Stats are lovely, lovely things. They can help to gauge a player’s real productivity, whether they’re over-performing wildly based on statistical norms or whether perhaps despite creating a lot of chances or scoring a lot of goals they’re actually weak in certain areas. They can challenge your preconceptions or serve as confirmation. Stats are lovely, lovely things.
They can also, taken in complete isolation, lead to situations like Liverpool buying Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing based largely on their chance creation stats. And when it comes to defenders, the various ranking services almost universally overvalue aggression because a more aggressive defender will invariably commit more distinct, measurable defensive actions that a canny and reserved player will not.
Those looking for a case of the manner in which stats-based ranking of defenders can lead to bizarre results need look no further than Dejan Lovren, who has been named the Premier League’s top defender—and Europe’s 12th best overall—by the CIES Football Observatory and never you mind that you just witnessed him being torn apart by Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie over the weekend.
There may be some measure of comfort for Liverpool fans in that Lovren undertakes enough actions that would tend to be judged as positive for a defender to find himself named Europe’s 12th best. There’s rather less comfort in how often, having watched him all season, his attempts to do the right thing invariably leads to the very worst of results. There may, though, be some solid pieces there.
Whether he can kick on in his second season at the club and ally those aggressive, theoretically positive actions with tangible, actually positive outcomes is another question. And one that given he ends the year looking largely the same liability he started it as after arriving for £20M last summer seems rather in doubt. Still, even if it’s skewed by his aggressive tendencies, the high ranking does perhaps hint at what Liverpool saw in him.
Or maybe it could lead to somebody at Real Madrid who hasn’t actually seen him play this season deciding they’ll pay £30M for him. So there’s always that to hope for, in which case Liverpool will owe somebody at the CIES an awfully big fruit basket. In other CIES rankings news, their January, mid-season report named Javi Manquillo the best defensive fullback in Europe.
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