passes which start the attack from an advanced position. As a more aggressive player, Umtiti makes 5.4 interceptions per match as Lenglet makes 4.2. But 11 recoveries per match, Umtiti edges out Lenglet’s 10. Out of these Umtiti makes a huge 20% of his recoveries in the opposition half compared to Lenglet’s 12. Again, Umtiti shows his aggression and willingness to maintain the high line and following the Cruyffian philosophy of the defenders being attackers in their own right. It is safe to say that this offensive edge is due to his past playing as a left-back.
Again considering the Catalan’s high line, long passes frequently tend to cause huge problems to the opposition. Here, Lenglet shines with 4.21 long passes compared to Umtiti’s 3.12. In passing, too, Umtiti is more aggressive than his teammate with 7 passes to the final third compared to Lenglet’s 4. These two statistics tend to balance out the attacking contribution in this aspect. Because of Lenglet’s long passes and Umtiti’s aggressive forward passing, they offer their team equally here in terms of attack. What is to be noted is that for a club that tends to build-up from the back, both players are great passers with 93% accuracy for Umtiti and 90% for Lenglet.
Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet are both excellent defenders. As we saw, their statistics are highly competitive. Even though Samuel Umtiti does prove more dominant in the majority of statistics, Lenglet is a great defender in his own right.
Umtiti, being more offensive is a better asset in the build-up when Barcelona’s full-backs tend to drift up. Whereas Lenglet is more of a defender who will stay back most of the time but will provide great long passes. They might have different styles but there is no doubt that Barcelona have two incredible defenders on their hands who are set to make a huge difference through any campaign.
Throughout Umtiti’s injury, Lenglet has done his best to keep people from noticing the huge absence. And he has done it very well. Lenglet has shown that he is an excellent player capable of fighting for his place in Europe’s best defences and it won’t be a surprise if he is recognised as such very soon.
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