In this data analysis, we will choose three central defenders from the Belgian Pro League that are noteworthy and should be scouted. Players that are included in this analysis have played at least 600 minutes in the league. 

In the last three years some good central defenders have moved from the Belgian Pro League to play in top leagues. Club Brugge sold Björn Engels to Olympiakos, EPL side Aston Villa bought him this season. Sint-Truiden sold Djené for two and a half million euros to Getafe, his value now on Transfermarkt is 30 million euros. Djene is a transfer target for some high profile clubs. Two most recent transfers are Christian Luyindama from Standard Liege to Galatasaray and Joseph Aidoo from Genk to Celta Vigo. This data analysis will provide insight into which players could make a big transfer in future.

Defensive duels

We will start this analysis with defensive duels per 90 and how successful players are in defensive duels.

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

On the graph above players who stand out are the ones who won 75% of their defensive duels. 

Royal Antwerp centre-back Abdoulaye Seck is the player with the most defensive duels per 90 (8,72) of those who won at least 75% defensive duels (he won 78,57% defensive duels). This strong 27-year-old Senegalese is in his second season in Belgium playing 13 matches this season.

Diogo Queirós plays for Mouscron, on-loan from Porto. The 21-year-old centre-back won 79,51% of his 6,11 defensive duels per 90. Queirós is captain for the Portugal U21 side and he surely has a future in Porto.

Steeven Willems is an experienced 29-year-old centre-back for Chaleroi competing in 4,93 defensive duels per 90 and winning 79,27% of them. He is part of the second-best defence in the league, only Club Brugge has conceded less goals.

Wesley Hoedt is a well-known defender because he has played at Lazio, Southampton and Celta Vigo. His best performances were in Serie A for Lazio. The 26-year-old currently plays on loan at Royal Antwer averaging 6,69 defensive duels per 90 and winning 77,08% of them.

Ewoud Pletinckx is a tall 19-year-old who plays in Zulte Waregem. He won 75,56% of his 6,58 defensive duels per 90. This Zulte youngster made his debut last season and has already collected 42 appearances mainly because he is a standard first-team player this season.

Two players who are also interesting are Jhon Lucumí and Carlos Cuesta, both are Columbian internationals playing Genk. Lucumí is a year older than Cuesta and in his second season in Belgium he is averaging 7 defensive duels per 90 with 74,21% success. While Cuesta in his first season for Genk is averaging 9 defensive duels per 90 and he won 72,68% of them. 

Aerial duels

Aerial presence is an important attribute for central defenders. 

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

On this scatter graph we can see how many aerial duels central defenders have per 90 minutes and their success rate. Two central defenders really stand out from the rest.

Abdoulaye Seck shows his dominance in the air with nearly three aerial duels more than the next best player in that category. He averages 9,52 aerial duels per 90 and has won 66,36% of them. 

Aleksandar Vukotić plays for Waasland-Beveren, winning an impressive 77,55% of his aerial duels and he has a clear advantage in the air because of his height (2,01cm tall). The 24-year-old Serbian defender averages 5,19 aerial duels per 90

Veterans like Deschacht and Milović are not as effective in other departments and there are many players with similar stats in this category. The best thing to do in this situation is to evaluate the players mentioned above to see how successful they are in aerial duels. 

Wesley Hoedt’s aerial duel statistics are above average: featuring in 5,25 aerial duels per 90 and winning 61,95% of them.

Whereas Lucumí, Cuesta and Willems are average in this category: Lucumí won 60,42% of his 2,11 aerial duels per 90, Cuesta won 56,19% of his 5,16 aerial duels per 90 and Willems won 53,54% of his 5,95 aerial duels per 90.

Diego Queirós and Pletinckx are below average in terms of aerial duels. Queiros averages 4,46 aerial duels per 90 and has won 47,19% of them. A big surprise is that the 190 centimetres tall Pletinckx has only won 34,62% of his 2,54 aerial duels per 90. Given his age Pletincx has time to improve in this category.

