I’ll be honest, I’d forgotten centre-backs even existed until Virgil van Dijk came along and won UEFA’s Player of the Year award ahead of Messrs Messi and Ronaldo.
The Dutchman put defending back on the map with his beautifully belligerent style of shutting down attackers, all while bringing back the ponytail.
But let’s not let Virgil take all the glory. It’s time to shine some statistical light on his peers. In the spirit of Rock ‘N’ Roll centre-backs, the statistics you’re about to read aren’t traditionally defensive.
Take Napoli behemoth Kalidou Koulibaly, for example.
No centre-back in Europe’s top five divisions is a match for the Senegalese Stopper™ when it comes to dribbles per game.
Koulibaly’s average of two dribbles per game across 180 minutes of Serie A football statistically puts him in the same category as Christian Pulisic, Isco, Gabriel Jesus, Heung-min Son, Suso, Julian Brandt, Justin Kluivert, Lucas Moura and Philippe Coutinho.
He’ll be strolling around the San Paolo wearing Diego Maradonna’s retired no.10 shirt before long.
Next up is Europe’s most creative centre-back, Lazio’s Stefan Radu.
The Romanian averages two key passes per game across 180 minutes of top-flight football, despite operating exclusively at the heart of Lazio’s defence.
Radu takes his place at the two-key-passes-per-game-table alongside the likes of Christian Eriksen, Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega, Mason Mount and Nabil Fekir, leaving David Silva looking on enviously from the 1.8-key-passes-per-game-table.
No he can’t pass you the salt, David.
When the ball hits your head and you’re stuck in row z that’s Matija Nastasic. Schalke fans, you can have that one for free.
No centre-back has taken more shots per game so far this season than Nastasic (two).
What, you might ask yourself, is a centre-back doing averaging the same amount of shots per game as Dimitri Payet, Edinson Cavani, Gylfi ‘serial shooter’ Sigurdsson and Hakan Calhanoglu?
Those goal bonuses don’t pay for themselves. That being said, the 26-year-old is yet to find the back of the net across 180 minutes of Bundesliga action this season. God loves a trier.
The phrase chalk and cheese has been officially retired.
Instead, it will be replaced by Jonathan Tah and Koffi Djidji. For example, cats and dog are ‘as different as Jonathan Tah and Koffi Djidji’.
You see, Bayer Leverkusen centre-back Tah averages 102.3 passes per game which, needless to say, is the highest average in Europe’s top-five divisions.
In stark contrast, Kofi Djidji, who’s played 112 minutes at centre-back for Torino this season, averages 7.5 passes per game.
Chalk and cheese. Tah and Djidji.
Talking of passers, Armando Izzo (who happens to be Djidji’s defensive partner at Torino) has the lowest pass success rate of any centre-back to have played at least 90 minutes this season.
His average of 54.3% in Serie A is lower than Aston Villa goalkeeper Tom Heaton’s success rate (56.9%) and, rather more worryingly, Stephan Lichtsteiner’s average of 57.6%.
In happier news, Parma’s Bruno Alves and Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels both appear to have a penchant for the Hollywood pass, attempting more long balls per game (10) than any other centre-backs.
Alves and Hummels are more accurate than Izzo, fortunately for the safety of their respective supporters and any planes that find themselves in the area.
Dan Burn is arguably the slowest centre-back in the Premier League. He’s also the centre-back most regularly caught offside in Europe’s top five leagues, an honour the Brighton defender shares with Jeison Murillo, Rafael Toloi and Keven Schlotterbeck.
Proof, if every you needed it, that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover nor an offside offender by his fleet of foot.
Southampton’s Kevin ‘second touch is a tackle’ Danso tops the tree when it comes to average bad touches per game (two).
Saints fans needn’t worry though, because Danso takes the same number of bad touches per game as Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong, aka the Second Coming of ball retention, and Jadon Sancho.
That concludes this thorough statistical dive into the not-so-humble centre-back.
I hope next time you see the big lad lumbering around at the back you’ll remember that he’s more than a centre-back. He’s a footballer, just like the midfielders and strikers ahead of him.
All statistics refer exclusively to centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues and were correct via WhoScored at the time of writing.
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