How Andreas Christensen has staked his claim to be the Premier League’s best young ball-playing centre back
Since his particularly impressive two-year stint in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach, it seems clear the defender is already the real deal, ready to challenge for a starting berth in Antonio Conte’s back three.
The 21-year-old possesses considerable ball-playing credentials alongside a sage-like reading of the game for a defender so young; centre backs typically don’t reach their potential in this sense until their mid-to-late 20’s.
In the modern game, with its emphasis placed concurrently on possession-based football alongside rapid counter-attacking, any position typically reserved for non-creative players that is filled with a playmakers is a real plus for the overall attacking prowess of a team.
The obsession with the ball-players-everywhere-philosophy has gone as far back as the goalkeeper, with Guardiola’s stance on Joe Hart the clearest manifestation of this. He went through a whole season with the disastrous Claudio Bravo before finally landing his man Ederson.
Centre backs then, are expected to have some quarterback qualities without question, with the need becoming more of a must the further up the Premier League totem pole you go. So without further ado, here’s a comparison of the league’s elite ball playing centre halves.
Round one: Accuracy
John Stones has managed a 92% pass accuracy since the start of last season, making him the most accurate passer of all of the players listed here. However he’s made roughly 200 fewer passes, 1,662 to Christensen’s 1,894. Even so, this term the Englishman has averaged an eerily high 96% passing accuracy, albeit in a Man City side that pride themselves on possession perhaps more so than a resolute, tactically changeable Chelsea side. Stones’ performance against Feyenoord was
John Stones' game by numbers vs. Feyenoord:
100% aerial duels won
100% tackles won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 13, 2017
The Dane is second-most accurate passer among the players compared here. Christensen managed a passing accuracy of 91.5% over last season and the start of this. At Borussia Monchengladbach he managed an accuracy of 91.4% per 90 minutes, while so far at the start of this it’s at a phenomenally high 94%.
Christensen completed an outrageous 98.2% of his passes in a game for Gladbach against Hertha Berlin last term, which was a record in the Bundesliga last season. He’s continued that form at Chelsea. Just have a look at his passing accuracy in the Champions League for Chelsea:
Andreas Christensen misplaced just two passes vs. Qarabag:
Completed more than any player. ❄️ pic.twitter.com/oWcnIJHbyC
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 12, 2017
Javi Martinez was the only defender with a higher pass accuracy (91.43 vs. 91.47) than Andreas Christensen in the Bundesliga last season.
Eric Bailly averaged a passing accuracy of 86.1% over the same period per 90 minutes, while Sanchez has a 85.2% accuracy.
Round two: Range (Number of long balls completed and accuracy)
John Stones has the superior passing range, measured here by tallying the number of successful long balls a player played out of the total. Stones has attempted 184 long balls, hitting his intended target 105 times.
That gave him a 57.1% long ball accuracy. At Man City Stones is afforded the freedom to attempt more expansive passes alongside possession-retaining short passes arguably than the other players. This is demonstrated well in the tweet below:
3 players attempted 100+ passes during Man City vs. Liverpool:
David Silva (102)
John Stones (102)
95% accuracy on average. pic.twitter.com/8HHm9vpAYw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 9, 2017
Next in line is Christensen who managed 56% last season and this. Then it’s the Colombian Davinson Sanchez, who enjoyed a more-than-solid 55.6% long ball accuracy. Eric Bailly was the least accurate with long balls; he was only precise 45% of the time.
Round three: Creativity (chances created, through balls)
In the all important creativity stakes, Christensen comes out on top of his Premier League rivals with a creativity rate per 90 minutes, measured in chances created and through balls, of 0.24. The nearest challenger to the Dane in this metric is, perhaps not surprisingly, John Stones, who managed 0.16 per every 90 minutes.
Spurs man Davinson Sanchez scored 0.13 while Man United’s Eric Bailly notched 0.11. The actual ability of a centre back to create goalscoring chances is a very unique achievement given their positioning on the pitch: they are unlikely to be in crossing positions or attacking-midfield areas that often.
Christensen’s success in this regard stems from an accuracy and ingenuity that the others don’t demonstrate to the same extent.
It is difficult to come to a conclusion because Man City’s John Stones and Andreas Christensen are usually just fractions away from each-other in all of the rounds, and where there is a bit of trail it’s the one Christensen blazes in the creativity stakes.
Even so, on balance the title probably should go to Stones, who just edges out the competition in this tussle among the best young ball-playing defenders in the Premier League. He and Christensen have comparable stats across the rounds, but Stones takes two rounds to Christensen’s one.
The other defenders, Bailly and Sanchez, simply don’t quite figure in the same way at this stage in their careers, though both are liable to improve their numbers.