Left backs: Chelsea signed the best

Introduction

The summer offseason and transfer window saw many left back targets that were theorized to be arriving at Stamford Bridge. The names included Nico Tagliafico, Sergio Reguilon, Alex Telles, and Ben Chilwell. The 2019/2020 season showed that the left back options at Frank Lampard’s disposable were not sufficient for a team that has title ambitions. Chelsea have struggled to replace the impact and legacy that was left at left back by Ashley Cole and have relied upon players such as Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso, and Emerson over the years since Cole’s departure from the club. It was a safe bet to say that left back and goalkeeper were the biggest positions of need over the summer several months ago, but the left back spot always seemed to have the most uncertainty given that the aforementioned targets in the transfer market all presented clear strengths and weaknesses

Chelsea ultimately signed the young, English left back Ben Chilwell, while targets such as Alex Telles and Sergio Reguilon went to Manchester United and Spurs, respectively. The 2020/2021 Premier League season is now reaching the midway point and data is abundant enough to begin to analyze how each target is fairing thus far with their new clubs. Although each arrived with a different price tag, the impact is all that will be remembered: succeed and the price tag looks much more irrelevant in arguments. So, out of the new LBs in the Premier League performing? To answer this, I analyzed all aspects of each player’s statistics: attacking output, passing, and defensive actions. The role of a left back, or albeit, a fullback in the modern game has become much more based around an ability to provide attacking impetus and output and that is why I decided that is a critical part of this analysis.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Data presented was accurate as of 12/24/2020.

Traditional Roles: Defensive Ability of Each LB

Sergio Reguilon and Ben Chilwell have each won the same number of tackles attempted this season with 16. However, Chilwell’s successful tackle percentage (64%) is slightly higher than Reguilon’s (61.5%). Telles is firmly inferior in this category with a 42.8% tackle success rate and only 3 tackles won thus far in the Premier League (NOTE: Sample size is lower for Telles than Reguilon and Chilwell).

INSERT BELOW: GRAPH TITLED “TACKLES_GRAPH”

Left back tackle graph
Tackles Graph

Looking a bit deeper into where the tackles occurred on the field by each respective player shows that each player has a much different role in their pressures and attempted tackles. Reguilon typically is attempting his tackles overwhelmingly in the defensive third, but is rarely attempting tackles in the attacking third, and is only marginally attempting tackles in the middle third of the field. Contrastingly, Ben Chilwell is attempting more tackles in the middle third of the pitch and is also attempting almost as many in the defensive third. Finally, Telles has only attempted tackles in the defensive third. This is suggestive that Chilwell is being used further up the pitch when defending and transitioning play than either Reguilon or Telles are.

Tackles in Each Third of the Pitch

Reguilon does lead Chilwell in the percentage of tackles he has against players attempting to dribble past him with a 42.11% success rate on tackles of that type. Surprisingly, Chilwell has the lowest rating in this category with a 38.90% success rate. However, Telles is leading both other players in this category with a 42.86% success rate. Both Reguilon and Chilwell have been dribbled past opposing players 11 times this season and Telles has only been dribbled past 4 times so far in his more limited appearances in the Premier League.

Finally, Reguilon has committed the most pressures of any of the fullbacks with 146, with Chilwell a good distance off with only 113 pressures. Telles has significantly less than both other fullbacks, as he has registered 38 pressures. Chilwell has the best successful pressure rate at 34.5%, with Telles close by at 31.58% and Reguilon is trailing both by a sizable margin with only 26.71% of pressures being successful.

Of note, Reguilon has the most yellow cards (2) of any of the fullbacks analyzed, as Chilwell only has 1 and Telles has not been disciplined so far.

Linking Up Play: Passing, Crosses, and Shot Creating/Goal Creating Chances

Each fullback may have a different role within their respective squads but passing is a constant that all systems will require for success. So far, Chilwell has attempted significantly more passes (654) as either Reguilon (366) or Telles (323). Additionally, Chilwell plays passes that move the ball a greater distance, as he has a progressive passing distance of 11,614 meters, whereas Reguilon has progressed the ball 6,414 meters and Telles has progressed it 4354 meters. This suggests that Chilwell is being used much more in attacking plays up the field, switches of play, and/or crosses/cutbacks into the box when compared to his fullback counterparts. This assertion will be examined further later in the article.

