Using Data to Find a Matthijs de Ligt Replacement for Juventus
Matthijs De Ligt became a star from a young age, as he rapidly progressed from the Ajax youth team and then became a key part of the Ajax senior squad. At just the age of 19, he was a part of the successful Ajax side which made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Champions League, beating some of the biggest clubs in Europe along the way.
Juventus went in for the young Dutchman at the end of the 2019 season and snapped up the centre-back for €75 million. De Ligt has been fortunate to be around some of the strongest centre-backs of the generation such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci and has been coached by some great coaches along the way.
De Ligt managed to get a fair share of games over the time, with Chiellini and Bonucci suffering injuries, the Dutchman became an integral part of the team. Fast forward to this summer (2022), Bayern Munich have completed the signing of the Dutchman for a fee rising to €80 million.
Whilst Juventus have completed the signing of Brazilian defender Gleison Bremer to replace De Ligt, they nevertheless look short-handed in central defense following the exit of Chiellini to LAFC. Apart from Bremer, the club’s options are the 35-year-old Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, and Federico Gatti, who spent the past season on loan at Serie B side Frosinone.
In today’s write-up, I will be finding Juventus a replacement for De Ligt, purely with the use of data. The theory behind the analysis is to find a similar mould of player to De Ligt, rather than just simply finding a suitable centre-back for the club.
De Ligt: The Number Test
De Ligt played 31 games last season for Juventus and the above gives us an idea of the player’s traits, which can enable us to profile him better. For example, we can see that De Ligt has a 91.4% accurate passing percentage, which would suggest he is a great passer of the ball from playing at the back and making successful passes.
Another standout of his game appears to be his duels won, where he scored an impressive 71.9% which would suggest he wins the majority of his duels, which is essential for a defender. An example of a trait that De Ligt does not use often is slide tackling, as he ranked 0.29 for PAdj slide tackles.
Looking at the heat map above shows that De Ligt does occupy the central spaces and within his own half. The 2 more clear shades suggest this is where the centre-back spent most of his time, which is either on the left or right side of the central defense.
It also suggests that De Ligt has been instructed to stick to his position and play out from the back by opting to pass rather than bring the ball out deep into midfield.
This does not complete the whole picture but gives us a good idea of how the manager would have instructed his players to play and does help when profiling a replacement, in terms of centre-backs who often drift more forward VS those who will hold their position, but again this is mainly a call from the manager.
De Ligt: The Eye Test
In this section, we will be looking at some footage from the last season of De Ligt and his main strengths during a game.
As we can see, De Ligt is composed and confident when put in a 1V1 situation. From reviewing further footage, this is something of an occurrence in the defender’s game.
Here, we can see how De Ligt fares in a duel with an opposition attacker. We can see that he is again composed and calm when dealing with this type of pressure, which is a great trait to have for a central defender. This binds well with the stat reading that was reviewed earlier, where De Ligt won the majority of his duels.
This time, we can see De Ligt winning an aerial challenge. The dutchman may not have had so many aerial duels per game but when having them, he ranked on average 58.7% for aerial duels won.
If we compare this metric with other centre-backs, De Ligt would sit on the lower end of the spectrum. When profiling for a replacement, I would suspect Juve would want someone who can win more duels in the air.
Finally, here is a clip of De Ligt’s passing abilities. As per the reading from the stat view, De Ligt has a very high rating when it comes to accurate passes.
Here we can see a nice long-range pass that sets off an attack. Again, when profiting from a replacement, we would want to see the replacement also has a good range of passing.
Shortlisting For the Matthijs de Ligt Replacement
I started to compile some data analysis on some of the top leagues in Europe and compare centre-backs to De Ligt purely by data. Juve requires a long-term replacement, so an age cap of 26 was set when going through this process.
We will come to the findings in the next section, but first, we will confirm some of the players who were shortlisted. When identifying a potential replacement, it was important to ensure these players compared well to De Ligt and also would be able to fit into Juventus’s style of play.
Here are the 5 names who made it onto the shortlist:
- Jurrien Timber (Ajax)
- Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina)
- Marcos Senesi (Feyenoord)
- Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Robin Le Normand (Real Sociedad)
In this section, we will be looking at some of the key metrics where we compared De Ligt to the shortlisted centre-backs. This will give us a good understanding of who we think could be a great fit for Juve next season.
