In this data analysis, we will be analysing the statistics of all Eredivisie defenders who have played at least 10 games for their current club this season. As the current season has been called off, it’s a perfect opportunity to asses, and scout, the best defenders of this campaign.
The Eredivisie has nurtured some brilliant defenders in recent years. Most recently, Matthijs de Ligt secured a big-money move to Serie A giants, Juventus. Jeremiah St. Juste left Feyenoord to join Bundesliga team Mainz for a reported £6.75m. Before joining Lazio, Stefan de Vrij, now one of Inter’s best central defenders, came through Feyenoord’s academy. Our team of the season will line-up in a 4-3-3 formation, meaning that this analysis will end with a selection of two centre-backs and two full-backs.
For this position, our analysis will look at the data from four key areas – defensive ability, aerial ability, defensive positioning, and ball progression.
In the above graph, three players clearly stand out, and these players have all won over 75% of their defensive duels.
Not only does Emmen player Miguel Araujo average the most defensive duels per 90 (9.71), but he also had the second-best duel percentage, with 78.23%. The Peruvian defender has only played 12 games this season but has certainly proved that he can defend efficiently.
The centre-back with the best defensive duel percentage (78.57%), but surprisingly the least amount of defensive duels per 90 (3.1), may be a familiar name. 35-year-old veteran Ron Vlaar is better known for his stint in the Premier League with Aston Villa, and his relative successes with the Dutch national team.
The previous two players mentioned have only played 12 and 10 games respectively, meaning that their stats may be misleading. However, 20-year-old Sven Botman has been one of the best youngsters in the league this season. He has 5.74 defensive duels per 90 and has won 77.99% of these. The Heerenveen defender is definitely in contention for one of the centre-back positions.
Another youngster worth mentioning is Marcos Senesi. The Argentinian has played 16 games this season, averaging the second-most defensive duels per 90 (9.16) whilst winning 73.51% of them.
Ajax have the second-best defensive record this season, and this is somewhat down to Daley Blind, formerly of Manchester United. Blind isn’t the tallest but he makes up for this with his defensive ability. He has 7.11 defensive duels per 90 and has won 71.92% of these, proving that he is ageing like a fine wine.
For central defenders, it is certainly important to be dominant on the ground, but also in the air to deal with crosses and long passes.
The scatter graph above shows the player’s average aerial duels per 90 against their win percentage. There is one player who stands out from the rest.
Sven Botman appears high up on this graph once again. The young Dutchman has 7.26 aerial duels per 90 and wins 69.15% of these. Standing at 1.93 metres in height, Botman has a huge advantage over his opposition.
Other notable players in this graph include Yuta Nakayama of Zwolle and Daniel Schwaab of PSV. However, the former here has played five games at defensive midfield, therefore his statistics may be a little unreliable. Schwaab is in his last season at PSV, but he is showing no signs of slowing down and is still dominating in the air.
One player we haven’t mentioned yet is Joel Veltman, one of Ajax’s best defenders in recent years. He’s part of the second-best defence in the league this season. His aerial ability is above average, with 5.3 aerial duels per 90 and a win percentage of 62.14%. His stats may not seem too brilliant, but this is most likely as Ajax control the ball and don’t have to defend as much..
In this analysis, defensive positioning will comprise of shots blocked and interceptions per 90 minutes.
One name, in particular, stands out on this graph, Wessel Dammers, captain of Fortuna Sittard. He played defensive midfield in his early career, improving his anticipation, hence his incredible 7.47 interceptions and 1.13 shots blocked per 90.
Botman once again shows his repertoire of defensive attributes with 7.22 interceptions per 90.
Former Preston North End youth player Melle Meulensteen appears fairly high in this graph, with both his stats being above the league average. The 20-year-old has 0.95 shots blocked and 6.35 interceptions per 90, fairly impressive for a youngster.
34-year-old Christian Kum of VVV-Venlo has shown his experience in terms of reading the game this season, with the most interceptions per 90 (7.58). The veteran has managed 20 games this season, playing all across the back four when needed.
