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A comparison of Bolton's defenders through the numbers

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Through three league matches the performance of Bolton's defense has been less than ideal. Which player does the statistics show has not been pulling his weight?

Matthew Lewis

So, I'm from Minnesota, one of the northern most states smack dab in the middle of the USA.  Now, people from Minnesota have a reputation for trying to deliver bad news and criticism in a way that kind of tiptoes around the issue. So, when I say less than ideal, what I actually mean is unwatchable at times. For your average person, I'm sure a simple "terrible" would have appropriately conveyed the last two sentences.

Anyways, through three league matches this season Bolton have surrendered five goals. If we're being honest with ourselves, that number should probably be higher if not for a couple of world class saves from Bogdan and at least one memorable instance of awful finishing by the opponents. Some of the defensive issues, such as the statuesque foot speed of Wanderers' center back pairing, have already been pointed out. However, when one looks at the counting statistics associated with defending (Aerial Duels Won, Tackles, Interceptions, and Shots Blocked) a couple interesting things stand out.

First off, just for fun, consider the table below. The table shows some of the defensive stats for one center back, one fullback, one center mid, and one winger. See if you can guess which is which.

Player

Aerial Duels Won

Tackles

Interceptions

Shots Blocked

A

3

11

5

1

B

4

3

5

1

C

3

7

2

0

D

10

7

4

0


So, Player A is Medo Kamara, Player B is Zat Knight, Player C is Chung-Yong Lee, and Player D is Marc Tierney. I think this comparison helps to illustrate how little actual tangible results that Zat Knight offers the Bolton defense. For a player who is half a foot taller than the next tallest player in this list (Tierney), Zat wins a shockingly low number of aerial duels. He also is not winning tackles. If you're a slow, towering center back, your job description is pretty much win headers and muscle opponents off the ball to win tackles. Zat's interceptions and his blocked shot are nice, but a starting center back should not have the same number of defensive actions that result in Bolton winning possession as a winger (12 each). 

To take this comparison one step further, let's compare Zat to Wheater and Baptiste, the other starting center back and arguably Bolton's best defender thus far respectively.

Player

Aerial Duels Won

Tackles

Interceptions

Shots Blocked

Baptiste, Alex

10

10

2

1

Knight, Zat

4

3

5

1

Wheater, David

12

10

4

1

Compared to his fellow center back, David Wheater, you would think that maybe Knight had played fewer minutes than Wheater, but this is really just a case of Zat does not seem to be the type of player to get in there against opponents and win the ball. The same conclusion can be drawn when comparing Zat to Alex Baptiste, Alex just seems to be a more complete defender.  The numbers thus far seem to support Mark's earlier idea of at least giving Baptiste a shot at center back with Tyrone Mears on the outside. For this to be effective, Dougie would have to realize that it would be Zat, not Wheater who would need to be benched in this lineup.