Shots blocked and interceptions

These two statistics are connected to positioning and the intelligence of a player. It is really important for centre-backs to have the ability to anticipate opponents’ intentions. This graph shows interceptions and shots blocked per 90 minutes

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

 

Jorge Teixeira, a 33-year-old veteran, is the stand-out player for these stats. Experience is an advantage for this Sint-Truiden defender. He is averaging 1,29 shots blocked and 7,64 interceptions per 90. His stats are worth mentioning even if he is not good enough in the categories analysed above.

Aleksandar Vukotić averages 8,02 interceptions and 0,88 shots blocked per 90. The Serbian centre-back is making a high number of interceptions demonstrating that he can read the game well.

Wout Faes is a 22-year-old who plays for Oostende on loan from Stade Reims. The Ligue 1 side bought him in the winter transfer window but left him in Oostende till the end of the season. His great defensive reactions, 8 interceptions per 90 and 0,88 blocked shots per 90, will have played a part in Stade Reims signing the Belgian. 

It’s also worth looking at the interception and shots blocked statistics for some of the  centre-backs I analysed earlier. Wesley Hoedt has 6,87 interceptions per 90 and 0,65 shots blocked per 90.

Abdoulaye Seck has an above-average number of interceptions, 6,67 per 90, but a below-average number of blocked shots with just 0,44 per 90.

Youngster Pletinckx averages 6,1 interceptions per 90 and blocks 0,68 shots per 90.

Columbian centre-back Lucumí averages 6,08 interceptions per 90 and blocks 0,53 shots per 90.

Ball recoveries

A defenders main tasks are: protecting the goal and recovering possession. Therefore, centre-backs who can play in high-pressure systems are very valuable. Ball recoveries in the opponent’s half per 90 gives us a good insight into which defender can make an impact under high pressure and win the ball back.

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

Whilst Omolo is the best in this category he is not good enough in other areas to be highlighted for the final shortlist.

Cuesta averages 1,18 ball recoveries in opponent’s half per 90 and 8,16 ball recoveries per 90. The energetic Columbian is great in a pressing setup and he has a great future in today’s football because of his agility and versatility to play in multiple positions.

Hoedt once again demonstrates his defensive skills, recovering 10,07 balls per 90 and 0,93 balls in opponent’s half per 90

Lucumí, Seck, Vukotić and Willems all make around 9 interceptions per 90. Although Seck has the best ball recovery statistic out of the four defenders, winning the ball back in the opponent’s half 0,8 times per 90.

Passing – progressive passes

Every club is now looking for central defenders who can pass and who can find teammates in channels. This graph will show us exactly that.

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

This graph shows the averages for progressive passes per 90 and passes into the final third per 90.

Anderlecht pair Vincent Kompany and Phillippe Sandler separated themselves according to progressive passes and passes into the final third. Sandler is a 23-year-old ball-playing defender who made 17,87 progressive passes per 90 and 12,83 passes to the final third per 90 but unfortunately the Man City loanee had a knee injury which ended his season early.  The popular and experienced defender Kompany has averaged 17,13 progressive passes per 90 and 11,44 passes to the final third per 90 on his return to Belgium.

Seck, Cuesta, Hoedt, Lucumí, Queirós and Vukotić are clustered together in an above-average number of progressive passes, spanning between 9,5-10,5 per 90. Whilst their final third passes range between 7-9 per 90. All of them can impact the game when in possession, but they have room for improvement in that area. 

Passing – tendency to pass forward

To see how many of players’ passes go further up the pitch we created this graph that shows passes per 90 and forward passes per 90. The bigger the dot, the more often the player passes forward. To define that, he has a bigger percentage of passes going forward in relation to the total number of passes he attempts.

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

As we can see Anderlecht duo Kompany and Sandler are separated with the number of passes they attempt, it is clear they have a lot of touches on the ball whilst Deli is a little behind them. But Deli has a bigger dot indicating a higher percentage of his passes are played forward. These three are stand-out performers in the number of passes they attempt, but the most interesting players are those highlighted in all categories. 

