Rock solid in the middle

Sandipani Basu
4 min readMar 21, 2021

The role of the defensive pivot in the midfield has become very important for clubs. Leicester won the Premier League, with N’Golo Kante in the 15–16 season, Chelsea won it the next season with the same player. Fast forward to the present and Pierre Hojberg, Kante(again) and Rodri to name a few are doing wonders for their respective teams.

This is just an analysis on the current Premier League season’s top defensive mids (till March 15th, 2021).

The average Premier League midfielder has tackled 43(mean) opposing players this season. Of this 19.1 have been in their own defensive third. Surprisingly, defenders have registered 21.9 tackles in their defensive third which is just slightly more than their midfielders. This re-emphasizes the role of midfielders tracking back and helping out when under attack or turning into a third CB when the full backs join the attack. We have also seen Maguire progressing forward and Fred/Matic filling in his position this season.

Graphs speak louder than numbers.

Pierre Hojberg has registered close to 94 tackles already this season, the most in the league. We also see full backs Wan Bissaka and Ayling right up there at the top with Kante separating the two.

The interesting thing though is the next plot of the number of successful tackles i.e. tackles which helped them regain possession.

Here we see the real winners of the tackling game. The list undergoes a slight shuffle and as expected Rodri is right up there with Hojberg(still at the top) in helping his team regain possession with his tackles. Declan Rice’s move up the pitch from a CB to a defensive mid has helped West Ham(one of many reasons) to be in the top 6 this season and has aided Rice to be among the top tacklers of the league. Bilic used to play him as a DMF at times, however it was Moyes who fixed Rice’s position since he took over.

With a lot of managers urging their team to press to regain possession, the onus falls on the midfielders to mount a press on the opposition, both in the mid and in the final third of the pitch. That will be clear from the plots below.

Hojberg again leading the charts here. Bruno Fernandes, who has been pivotal for United is seen applying pressure a massive number of times this season. If you look further down Son has been used an equal number of times as Doucoure. Says a lot about Mourinho’s style of play and how he demands a lot from his attackers. However, a press is successful when you gain control of the ball in the end. That tells us a different story.

Nothing different at the top. Hojberg leading these charts here too. However, no Bruno or Son here. Their success percentage of the pressure applied is not at par with the leaders of this metric. Also, note that there are three Leeds United players in this list namely, Luke Ayling, Kich and Dallas. Leeds presses a lot and it shows here. Mount too has been instrumental in keeping the pressure high on the opposition team. So Mount and Kante both have been useful here. But Mount is an attacking mid, right?

So Mason keeps the opponents on their toes in the attacking third of the pitch as shown by green section of our pie chart. Kante controls the mid and supports the defenders too.

Fact — Leeds United have pressed the most and Arsenal the least in the league.

We saw Kante’s metric evaluation across the pitch in terms of successful pressures. The two names which have popped up along with French international are those of Hojberg’s and Rodri’s. These two have been the center piece of their respective teams and have outperformed others in the league. But do they play similar roles as tacklers?

Rodri has won his TACKLES the most in the middle of the park and also few at the back. Hojberg on the other hand has been used as a deeper lying midfielder to support the Spurs defense, thereby keeping their compact structure intact. Hojberg rarely ventures ahead and has only 248 touches in the final attacking third of the pitch, with 16 of them in the penalty area.

Manchester City and Chelsea have conceded just 21 and 25 goals this season. Though there a host of other factors, a solid mid is what has helped them achieve this feat.

Hojberg has topped all charts,(51 times out of 100 has he tackled dribblers successfully this season, the HIGHEST) and has proved to be the best thing that has happened to Tottenham this season.

Hoping to see much more from the 25 year old Dane.



Sandipani Basu

An aspiring data geek with a keen interest in sports analytics, primarily soccer. I am on a gradual learning curve. But as they say good things take time.