Aerial Duels Won %
Firstly, we can see that most of the players shortlisted ranked higher than De Ligt for Aerial duels won. Milenkovic the Serbian from Fiorentina came up as the front runner for this metric. The only player that came up short was Timber, which is what we would have expected with the dutchman being a shorter player than the rest of the shortlisted defenders.
Successful Defensive Actions
For successful defensive actions, actually, all the shortlisted players came up before De Ligt. What we have to bear in mind here is the league the players are playing in and perhaps Juventus are less likely to have more defensive work to do than the other teams. However, taking away nothing from the other players and especially Senesi from Feyenoord who came out on top for this metric.
Duels Won %
For duels won, it was a fairly even contest however, De Ligt came up 3rd overall out of the shortlisted players. Milenković scraped it for this metric and Le Normand the Frenchman was very close behind.
Interceptions Per 90
This time around, De Ligt was ranked lower in terms of interceptions per game. It was Senesi the Argentine who came up top for this metric. Ajax’s Timber was not too far behind but Senesi did glow well here for interceptions per 90.
Finally, for the passing metric, I have broken this down into progressive passes & accurate passes. Firstly, we can see that De Ligt has a lower progressive pass rate than the shortlisted men. In terms of accurate passes, this is fairly level but Milenković came out ahead for this metric.
Who Can Replace De Ligt (Purely By Data)
From the reading above, this is a very close call between Milenković & Senesi as they both came out on top 3 times each for different metrics. If we were to make a call based on who would be the safer signing then of course Milenković would be the preferred choice as he has also played in the same league as De Ligt.
With Milenković looking like he would choose Inter ahead of Juve, Senesi would be the less costly and most likely option that would go ahead, however, even with Senesi, he is wanted by the likes of Roma and Sevilla however, Juve would likely beat those teams to his signature. Purely for this write-up, we will assume that Senesi is the option and look more into the Argentine.
De Ligt vs. Senesi
Below is a comparison of key metrics between De Ligt and Senesi for their performances last season for their respective clubs. Apart from De Ligt standing out on accurate passes, Senesi actually is ranking better for all other metrics compared to De Ligt.
Again, we have to remember the level of opposition and league, hence why there has to be more work done in terms of scouting and research before making a call just on reviewing data. This reading tells us that Senesi does appear to be a similar mold of a player compared to De Ligt and appears to have the same traits as the Dutchman which is a great sign.
Senesi: The Eye Test
In this section, we will be looking at some footage from the last season of Senesi and his main strengths during a game.
As we can see, the centre-back is very determined and makes up decent ground to win the ball back. From reviewing further footage, Senesi has this in his locker more often and has shown this on many occasions during a game.
Here we can see Senesi against Roma, keeping up with the speedy Tammy Abraham as he looked to get his team up the field. However, it was Senesi who again made decent ground and eventually won the ball back and stopped any further danger.
This is an example of the Argentine’s range of passing and this time we review his long-range passing. Similar to De Ligt, he does enjoy a long-range pass and on this occasion, he manages to find his teammate further up the field. Again, by reviewing further footage, this is something that Senesi does quite often in a game and executes accurately most of the time.
Finally, I wanted to highlight something which I noticed in Senesi’s game from reviewing game footage. This is one of many examples where the defender likes to go in strong and has the determination to win his team the ball. This is a very good trait to have especially in Italy, and Senesi would fit in well for the aggressive nature of the game.
Juventus have made a busy start to their transfer window by signing Ángel di María and Paul Pogba on free transfers and beating out competition from Inter to sign Gleison Bremer, but if they are going all-in on winning their first Scudetto since 2019/20, it would behoove them to invest in central defense.
Between Senesi (25), Le Normand (25), Tah (26), Milenkovic (24) and Timber (21), La Vecchia Signora have ample options to reinforce the centre of defense, and given the fact that their contracts expire in 2023, Milenkovic and Senesi may be the cheapest options for Juve. With five weeks remaining in the transfer window, expect Juve to be making more moves as they look to beef up their squad and challenge for the league title under Max Allegri.
By: Dhillon Gill / @_iamdhillon
Featured Image: @Juanffran / Getty Images