Ashley Williams, Or…

Liverpool’s defence will need some major reconstruction during the summer; Jamie Carragher is retiring, and both Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates appear to be decidedly out of favour.

If you believe what you read, then Ashley Williams of Brendan Rodgers’ former club Swansea City is the primary target, and looking at his stats on WhoScored, it’s easy to see why.

The Welsh international is ranked sixth in the Premier League for interceptions per game, fourth for clearances per game, and top for blocked shots per game; in many ways, he’s exactly what Liverpool are looking for.

But he wouldn’t be cheap; the Swans trousered £15m when Joe Allen moved to Anfield last season, and no doubt the Capital One Cup holders would look for a similar amount for Williams. I have therefore looked at the defensive stats for Europe’s big five leagues on WhoScored to try to find the Reds a bargain.

I set myself a couple of conditions: as Liverpool’s owners are known to favour a young side, all players who are older than Williams (who is 28) were excluded, and as there is always a British transfer premium when players change clubs within the Premier League, I have looked exclusively overseas as my aim is try to preserve the majority of the Reds’ transfer budget.

I then chose some key defensive statistics, and gave each player a score based on their percentage of the best figure in Europe for that attribute (so as a simple example, if the highest number of clearances per game was ten, then someone who averaged nine per game would get a score of 0.900, and so on).

I initially used tackles, interceptions, clearances and shots blocked figures to compile a top ten, and then added in aerial duel win percentage (as Liverpool have been very susceptible to crosses and target men this season) and short passing accuracy (as Brendan Rodgers likes his teams to play out from the back) to get the full total.

The table below shows the top ten centre backs in Europe, sorted by their total score as per the above criteria. The boxes in green highlight where a player has performed better than Williams.

AW StatsFor the record, Martin Skrtel is the Liverpool defender who would come closest to appearing on this chart, with a score of 3.873 this season. Clearly, improvements could potentially be made to the Reds’ rearguard if they purchased one or more of the above.

It appears that there are three defenders who, overall, have performed better than Williams this season, though of course it depends which of the above stats you consider the most important, as here they’re all equally weighted. It would seem that if you want your centre backs to tackle and win balls in the air, than the Swansea man wouldn’t be the best player to go for.

As a Brazilian, the top ranked Geromel would certainly give the Reds a ‘samba spine’ next season, with Lucas and Coutinho in front of him, and the stats suggest he would be a good acquisition. Interceptions are clearly the Mallorca man’s strength; with 4.1 per game on average, he has made more than every single other player in Europe’s top five leagues. For a ball-playing side like Liverpool, this ability could be invaluable.

I also thought it would be interesting to factor in the cost of each player, to try to ascertain the best value signing from the above footballers. I have used Transfermarkt‘s valuations of the players, then divided their performance score, to see who provides best pound-for-pound value.

AW Value AdjustedPerhaps inevitably, this has simply put the players in reverse order of cost, but it does suggest that Ashley Williams is the worst value signing, and that’s when using a valuation of only £5.3m; it may be a realistic price based on his ability, but it’s not one that Swansea would accept for their captain this summer. Of the three players who have outperformed Williams this summer, it is Boye of Rennes who appears to be the best value.

At this point, an unsurprising confession; I haven’t seen these players play, and have no idea if they would be suited to the fairly unique demands of the Premier League, with it’s wet Wednesday nights in Stoke and alehouse tactics, or whether these men are slow, fast, fat or thin. I also realise this system of assessing players is still very limited, so any feedback would be most wecolme too.

But hopefully I’ve at least demonstrated that there may well be cheaper alternatives to Williams in Europe, who can perform to a similar level. If you’re reading Mr Henry, my research fee is a mere 5% of the transfer value….

Related posts you might like:

Replacing Reina – A look at which European keepers have a similar skillset to Pepe, in case he returns to Spain this summer.

Defenders Of Our Faith – A guest column by Andrew Fanko, who investigates the defensive records of Liverpool’s centre back pairings.

Liverpool Summer 2012 Transfer Review – My takes on the pros and cons of the ins and outs at Anfield.

Please check out my other articles, and follow me on Twitter or via Facebook. Thanks.

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3 thoughts on “Ashley Williams, Or…

  1. I wonder if Mancienne being English might inflate his value? I doubt Hamburg is influenced by his nationality, but I bet they realize that English teams are, and will raise his price when they deal with English clubs.

  2. Interesting article, but I think this says it all for me:

    “For the record, Martin Skrtel is the Liverpool defender who would come closest to appearing on this chart, with a score of 3.873 this season.”

    If Martin Skrtel is our best defender according to the ranking you’re using, then it’s a not a very good ranking for our team. Yes, it might work if Stoke were looking for a new defender, but as a team that relies on their center backs to keep possession and start attacks from the back, I think this over-values the wrong stats.

    • Well it doesn’t have any regard for mistakes counting against the score. Skrtel’s errors leading to goals are, in my opinion, the biggest reason he has been displaced, not his worse skills on the ball.

      Piggy-backing off of this, I think the discipline record and errors would be an interesting aspect to examine as well. Perhaps it would help complete the picture further about how many of these defenders are risk-taking in the number of tackles and interceptions they attempt leading to fouls or mistakes.

      Seeing as the Eredivisie seems to be mined for defensive talent in recent years (Vertonghen, Vermaelen, possibly Alderweireld, de Vrij, & Douglas) it might be good to expand the analysis to include that league as well.

      Great article, though. The only name on that list that I had seen LFC linked to int he past couple months (besides Williams) is Boye (http://www.caughtoffside.com/2013/05/01/liverpool-eye-deal-for-ghana-international-centre-back-as-carragher-replacement/).

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