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Centre-Back options for Leeds - based on a few key stats

Looking at the options Leeds have - and a couple we are linked with - are there any potential cheap options for Leeds?

Spain v Poland: Group A - 2019 UEFA U-21 Championship Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

First things first. Most reliable disseminators of information regarding Leeds United seem to think Marcelo Bielsa doesn’t want another centre-back. As much as some fans disagree, what he says goes.

However, if Leeds were to sign another CB who could be the options? In this I will look at a couple of names being put out in the media, then at a few names that fit the statistical profile.

Leeds appear to be going into the season with Liam Cooper as the only senior, first choice centre-back. Leeds have sold one of the best central defenders in the league in Sweden international Pontus Jansson. Gaetano Berardi should be a back up for the role at best, Kalvin Phillips is a midfielder. Ben White, while highly rated, is only 21 years old and only has real experience at a lower level. Behind those players we have Pascal Struijk, and although he managed to move ahead of the recently departed Aapo Halme in the pecking order towards the end of last season, he has yet to make a senior debut for Leeds.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side like to press high so defenders can often be left in one against one situations. It is therefore important that Leeds have defenders who do well in defensive duels. It is important for the players to be good passers of the ball and that they have the ability to get the ball forward quickly and accurately when the opportunity for a counter attack arises. As Leeds press and look to force mistakes Leeds’ defenders also have to be ready to step up and make interceptions.

This is how Leeds defenders stacked up last season, it worth bearing in mind that Ben White was playing in League One.

All values are per 90 minutes played. Only time spent playing at centre-back has been included in the data.

With those values, Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson both stacked up as two of the best defenders in the Championship last season. This means they can be used as a good benchmark for the level. It also means that being slightly below them, especially for a player who would be a back-up or a rotation (not that Bielsa likes to rotate) would still probably be a solid player.

Ben White had better stats than Pontus Jansson for both his Defensive duels won percentage, and for his Aerial Duels won percentage. Impressively his number of interceptions per 90mins was ahead of both Jansson and Cooper. His passing stats were not as high as Leeds’ first choice pair from last season but you would expect those stats to go up playing in a Bielsa side. Based on these statistics, plus what we have briefly seen in pre-season, it is understandable why Marcelo Bielsa would be willing to start the season with Ben White as first choice alongside captain Liam Cooper.

Spain v Sweden -EURO Qualifier Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

The stats do not make good reading for Gaetano Berardi. While his passing is fine, he does not stand up well in the defensive stats and when you add the to his predisposition for getting himself sent off and for flying into tackles needlessly he is not someone to be relied upon. His stats make for another strong reason for signing another centre-back.


THE MEDIA

Two names that have been mooted in the press are Krystian Bielik from Arsenal, and Ben Gibson from Burnley.

21 year old Bielik had an excellent season by all accounts with Charlton Athletic and is a Poland u21 international. He has two years remaining on his contract but Arsenal do not currently think he is ready for first team football and Bielik doesn’t appear to want a new contract if they aren’t going to give him a chance.

Spain U21 v Poland U21 - UEFA European Under-21 Championship - Group A - Stadio Renato Dall’Ara Photo by Nick Potts/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

He can play as both a centre-back and as both a defensive or central midfielder. His versatility and style of play have lead many to think he would be perfectly suited to a move to Leeds. He also is already settled in England and woud be joining three other Polish players in Mateusz Klich, Mateusz Bogusz, and Kamil Miazek which could help him settle at Leeds.

Ben Gibson is 26 now and had a horrendous season with injuries, needing two hernia operations and he barely played following his £15m move to Burnley after an impressive season with Middlesbrough. In the case of Gibson I have taken his stats from the 2017/18 season as he played much more that season. For me Gibson would be a much bigger risk than Bielik as it is hard to know how he will bounce back from his injury. Gibson is also likely to be much more expensive to bring in.

All values are per 90 minutes played. Only time spent playing at centre-back have been included in the data.

Statistically, Bielik stacks up well. His defensive duels percentage is a little on the low side but his Aerial duels won percentage is higher than any of Leeds defenders from last season. His 9.69 interceptions per 90 minutes is very impressive and would be very useful in the Leeds side.

Ben Gibson has slightly better defensive duels but was a bit worse aerially. In terms of their passing statistics there is little between the two. Leeds would only be able to bring in one of these players maximum and of the two I would definitely go for Bielik. He would be cheaper, he is younger and I think his game is better suited to a Marcelo Bielsa side.


THE CHEAP OPTIONS

All values are per 90 minutes played. Only time spent playing at centre-back have been included in the data.

These options would require further scouting as they have been kicked out by searching for players by statistics.

Franz Brorsson

It is purely a coincidence that the first name that came up - following Leeds sale of Pontus Jansson - is a young centre back who has come through the Malmo academy.

Brorsson’s defensive duels aren’t the highest but his statistics are solid and at 23 years old he still has room to improve. Transfermarkt has his value at £675k so he shouldn’t be too expensive and he has now got 2 senior caps for Sweden.

Players from the Allsvenskan can be a bit of a lottery in terms of their success rate but Brorsson could definitely be worth a closer look.

AIK v Malmo FF - Allsvenskan Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Wessel Dammers

Dammers is the captain of Eredivisie outfit Fortuna Sittard but generally speaking players playing for a club towards the bottom of the Dutch top flight (15th place finish last season) are more than willing to move to the Championship, particularly to a club the size of Leeds.

Statistically he looks good and he is only 24 years old. There is one major red flag though, he had a bad knee injury last season and it is hard to be sure if he will still be at the same level. For this reason it may be a player than is worth looking into with January in mind.

Transfermarkt has his value at £450k and he has also played as a defensive midfielder which is a good sign of his ability on the ball.

Fortuna Sittard v FC Groningen - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Geert van Erven/Soccrates/Getty Images
Fortuna Sittard v FC Groningen - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Geert van Erven/Soccrates/Getty Images

Leo Vaisanen

Another plying their trade in Holland, but this time in the second tier. Overall has marginally the best stats of the three but the level he is playing at has to be considered. Vaisanen is only 21 and has recently got his first senior cap for Finland.

His Transfermarkt value is the cheapest of the three at £315k and he may be the easiest to sign. His club - FC Den Bosch - are going through some ownership upheaval and Vaisanen is described as “putting pressure” on their budget.

Go Ahead Eagles v FC Den Bosch - Dutch Keuken Kampioen Divisie Photo by Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images