Tackling is a fine art and the Premier League is home to some of the world’s best exponents right now.
In fact, it’s arguably among the factors that have proved most important to Ange Postecoglou’s excellent, table-topping start to life as Tottenham Hotspur manager.
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Yes, even without Harry Kane, Spurs are blessed with an enviable amount of attacking talent in the likes of Son Heung-min, James Maddison and Dejan Kulusevski. However, it must be noted that seven of the Lilywhites’ eight league victories have come by one and two-goal margins, pointing to an excellent job being done at the other end of the pitch.
True Tackle Success is calculated by dividing Successful Tackles Made by Total Tackle Attempts.
Total Tackle Attempts is made up of four different metrics: Tackles Won, Tackles Lost, Fouls from Attempted Tackles and Challenges Lost (a.k.a Times Dribbled Past).
A Successful Tackle is made up of Tackles Won + Tackles Lost. This may sound counter-intuitive but, as defined by Opta, a tackle won is deemed to be where the tackler or one of his teammates regains possession as a result of the challenge, or where the ball goes out of play and is “safe”. A tackle lost is where a tackle is made but the ball goes to an opposition player.
Both can be deemed successful tackles. The outcome of the tackle (won or lost) just differs based on where the ball goes after the tackle.
Tottenham’s finely tuned tackling machine
With just one full season’s experience in a top-flight league prior to joining Spurs from Wolfsburg in the summer, the signing of Micky van de Ven probably didn’t get too many supporters off their seats. However, the 22-year-old Dutchman has quickly proven himself a vital acquisition and, as it happens, a clean-as-a-whistle tackler.
Van de Ven has played in all 10 of Tottenham’s Premier League matches so far, making 18 tackles along the way and, incredibly, he’s yet to concede a foul from any of those attempts and has been dribbled past just once. The former Wolfsburg man has a true tackle success rate of 94%, which is the second-highest of any Premier League defender.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Van de Ven’s centre-back partner Cristian Romero also figures in the top 10 with an 81% success rate and the second-highest number of tackles (27) of any player in that top 10. Despite his high number of attempts, Romero has only been dribbled past three times and has conceded just two fouls.
Both centre-backs are protected by the third Spurs player in the top 10 — they’re the only team with more than two — Yves Bissouma. The battling midfielder has made the most tackles (36) of any player in the top 10 and, yet, has conceded just three fouls, while he has been winning the ball all over the pitch with 13 tackles in the defensive and middle thirds, respectively, and four in the attacking third.
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You shall not pass (William Saliba or Aaron Hickey)
Arsenal’s latest French virtuoso has swiftly established himself as one of the very best in the Premier League and there’s a credible argument that the Gunners would have lifted the title last season had William Saliba not succumbed to injury.
This season, Saliba has once again been an immovable object at the back. A brick wall, if you will. And you know what you can’t do to a brick wall? Run through it. Saliba is yet to be dribbled past in the Premier League, despite being in a pretty small group of players to break 1,000 minutes.
Brentford’s Aaron Hickey is also yet to be dribbled past despite making 17 tackles and he even has a true tackle success rate of 94% compared to Saliba’s 88%. Very impressive.
Calvin Bassey never misses
Calvin Bassey was part of the Ajax exodus over the summer and if his early performances in the Premier League are anything to go by, he looks a solid buy at the £18m-plus Fulham paid.
The Nigeria international — who can play as both a left-back and centre-back — is currently the only defender in the Premier League with a 100% true tackle success rate. Bassey has made nine tackles so far this season, coming away with the ball every time which, of course, means he is yet to concede a foul or be dribbled past.
The obvious caveat here is that Bassey has only played six times and has far fewer minutes on the clock after he was eased into action by Marco Silva. However, it’s still quite an achievement and a good illustration of his defensive capabilities.
Better call Konsa
We can all agree that John Stones is England’s first-choice centre-back right now, but who is the best option to partner him? Harry Maguire has obviously been the most used option but if his fortunes at Manchester United don’t drastically improve soon (and in fairness, there have been recent glimmers of hope), Gareth Southgate may have to finally replace him.
With that in mind, Southgate could do a lot worse than looking at Ezri Konsa.
The Aston Villa centre-back sits alongside Hickey and Van de Ven with a 94% true tackle success rate, with only Bassey scoring higher. Amazingly, Konsa has made 16 tackles and is yet to concede a foul and has been dribbled past just once.
Like Postecoglou at Spurs, Unai Emery is building something special at Villa Park and for all their attacking talent, it’s quite possibly at the heart of defence that the best work is being done.