Monday, August 11, 2014

Ignore Geoff Cameron at CB at Your Peril

The consensus among most long-time observers of Geoff Cameron is that the American international is best-utilized as a central defender or, potentially, as a central defensive midfielder.  Not surprisingly, Cameron seems to agree with this assessment.  Most do not see Cameron as a natural right back.  And yet, that is where he has carved out a role for himself at Stoke.  Cameron made 36 of his 37 appearances in that role during the most recent EPL campaign.  While he performed ably, neither did he excel as he was unable to make full use of his athleticism— arguably Cameron’s best attribute.  But, there is growing speculation that other European teams see in Cameron what he sees in himself: an international-caliber center back.  The evidence, though not conclusive, indicates that Cameron should have no trouble finding a role in central defense for another team.

While we have a pretty good understanding of key performance indicators for attacking soccer players, there has been woefully little progress in measuring defensive players and, in particular, central defensive players.  This is understandable: the best attribute for a defender is the attacking play that did not happen – how do you measure that?  This major caveat aside, there is one measurable trait that most of the best central defenders possess— the ability to win aerials.  Opta measures both the # of aerials contested in a match and the % of these aerial battles “won” for every player.  Although he played as a right back, Cameron demonstrated an aerial prowess that compares well to his central defensive peers.

Skeptical that aerial win (%) means anything?  Here are the players with 70%+ aerial win.

We do have some more recent data on Cameron as a central defensive player.  We looked at his games vs. Turkey, Nigeria, Ghana, Portugal, and Belgium (he played as a central defensive midfielder this game).  We evaluated Cameron on three key central defensive indicators: aerial win (%), # of clearances, blocked shots (as a percent of shots conceded).  While not all-encompassing in their scope, these are some of the better indicators we have for center backs.  Here is how this admittedly small sample size of Cameron’s international work stacks up against the best center backs in the EPL (per composite rankings of Whoscored, Squawka, Castrol).  This analysis is in no way definitive, and you are no doubt thinking of that error vs. Portugal, but there is undoubtedly some compelling evidence on Geoff Cameron’s side.

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