Premier League's Top 8 Most Effective Defenders by Statistics

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

Premier League's Top 8 Most Effective Defenders by Statistics

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    Statistics play an ever more important part in analysis of football matches, whether that is for checking out opponents, looking at potential new recruits, or understanding the basics of what make a team successful.

    Of course, they don't give the overall end result by themselves, but can certainly give an indication of what the big picture looks like if used properly.

    In the Premier League, defending in general has come in for a fair amount of criticism and scrutiny over the past couple of seasons, and though the standard as a whole may be perceived to have gone down, there are still plenty of individuals who rarely let their team down.

    Here are the English top flight's top eight most effective defenders by statistics; encompassing a total value of key defensive metrics. These include tackles, aerial and ground duels, clearances and interceptions.

    Heavier weighting was applied to factors such as tackling than clearances, on the basis that a team under siege or significantly poorer than the opposition may be required to complete clearances on a regular basis, yet they do not necessarily maintain possession or even "clear the danger" effectively.

    Winning a ground duel indicates that the battle for possession was won in that instance, meaning a more effective defensive contribution.

    Defenders who had started at least 70 percent of their team's Premier League games so far were considered (16 starts).

    Statistical data from and

Honourable Mentions: No's 20 to 9

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    Before we get into the top eight, let's take a quick rundown of the rest of the best, from No's 20 to nine.

    Pos Player Team Notable statistics
    20th Gareth McAuley West Brom has completed 180 clearances
    19th Pablo Zabaleta Manchester City totals 124 ground and aerial duels won
    18th Rafael da Silva Manchester United  United's full-backs have both won 46 tackles
    17th  Glen Johnson  Liverpool  only two full-backs have won more ground duels (99)
    16th  Angel Rangel  Swansea City  50 interceptions and 109 clearances 
    15th  Ciaran Clark  Aston Villa third in entire Premier League for clearances 
    14th  Maya Yoshida  Southampton  47 tackles, 43 interceptions
    13th  Patrice Evra  Manchester United  totals 138 interceptions and clearances
    12th  Ashley Williams  Swansea City only 14 successful tackles - lowest in top 20
    11th  Phil Jagielka  Everton  173 clearances this season 
    10th  Carlos Cuellar  Sunderland  has won 128 ground and aerial duels 
    9th  Robert Huth  Stoke City  194 clearances; third highest in Premier League 

8th: Matthew Lowton, Aston Villa

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    Key stat: 88 ground duels won

    Aston Villa defender Matthew Lowton has been a big part of a struggling side. The Villains have conceded 44 goals this season, the most in the entire Premier League.

    Needless to say, their back line—be it in a four or a five, as boss Lambert has used both this season—has had plenty of work to do, and Lowton has featured in all 23 league games.

    Despite the goals against Villa, Lowton has achieved consistently impressive statistics, including winning 46 tackles and 88 ground duels.

    The same can't be said for all of his defensive teammates, which is perhaps why Aston Villa are 17th in the league table.

7th: Mike Williamson, Newcastle United

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    Key stat: 116 aerial duels won - the most in the Premier League

    Nobody in the entire division has won more aerial battles than the Newcastle United defender.

    Mike Williamson has been restricted to 18 games this season because of injury, and with Newcastle active in the transfer market, he'll be hard pushed to keep a regular spot for the remainder of the campaign.

    Like Villa, Newcastle have had a season of struggle so far, languishing just two points and two places above the relegation zone.

    Williamson has also made a league-high 258 clearances to go along with his 116 victorious aerial duels.

6th: Geoff Cameron, Stoke City

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    Key stat: Only three other full-backs tally higher than his 96 ground duels won.

    Stoke City signed American Geoff Cameron in the summer, and though he is recognised as a central midfielder and centre-back, he has done a great job playing at full-back on either side for the Potters.

    Cameron is extremely capable in one-on-one situations, also amassing 69 tackles won and 55 clearances.

    Stoke's defence is notoriously tough to break down, especially at home, and Cameron has more than played his part this season.

    Cameron ranks fifth overall in the Premier League for average number of tackles attempted per game this season—the second highest defender after Pablo Zabaleta.

5th: Winston Reid, West Ham United

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    Key stat: In home matches, both Winston Reid (9.2) and centre-back partner James Collins (10.7) rank in the top 10 for clearances per game in the Premier League. Away from Upton Park, neither feature in the top 10. West Ham have won only twice away from home this season.

    Winston Reid has been something of a surprise success story this term, winning a regular place in the team ahead of the likes of James Tomkins on a regular basis.

    While his 189 clearances for the season is impressive, if not astoundingly so, he scores consistently well across the board in ground and aerial duels, tackling and interceptions rather than being outstanding in one particular area.

    He outscores his defensive partner in every key defensive metric, with the exception of interceptions.

    Reid has won 70 ground and 54 aerial duels this season in the heart of West Ham's defence.

4th: Ryan Nelsen, Queens Park Rangers

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    Key stat: One of four defenders to have eclipsed 200 clearances for the season, Nelsen has managed 219 for QPR.

    That statistic is exactly why, when Nelsen departs these shores, QPR will miss him so much.

    Neither the most pacey of defenders nor one who frequently makes big tackles, Ryan Nelsen is nonetheless superb at positioning himself to intercept danger or cut out crosses.

    He has won 56 aerial duels too—only Mike Williamson beats him in the top eight in this list—and his steady presence has prevented Rangers from being even worse off than they currently are.

    Nelsen is set to join Toronto as their new head coach some time this season.

3rd: Davide Santon, Newcastle United

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    Key stat: 131 ground duels won—the most out of any defender in the Premier League.

    Davide Santon has been almost ever present for the Magpies, featuring in 22 out of their 23 league games, and averages a hugely impressive six ground duel victories per game.

    He is one of only two defenders to have attempted over 200 this season, the other being Glen Johnson (204 attempted, 99 won), with his total of 228 good enough for sixth place in the entire league—the others higher than him all play far further forward for their teams.

    Santon has also won 48 tackles and made 40 interceptions, making him the third most effective defender in the league overall.

2nd: Chico Flores, Swansea City

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    Key stat: Third in the Premier League for average interceptions per game, with 3.4. Also ranks in the top 10 for clearances and tackles per game.

    153 clearances by Chico is an impressive tally given he has played only 16 times this season because of injury and suspension.

    His 55 tackles won is also an indication of his importance to the Swansea defence; partner Ashley Williams has won only 14 this season.

    Chico is very much a strong all-rounder in defence, winning his share of ground and aerial duels as well as making an interception every 26 minutes, which is the fourth most-regular in the top flight. The three players who score higher than him in this department are all midfielders (Steve Sidwell, Sandro and Chris Baird).

1st: Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Key stat: 168 clearances, 61 interceptions, 86 ground duels, 49 tackles and 37 aerial duels—Jan Vertonghen is statistically the most effective defender in the Premier League.

    The Spurs ace has featured at both centre- and full-back this season for his club due to injuries to others, but his all-round defensive ability means he has been equally impressive in both roles.

    His 61 interceptions is a Premier League best for any defender, while no centre-back has amassed more than his 86 ground duels.

    Vertonghen has played slightly more often in the centre than on the left (14 games vs. 12 games), while he ranks in the top 20 for all players and positions from the Premier League in average tackles, clearances and interceptions per game.

    Vertonghen has proven an astute purchase by Tottenham and his consistency is part of the reason Spurs have been on an impressive run of form, losing just once in the last 10 league games.

    The Belgian ranks highest as the most effective defender in the top flight.