Senesi also shows up on this graph, with both his stats above average. He has 0.67 shots blocked and 6.49 interceptions per 90. The Feyenoord youngster showing good defensive awareness.
Progressive centre-backs are a key component for many modern footballing teams. Teams that like to utilise possession often rely on their centre-backs to start attacks and get the team progressing up the field.
The above graph shows each player’s progressive runs and passes, as well as their pass %. It’s no surprise that three Ajax defenders dominate this graph.
A class above the rest is Blind. He has experience playing in midfield and left-back, meaning his range of passing is incredible. He has 1.71 progressive runs and 24.12 progressive passes per 90, with a completion rate of 88.28%.
The other two Ajax players present are Veltman and 20-year-old Perr Schuurs. Veltman averages 14.20 progressive passes per 90 (83.33% completion). Whilst Schuurs focuses on progressing his team with his runs (2.41).
Schwaab has the most progressive runs per 90 (2.51) and 12.22 progressive passes per 90. Samir Memišević has the third most progressive runs with 2.29, however, he has since transferred to the Chinese league, removing him from contention.
Another player in a good position in this graph is AZ Alkmaar player Pantelis Chatzidiakos. Though AZ have the best defensive record, their individual stats don’t stand out in any other data. However, Chatzidiakos likes to help his team progress up the pitch. The academy product has 1.91 progressive runs per 90, with 16.56 progressive passes, completing 78.2% of them.
The role of the full-back has changed significantly in modern football. Teams are more likely to have a defensive midfielder(s) to allow their full-backs to support the attack. A prime example being Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Taking this into consideration, I will be analysing data from these three areas – defensive ability, creativity, and attacking contribution.
Although this analysis is looking for the best attacking full-backs in the Eredivisie, defensive capabilities are still a key aspect.
This graph shows an array of different types of full-backs within the league. 22-year-old Deyovaisio Zeefuik has the best defensive duel percentage, with 70.56%, and 7.75 defensive duels per 90. Zeefuik has played 26 games this season and his background at centre-back has served him well defensively.
Owen Wijndal has the next best duel percentage (70.27%). This has been the 20-year-old’s first full season in top-level football, playing 24 games. Wijndal averages 5.98 defensive duels per game and is part of the best defence in the league with AZ Alkmaar.
Another interesting player in this graph is the Englishman Max Clark. The 24-year-old moved to Vitesse in July 2018 from Hull City. He’s racked up 23 games this season, averaging 11.63 defensive duels per 90, completing 66.42% of them.
Tim Breukers has similar stats to Clark. The 32-year-old is versatile across the whole back four. He has 11.96 defensive duels per game, coming out on top in 65.53% of these.
Progression doesn’t necessarily mean influence on goals and attack, therefore, this analysis focuses on creative data, meaning crosses and passes to the penalty area per 90.
Two players, in particular, stand out on this graph, Clark and Rick Karsdorp. The latter has the most passes to penalty area per 90, with 5.71. This along with 3.61 crosses per 90 with a completion of 33.33% shows that he is a great asset in attack.
Wijndal, who we’ve previously mentioned in defence, uses his crosses to impact the attack. He has 4.12 crosses per 90, with a completion of 33.33%. Along with his strong defending, he has influenced his team going the other way, too.
Nicolas Tagliafico has been regarded as one of the best left-backs in the league for a while. However, in a season where he has helped out at centre-back, his attacking input has dipped slightly. He has still managed 3.97 passes to the penalty area per 90 and 2.81 crosses per 90 (48.53%).
Another member of AZ Alkmaar’s solid defence this season is Jonas Svensson. Along with Wijndal, he has been vital to the team’s counter-attacking tactics. He has 3.09 passes to the penalty area per 90 and 2.41 crosses per game.
Other players contributing to their team’s attack are Sean Klaiber, with 4.63 passes to the box and 3.6 crosses per 90. Whilst Eli Dasa has 4.53 passes and 3.74 crosses per 90, with one of the best cross completions with 44.74%.
