Data scouting Polish Ekstraklasa 2021/2022: finding a central defender

In the last data scouting piece I spoke about the fact that I wanted to look further than the usual countries in Europe and scouted the Finnish Veikkausliiga. Although I still stand by those words and wanted to broad my view, I came to realise that I’ve not really looked into certain countries in Europe that are worth looking into. My eye will focus more closely to the leagues in eastern Europe, this time I’m focusing on the Polish Ekstraklasa

Polish football does have enormous talents and players who develop into world class players, but how is football in the domestic league? In this article I will look more closely to the central defenders in that 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 91 players who qualify in the Ekstraklasa 2020-2021.

Because I’m looking at the current season, which is a full 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 800 minutes in this season. After looking at that I’m left with 54 players in my dataset and they will go through my analysis process. The data was retrieved on 3rd December 2021.

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

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

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: Szczesńiak with 9,78 defensive duels per 90, Krivotsyuk with 8,90 defensive duels per 90, and Diogo Verdasca with 7,88 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: Milic with 83,67% defensive duels won, Satka with 77,05% defensive duels won, and Cichocki with 76,47% 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: Golla with 6,91 aerial duels per 90, Petrasek with 6,88 aerial duels per 90, and Wieteska with 6,59 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: Israel Puerto with 75% aerial duels won, Augustyn with 73,91% aerial duels won, and Petrasek with 73,85% aerial duels won.

In the scatterplot above we can see the metrics shots blocked per 90 and the interceptions per 90. These metrics help us assess the defending quality of a central defender, because it shows a form of an 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.

The most shots blocked per 90 are by the following players: Raphael with 1,38 shots blocked per 90, Nalepa with 1,02 shots blocked per 90, and Maloca with 1,01 shots blocked per 90.

If we look closer at the players that have the most Interceptions per 90, the following players stand out: Tekijaski with 7,56 interceptions per 90, Nalepa with 7,27 interceptions per 90, and Ivanov with 6,91 interceptions per 90.

Ball-carrying 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 dribbles per 90 metrics, we can see that three players really stand out from the crowd here. Grzybek has 3,55 dribbles per 90, Tudor has 2,52 dribbles per 90 and Stiglec has 1,67 dribbles per 90.

When we look at the progressive runs per 90, we see slightly different players. The top players in this metric are: Gryszkiewicz has 2,04 progressive runs per 90, Wieteska has 1,91 progressive runs per 90, and Grzybek has 1,78 progressive runs 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: Flis with 12,18 progressive passes per 90, Zech with 11,14 progressive passes per 90, and Israel Puerto with 10,85 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. Flis has 9,6 passes to final third per 90, Sadlok has 9,41 passes to final third per 90, and Salamon has 7,90 passes to final third per 90.

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