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Tackling in the Premier League: alive and well or a dying art?

Burglar botherer Duncan Ferguson’s winning start to life as a Premier League manager can be neatly summed up in one number: 37.

The 37 tackles made by Ferguson’s side during the 3-1 win against Chelsea was not only the most in a Premier League game this season but also Everton’s highest total of the decade.

That Ferguson, a man with an on-pitch conviction to his name for a Glasgow kiss, was able to inspire some robustness in a side who, just a game before, carried the bite of a sea monkey is no surprise.

A moment of silence for terrified Premier League managers

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A moment of silence for terrified Premier League managers

But the pure velocity of tackles might well have come as a shock, not least to Chelsea. Ferguson’s Everton’s approach was a throwback to a bygone era of stretched collars, Mitres and thundering challenges.

Tackling has been in slow and steady decline since the 2006/07 season, when Arsenal surprisingly led the way with 998 tackles; ensuring the three more challenges than Spurs could manage kept north-London-shins red.

Although Liverpool tackled their way through the 1,000 mark the following season, thanks in no small part to Javier Mascherano, by 2011/12 leaders Sunderland were only putting up 824 tackles.

That number dropped down to the 700s by 2016/17, when Middlesbrough led the way with 727 tackles, and has remained there for the previous two campaigns, when Huddersfield Town (743) and Crystal Palace (730) topped the tackling table.

  • 2006/07: Arsenal- 998
  • 2007/08: Liverpool- 1,089
  • 2008/09: Aston Villa- 982
  • 2009/10: Liverpool- 958
  • 2010/11: Bolton- 939
  • 2011/12: Sunderland- 824
  • 2012/13: Southampton- 819
  • 2013/14: Liverpool- 848
  • 2014/15: Newcastle- 824
  • 2015/16: Liverpool- 871
  • 2016/17: Middlesbrough- 727
  • 2017/18: Huddersfield Town- 743
  • 2018/19: Crystal Palace- 730

Not since 2015/16, when N’Golo Kante powered Leicester to an unlikely Premier League title, has a player topped 170 tackles across an individual campaign.

By way of contrast, four players- Nigel Reo-Coker, Javier Mascherano, Mohamed Diame and Lucas Leiva- racked up at least 170 tackles between 2008 and 2011.

Wilfred Ndidi topped tackling metrics for each of the last two Premier League campaigns with totals of 138 and 142- tallies which wouldn’t have seen the Leicester midfielder included in the top three until the 2010/11 season.

  • 2006/07: Scott Parker (Newcastle)- 166
  • 2007/08: Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa)- 178
  • 2008/09: Lee Cattermole (Wigan)- 167
  • 2009/10: Javier Mascherano (Liverpool)- 178
  • 2010/11: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)- 172
  • 2011/12: Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle)- 117
  • 2012/13: Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)- 146
  • 2013/14: Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)- 133
  • 2014/15: Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)- 129
  • 2015/16: N’Golo Kante (Leicester City)- 175
  • 2016/17: Idrissa Gueye (Everton)- 136
  • 2017/18: Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)- 138
  • 2018/19: Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City) 142

While tackling may not be completely dead, the numbers do point to a dying art.

Who better to relight the fire than Big Dunc? It’s tempting to think about what he would have done with Idrissa Gueye- sold to PSG in the summer- given the Senegalese midfielder was in the top three Premier League tacklers during each of his three seasons at Everton.

The Toffees have since tried to move away from David Moyes’ successful blood and thunder of approach but, in the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Fabian Delph and Tom Davies, they still have players who are arguably better without the ball than with it.

They are the players Ferguson will now turn to to lead Everton’s revival. In doing so, he might just spark the revival of the Premier League tackle.

Get your shin pads at the ready.

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