Taking into consideration the intricacies of the modern game, what’s required from a center-back at top level football environments can be summarized in the following:
For this purpose, we have selected the following metrics & kpis to benchmark the performance of center-backs in the Premier League
Integrated kpi incorporating all advanced metrics relevant to Creative Passing productivity (successful Tunnel Passing per 90', successful Long Passing per 90', successful Promote Possession Passing per 90' etc)
Integrated kpi incorporating all advanced metrics relevant to Defending efficiency (Defending Contests success % per 90', 1vs1 success % per 90' etc)
Advanced metric relevant to Aerial efficiency (Aerial Contests success % per 90')
Liverpool’s center backs are the most productive in the league at building from the back, with Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal & Brighton’s counterparts forming a second easily discernible group.
Tottenham, Leicester, Manchester United, Wolves, Norwich & Everton form a third group in the 80-70 range. Southampton, Bournemouth, Burnley & Aston Villa are part of a fourth group in the 70-60 range, whereas Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Watford & West Ham are all part of group five in the 60 and below range.
In terms of center backs CRTP Productivity vs League Position, the trend is obvious: Teams higher up the league standings are usually the ones who apply a successful build up from the back.
This of course, does not mean that teams who are not as productive in that area cannot claim a high league position, with this season’s surprise package Sheffield United a prime example. Crystal Palace & Newcastle on the other hand, have managed to keep a safe distance from relegation zone despite their center-backs’ low ratings in the CRTP Productivity kpi.
In the relegation zone, Brighton’s performance (one of the league’s highest) cannot go unnoticed.
It is a fact that building from the back is very demanding and could easily backfire, especially for teams who do not have high enough overall quality in their roster, with Bournemouth and -particularly- Norwich prime examples of this.
Given that defensive efficiency is one of center-back position’s main characteristics, in this metric we observe that the difference in ratings is narrower than CRTP Productivity’s, with three discernible groups.
Liverpool’s center backs are on top of the defensive efficiency rankings table, with Burnley, West Ham, Manchester United & Leicester in close proximity. Watford & Brighton complete the first grouping.
Wolves, Norwich, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Everton, Sheffield United, Southampton, Newcastle & Tottenham form a second group in the 90-80 range, with Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Arsenal & Bournemouth part of a third group in the 80 and below range.
In the DEF Efficiency vs League Position chart the trend line might not be as steep as the CRTP Productivity trend linem however it is clear that the higher the ranking, the higher the league position.
Manchester City, Arsenal & Bournemouth’s center-back s defensive efficiency ratings are among the lowest in the league, definitely to be included in their black-box as to the what went wrong this season. On the other hand, Burnley’s performance is particularly impressive, obviously one of the backbones of their solid season.
Interestingly enough, center-back defensive efficiency of teams currently occupying the bottom-three positions (Bournemouth, Aston Villa & Norwich) is lower -even marginally- than the still-floating remaining relegation battlers (Brighton, West Ham & Watford).
Given that center-backs are probably the most dominant players in aerial contests, the difference between ratings is narrower than CRTP Productivity’s, observing four discernible groups.
Liverpool’s center-backs are on top of the aerial efficiency rankings table, along with Crystal Palace. Brighton, Burnley, Leicester, West Ham, Manchester United, Sheffield United, Aston Villa & Wolves form a second group, with Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Watford, Southampton, Norwich & Bournemouth part of a third group.
Everton, Arsenal & Newcastle at the bottom, form a fourth group.
We observe that in the aerial efficiency vs league position chart, the trend line tells a story: Higher rating, higher league position.
Manchester City’s low ratings in this metric might explain the huge points difference from Liverpool, with Arsenal’s poor ratings an explanation to a disappointing campaign.
Burnley & Crystal Palace dominance in this area sets them apart from the rest of mid-table competitors (Everton, Newcastle & Southampton), while Brighton & West Ham’s ratings correlating with floating above relegation zone.
Liverpool’s center backs are clearly on a different level, with Brighton & Leicester on a similar trajectory but on lower levels with Chelsea, Manchester United & Burnley completing the highest ranked teams.
Liverpool’s feat is unique in the league, with a marginal variance between the three areas of focus combined with the highest scores, proving how demanding it is to ask your center-backs to build from the back and at the same time stay competitive aerially & defensively.
No other team in the league managed to demonstrate the same performance in the center-back position.
Given that CRTP Productivity heavily depends on a team’s style of play, lets try to produce a cumulative score based on defensive efficiency & aerial efficiency.
When we group teams per league position (top half, mid-table, relegation battlers) it is clear that top teams in each group are the ones with a high cumulative score in the aerial efficiency & defensive efficiency metrics.
Liverpool, Burnley, Brighton & West Ham’s center backs are the most efficient whereas Manchester City, Arsenal & Bournemouth’s center-backs the least efficient in the league.