Contributing in attack
Attacking contributions have become a vital part of a modern full-back’s game; this section will look at assists and successful attacking actions per 90.
This graph shows the importance of AZ Alkmaar’s full-backs. Svensson and Wijndal both have seven assists this season – excellent considering their defensive nature. The former has 1.9 successful attacking actions per 90, whilst Wijndal has significantly more with 3.43 per 90.
Sergino Dest is a versatile full-back who has gained popularity in Amsterdam this season. The young Dutchman has 3.68 successful attacking actions per 90, with five assists. This has been a breakout season for Dest.
Two other notable players on this graph are Klaiber and Tagliafico. Klaiber’s creativity shows with his four assists and 3.44 successful attacking actions per 90. Whereas Tagliafico has fewer successful attacking actions with 2.69 but still has the same number of assists.
Clark has two assists and 3.95 successful attacking actions per 90.
A player that we have mentioned, Zeefuik, who has the best defensive duel win %, has some impressive attacking stats too. The Groningen man has 3.51 successful attacking actions and two assists.
In this analysis, I have outlined the best players in each of the above topics. However, there were certain players that stood out in more than one area, and this is what we will focus on here.
In the centre-back department, Schwaab’s lack of defensive efficiency keeps him out of the team. He has only 4.8 defensive duels per 90, and only wins 62.79% of these, both stats being significantly below the league average. However, he’s one of the most dominant players in the air and has a habit of helping his team progress up the pitch.
Another player unlucky to miss out is Senesi. The youngster already has good defensive awareness, having above the league average for interceptions and shot blocked per 90. He also has the second-most defensive duels, with a respectable win percentage. However, he hardly helps his team progress up the field.
In terms of full-backs, it was difficult to decide, because there are a lot of strong attacking players, however, there are only a few that are able to combine this with a solid defensive shift. Svensson and his seven assists are extremely unlucky to miss out on a position in this team. The main reason for this is because his defensive duel percentage of 60.58% is just under the league average.
Dest, of Ajax, has had an outstanding season for the Dutch giants. However, the two players I have chosen have just edged him out. There is still plenty of time for the youngster to develop.
In this final part of the analysis I tried to steer away from more popular players to focus on new talents, however, in one instance I had to choose a more notable defender.
Following the above data, these are the best defenders from the current Eredivisie campaign:
Owen Wijndal – this young Dutch left-back is only going to get better. AZ Alkmaar’s 20-year-old has the second-best defensive duel win percentage, meaning that he is more than capable in defence. This is also evident by his team’s defensive record, the best in the league. Wijndal has an incredible seven assists, the majority coming from his pinpoint crosses.
Sven Botman – another youngster who has impressed this season. This promising youngster has been among the best in three out of the four data areas that have been analysed. His height allows him to dominate in the air and get to headers even when he’s not likely to win them. He has the third-most interceptions per 90 and the third-best defensive duel win percentage. This Heerenveen centre-back could improve on his ability to help his team progress up the pitch, however.
Daley Blind – a player that simply couldn’t be left out. Blind’s height of 1.80 metres means that he can’t dominate in the air, but being paired with Botman means that he won’t have to. The 30-year-old’s experience and calmness on the ball would balance the defence perfectly. His defensive duels and win percentage are above the league average, and he is by far the most progressive centre-back that’s been analysed.
Deyovaisio Zeefuik – the biggest surprise in this back four. The easy option would be to include Svensson, of AZ, because of his seven assists. However, this young defender is far more impressive in the defensive department. The Groningen right-back stands out in terms of defensive duels won, with just below the league average in his number of defensive duels. Zeefuik could improve on his attacking input, but having said that, his crosses and passes to the penalty box per 90 are above the league’s average. He’s weighed in with two assists in a very average Groningen team.
The Eredivisie has an interesting mix of defenders, with some standout performers. The four players that have been chosen have a range of different abilities that would complement each other – a steady balance of attack and defence. Bar Blind, this defensive line is relatively unknown, therefore a scout report would be an interesting read on any of the three others.