According to rumours emanating from various reputable football media outlets in the last 24 hours, Manchester United captain Antonio Valencia is being lined up as a possible Pablo Zabaleta replacement for Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United.
The right-back is out of contract at London Stadium in the summer and has been linked with a move away or retirement from the game when his contract is up, a countless number of times. Today, we analyse whether Valencia could be the right man to replace Zabaleta in east London, join us.
First off in this analysis which will compare the two veteran full-backs, we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at Valencia and Zabaleta’s Player Profiles. They are provided to us in the below two images, courtesy of our good friends over at wyscout.com.
As you can see, there are a number of similarities between the South Americans, one being age as they are both veterans with just a year separating them. Although they’re similar in weight, Valencia is resoundingly taller than Zabaleta, meaning the Hammers would be getting more height at right-back.
When we look at the brief statistics on the right half of the graphic, we can see that the Argentine legend has played much more than his Ecuadorian counterpart this campaign. This is down to the latter’s battle with a knee injury that’s kept him out for the most part of 2018/2019 thus far. The two experienced stars’ positional similarities are displayed by the maps, with Valencia appearing to be the more attacking full-back, an attractive attribute in modern football.
For the main phase of our analysis, it’s time for a statistical comparison between the players and one that will reveal who the better defender is. In order to complete this, we bring you their career average defensive figures in the below two images, from Wyscout once again.
As aforementioned, these figures are for their careers since the creation of Wyscout, therefore only include the last three seasons of their respective 16 and 17-year careers thus far. But provide a strong comparison in terms of the current levels they are at in comparison to each other.
The first stat we are drawn to in analysing, beside a column showing their very similar recent heatmaps and one telling us that these stats are per 90 minutes, is defensive duels and the percentage won. It’s no surprise to see the stronger defender, Zabaleta, win here, eclipsing the Red Devils skipper with 8.79 duels, however, a lower success rate.
Despite the height difference, as we can see, the Hammer is the winner when it comes to aerial duels. Though it must be noted that the ex-Manchester City man has played more in the last three years, but they’ve both endured their injury problems in this time.
From these stats, we can gather Zabaleta is the better tackler of the ball with a superior average number of tackles and more of them completed successfully and the same can be said of interceptions. Here, it’s an eye-catching 5.44 per 90 minutes to 4.29.
There’s the small matter of 0.01 losses per 90 minutes between them, conveying similarity once more, with a smaller number of Valencia’s putting his defence in danger by occurring in his own half. The story is the same for recoveries, more in total for Zabaleta, a higher percentage in the danger zone of the opposition for his 33-year-old many-time rival.
Next is an impressive three stat wins in a row for the Argentine, really putting the cat amongst the pigeons in this comparison, as he has averaged more blocked shots, more clearances and far fewer fouls in times more recent.
However, and it’s marginal, Valencia does have a better yellow card average. Although, as the only one to have been red carded in this period, his red-card figure of 0.01 is more than the zero of Zabaleta, making the longest-serving current United player’s disciplinary record inferior.
Overall, when we total up the scores of these stats with one point being awarded to each player for having a better average in a certain stat, there is only one winner. This is, as you might have imagined, Zabaleta, who triumphs 12-4 and is the better right-back, statistically.
In conclusion, our statistics-driven tactical analysis today has discovered that, despite holding some advantages over Zabaleta, including the attractive one of age, statistically and from a tactical analysis point of view. Valencia would not be the right man to replace Zabaleta if he departs at the end of this season.
As it stands, in a world where the defender who joined on a free in May 2017, does go this May, his replacement would have to play second-fiddle to Ryan Fredericks, as he’s edged ahead of Zabaleta in the pecking order. This may not sit well with a Valencia figure, used to being the main man. The East Londoners should undoubtedly look elsewhere for their replacement in the event of a departure for Zabaleta after two years at the club.
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Full-time Staff Writer for the Ronnie Dog Media Group, regularly edit and write articles on FBH, follow me on Twitter.