Data scouting Russian Premjer Liga: 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 Australian A-League. 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 Portugal, Russia, Austria and Turkey in the next weeks. Last time I spoke about Turkey, today I will delve into the Russian Premjer Liga.

I don’t know why, but looking at Russian clubs is always about the club that feature in European competitions, but there are so much more clubs than just the Moscow clubs + Zenit. That’s one of the reasons I would like to dig into the wonderful world that is Russian football.

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 117 players who qualify in the Premjer Liga Lig 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 900 minutes in this season. After looking at that I’m left with 63 players in my dataset and they will go through my analysis process. The data was retrieved on 5th May 2021.

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. Mickael Tirpan is on loan with Fortuna Sittard, but has played more than 900 minutes for Kasimpasa in the first half of the season, so he is included in this data.

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: Sokol with 9,79 defensive duels per 90, Filin with 8,18 defensive duels per 90, Margasov with 8,15 defensive duels per 90, and Chicherin with 8,07 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: Starfelt with 79,14% defensive duels won, Kvirkvelia with 74,71% defensive duels won, Begic with 74,24% defensive duels won and Strandberg with 74,16% 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: Hadzikadunic with 8,98 aerial duels per 90, Chistyakov with 8,41 aerial duels per 90, Vasin with 7,95 aerial duels per 90, and Martynovich with 7,26 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: Corluka with 75,36% aerial duels won, Ordets with 73,58% aerial duels won, Gerasimov with 72,53% aerial duels won and Putsko with 72,45% 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: Alikin with 1,26 shots blocked per 90, Gogoua with 1,16 shots blocked per 90, Kvirkverlia with 1,14 shots blocked per 90, and Bairyev with 0,97 shots blocked per 90.

If we look closer at the players that have the most Interceptions per 90, the following players stand out: Tikhiy with 7,87 interceptions per 90, Gogoua with 7,8 interceptions per 90, Kvirkvelia with 7,52 interceptions per 90 and Alikin with 7,27 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 dribbles per 90 metrics, we can see that three players really stand out from the crowd here. Douglas Santos has 2,53 dribbles per 90, Bauer has 1,83 dribbles per 90 and Terekhov has 1,54 dribbles per 90. They attempt to dribble a lot more than the average player does, which is near 0,6 dribbles per 90.

When we look at the progressive runs per 90, we see slightly different players. The top players in this metric are: Osipenko has 3,19 progressive runs per 90, Douglas Santos has 2,47 progressive runs per 90, and Strandberg has 2,4 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: Corluka with 14,39 progressive passes per 90, Semenov with 14,23 progressive passes per 90, Magnusson with 13,01 progressive passes per 90 and Rakitskiy with 12,95 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. Rakitskiy has 13,02 passes to final third per 90, Corluka has 11,29 passes to final third per 90, Semenov has 10,80 passes to final third per 90 and Strandberg has 10,75 passes to final third per 90.

Short list

This data can change within a few weeks, but looking at the data at hand and the above visuals – I’ve made a shortlist of four players who are worth scouting a bit more in terms of video scouting:

  • Vedran Ćorluka (35) – Lokomotiv Moscow
  • Douglas Santos (27) –FC Zenit
  • Stefan Strandberg (30)- Ural Yekaterinburg
  • Jaroslav Rakitskiy (31) – FC Zenit

In my opinion, these players would be up for further investigation and research in terms of videoscouting and profiling within the Russian league.


Data: Wyscout
Visuals: Tableau Public


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