The centre-back with the biggest dot on the graph is Abdoulaye Seck. The strong Senegalese is confident with the ball and attempts 42,15 passes per 90 with 21,79, or 51,70% of them being forward passes. He is the only centre-back who attempts more than half of his passes forward.

Vukotić with a tendency of 47,82% to pass forward, shows that almost half of his passes are played further up the pitch. The Serbian attempts 39,08 passes per 90.

Queirós, the young Portuguese defender, attempts 46 passes per 90, 44.0% of which are forward passes. 

Genk defender Carlos Cuesta attempts 48,54 passes per 90 and 43,96% of them are forward passes

 Jhon Lucumí, teammate of Cuesta, attempts just 37,68% of his passes forward and he averages 53,63 passes per 90. He is a good passer of the ball, but he only plays it forward when there is little risk.

Southampton on-loan defender Wesley Hoedt tends to play 41,96% of his passes forward and attempts 41,28 passes per 90

Highlighted players

Collating all the information about the players’ abilities left  eight players who were mentioned in almost every category. It is unrealistic to expect a player to be good in every category, especially given the range of abilities we are looking for. 

Belgian Pro League central defenders - data analysis statistics

Apart from Vukotić, all the players are winning over 70% of their defensive duels, but Vukotić is on the top of aerial duels won. Next to him are Seck, Hoedt and Lucumí who won 60+% of their aerial duels.

Vukotić is best in interceptions per 90 and shots blocked per 90. Behind Vukotić, Hoedt and Seck in interceptions and shots blocked are Pletinckx and Hoedt. It is worth noting that Cuesta is the worst in both of these stats.

Wesley Hoedt leads the way in ball recoveries per 90, behind him are Abdoulaye Seck and Aleksandar Vukotić. Cuesta is on top of ball recoveries in the opponent’s half per 90 with Hoedt and Seck behind him.

Best in progressive passing per 90 is Lucumí, although he doesn’t tend to play forward as much as possible based on the number of passes he attempts. If he attempted to pass forward more often he could have a greater impact on his team’s build-up play. Hoedt, Seck, Vukotić, Cuesta and Queirós are similar in progressive passing per 90. Whereas Pletinckx and Willems are worse at passing forward and progressive passing. Seck and Vukotić tend to play a big chunk of their passes forward.

Final shortlist

After comparing these eight centre-backs, we saw that all of them have some aspects of their game to work on. Wesley Hoedt is a well-known defender so I left him out of this shortlist in order to find out more about other interesting and under-the-radar players. During this loan from Southampton, he has showed why he was once highly valued. To play again in big leagues he needs to cut out mistakes and the number of fouls he commits and resultant cards he picks up.

Right now the best three to scout if looking for a new centre-back are:

Aleksandar Vukotić – the Serbian centre-back is pretty unknown, but his metrics per 90 are looking great. Great in the air, mainly because of his 2,01 cm height he is exceptional at interceptions and shots blocked, good at recovering  possession and a good passer. This left-footed defender needs to win more defensive duels to improve as a player. Detailed scouting would show whether he can cope with swift football and play in a high-pressure setup.

Abdoulaye Seck – the 27-year-old is showing some really go qualities. Seck is comfortable with the ball at his feet and dominant in duels on the ground and the air. He anticipates the game well is blessed with physical attributes. It would be great to see him play regular football for Antwerp to find out how good he really is. Detailed scouting would help to find out why he isn’t playing more and if he is as good as the numbers indicate.

Jhon Lucumí – the young Columbian international has great potential. He doesn’t have a real weakness in the categories we analysed either. He is an efficient passer, not attempting too many risky passes but of the passes he attempts his success rate is high. Detailed scouting can help us see how the 21-year-old centre-back can improve his game to become good enough for the top clubs.

Conclusion

Belgian Pro League has some really good central defenders and it was tough to separate three from the rest.. The three who are on the final shortlist are really interesting because they have great output when defending and so far are lesser-known to the football world.

Toni Bilandzic
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