Data scouting Belgian Challenger Pro League: Finding a central defender

Who are the best defenders in the Belgian second tier, the Challenger Pro League? In this scouting piece I’m going to look for a central defender with an accent for ball progressing capabilities. There are different types of central defenders, but I’m looking for a profile that fits a central defender who can carry the ball and thinks progressively.

The data
The data used in this analysis comes from Wyscout. In the dataset for the central defenders, I’ve selected each player who primarily plays on the central defender position. Obviously, there are other players who have played in this position, but I’ve only selected the players that have played as a central defender as a dominant position in the current season. This leaves me with 68 players who qualify in the Challenger Pro League 2022-2023

Because I’m looking at the current season, I want to make a selection for players that played a decent amount of games for me to assess them. For me, it’s important that they played at least 450 minutes in this season. After looking at that I’m left with 46 players in my dataset and they will go through my analysis process. The data was retrieved on 5th January 2023.

I will look at the following categories and metrics to assess their abilities through data:

  • Defensive abilities:
  • Ball-carrying abilities
  • Passing abilities

After going through the data analysis and visualisation, I will make a shortlist of players who I think are worth keeping your eye on.

Defensive abilities

The importance of defensive duels is evident. It’s to measure the physicality of a central defender and the ability to win defensive duels to assess how well a player defends in defensive situations.

The most defensive duels conducted per 90 are by the following players: Heris with 9,31 defensive duels per 90, Konstantopoulos with 11,25 defensive duels per 90 and Engwanda with 11,33 defensive duels per 90.

If we look closer at the players that have the highest percentage of won defensive duels, the following players stand out: Wuytens with 77,08% defensive duels won, O’Brien with 78,08% defensive duels won and Mawete Kinsiona with 78,21% defensive duels won.

The importance of aerial duels is to assess two things. Firstly, to look how many times a certain player conducts in an aerial duel during 90 minutes of football. And secondly, to assess how many of those aerial duels are won per 90. The aerial capability can be a contributing factor in the defensive strength of a central defender.

The most aerial duels conducted per 90 are by the following players: Lemoine with 5,5 aerial duels per 90, Konstantopoulos with 5,89 aerial duels per 90, and Vukotic with 6,02 aerial duels per 90.

If we look closer at the players that have the highest percentage of won aerial duels, the following players stand out: Bateau with 75% aerial duels won, O’Brien with 76,54% aerial duels won, and Vukotic with 78,13% aerial duels won.

In the scatterplot above we can see the metrics PAdj sliding tackles per 90 and the PAdjinterceptions per 90. These metrics help us assess the defending quality of a central defender, because it shows a form of intelligence of a player. You have to recognise the movements of the opposition to adequately make a defensive actions, and therefore these metrics are useful.

Most PAdj tackles per 90 are by the following players: Vukotic with 1,39 tackles per 90, Khemais with 1,95 shots blocked per 90, and Konstantopoulos with 2,31 shots blocked per 90.

If we look closer at the players that have the most Interceptions per 90, the following players stand out: Le Joncour with 9,75 interceptions per 90, Didden with 9,86 interceptions per 90, and Vukotic with 10,09 interceptions per 90.

Ball-carying abilities

Ball-carrying is a valuable thing for a player to have. The ability to literally carry the ball from the defensive third to the middle or attacking third is not to be underestimated, and this is no different for central defenders that I’m scouting. I’m well aware that this is not something every central defender can do, but I’m looking for a progressing central defender in possession. In what manner do they conduct themselves in progressing the ball? This can be translated via data with the metrics dribbles per 90 and progressive runs per 90.

If we look at the progressive runs per 90 metrics, we can see that three players really stand out from the crowd here. Hautekiet has 1,87 progressive runs per 90, Meisl has 1,89 progressive runs per 90 and Terekhov has 2,13 progressive runs per 90.

When we look at the dribbles per 90, we see slightly different players. The top players in this metric are: Heris has 2,03 dribbles per 90, Sabbe has 2,12 dribbles per 90, and Mawete Kinsiona has 3,12 dribbles per 90.

Passing ability

Passing abilities. I could focus on the percentage of successful passes, but that doesn’t say a lot in itself. I want to see how well they progress the ball as well as without the ball. I’ve looked to the progression with the ball on their feet, but I also want to see how well the progression in passing is. That’s why I chose to look at progressive passes per 90 and passes to the final third.

Looking at the progressive passes we see a few players stand out: Matthys with 13,29 progressive passes per 90, Butera with 14,44 progressive passes per 90, and Van den Bergh with 15,58 progressive passes per 90.

If we look closer to the passes to the final third, we see some of the same names featured at the top. Matthys has 8,84 passes to final third per 90, Hubert has 9,11 passes to final third per 90, and Van den Bergh has 12,09 passes to final third per 90.

Final thoughts

With this data analysis of players we have seen which players do the best in the central defender role in the Belgian second tier with at least 450 minutes played in this season. From this analysis we will make a short list and from that short list, we move on to video scouting and live scouting.

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