Comparing the pass completion percentages of each fullback based upon the attempted distance of the pass reveals a trend that is a bit surprising. Telles completes short and medium range passes at a greater percentage than both Chilwell and Reguilon, but the difference is negligible compared to Chilwell. The clear standout in long pass completion percentage is Chilwell, which helps to support the idea that he is involved more with attacking buildup, switches of play, and/or crosses/cutbacks into the box.

Pass Completeion Graph

To test the assertion that Chilwell is involved with passing further up the field within attacking movements, the number of crosses into the penalty area, key passes, and shot creating opportunities can be compared amongst the fullbacks. Chilwell has as many completed crosses into the penalty area (3) than Reguilon does. For contrast, Telles has only completed one cross into the penalty area. This statistic does not support the fact that Chilwell is used significantly more in the attacking buildup and play than Reguilon, but how does that hold up as more data is considered?

INSERT BELOW: GRAPH TITLED “Crosses_graph”

Left back crosses
Crosses into penalty area

Taking a deeper dive reveals that Chilwell is clear of both Telles and Reguilon in the number of key passes completed. Chilwell has completed 15 key passes, with Telles having 8 and Reguilon registering only 6 key passes. It is noteworthy to point out that Telles has played significantly less than Reguilon, yet still has produced 33% more key passes. Furthermore, Chilwell has created 24 shot attempts, whereas Reguilon has created 17 and Telles has created 12. Additionally, Chilwell has created the most goal creating attempts with 3, and Reguilon has 2 with Telles trailing both with only 1.

Goal creating and shot creating actions graph - left backs
Goal creating and shot creating actions graph

Another way of analyzing this data is to do it on a per 90 minute basis, as this method will alleviate the bias in the data based upon the increased sample size that Chilwell and Reguilon have over Telles. When re-analyzing the data in this format, Telles has the greatest shot creating attempts per 90 mins with 2.81. Chilwell is not far behind with 2.40 shot creating attempts per 90 minutes, and Reguilon is last place in this category with 1.87 shot creating attempts per 90 minutes. Chilwell still creates the most goal attempts per 90 minutes at 0.3 GCAp90, and Reguilon and Telles are almost equal in this category with 0.22 and 0.23 GCAp90, respectively.

The Modern Fullback: Attacking Output

The role of the fullback in the modern game has increasingly seen attacking play become a requirement in many squads. The 3 fullbacks analyzed here are no exception, as each has been involved in the attacking philosophy of their respective managers. Ben Chilwell has scored 2 goals while Telles and Reguilon have not scored yet. Each fullback has registered assists, but Chilwell has 3 assists, while Reguilon has 2 and Telles has 1. Chilwell is clear of both other fullbacks in the attacking output so far this season.

INSERT BELOW: GRAPH TITLED “G_A_plot”

left back GA plot
Goals and Assists graph

Analyzing the attacking output on a per 90 minute basis reveals similar trends as well. Chilwell has the best Gp90 and Ap90 with 0.2 and 0.3, respectively. Meanwhile, Reguilon and Telles each have a 0.0 Gp90, and Reguilon has a 0.22 Ap90, with Telles having a 0.23 Ap90. One further way to analyze these attacking stats is with expected metrics. Again, Chilwell leads both Reguilon and Telles with 0.9 expected goals. Chilwell also leads both other fullbacks with 1.0 expected assists. Chilwell also leads both fullbacks in expected goals and assists per 90 minutes with 0.09 and 0.1, respectively.

Left back Expected goals and assists
Expected goals and assists

Summary:

Overall, there are many statistical similarities between the fullbacks in the defensive aspects of the game, yet it seems that Chilwell just edges out Telles and Reguilon in most defensive metrics analyzed here. Additionally, Chilwell is the best short passer of the bunch, but Telles has the best medium and long pass completion percentage. However, in the attacking aspects of the game, including crosses and key passes created, Chilwell is clear of the opposition. Chilwell seems to be superior to both competitors in the attacking aspects of assists and goals as well, and every way the assists and goals were analyzed, the same trend emerged: Chilwell is the leader. Attacking play has become a crucial aspect to the modern fullback, and Chelsea seem to have picked the best attacking LB out of the possible targets from the summer transfer window. There is much to be excited about for Chilwell’s future at Chelsea, as he is likely to only improve as he further develops his craft under Frank Lampard’s management.

Written by Travis Flock @crossroads_cfc

Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5


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