Lack of awareness. Poor positioning. No concentration. Just three of the things leveled at Glen Johnson – often in response to praise about how good he is going forward. However, in 22 starts this season in the Premier League, Johnson made no assists and scored just once. So with no recent positive contributions either, how on earth has he made it into the England side this summer? Differentgame had a look to see if the statistics could give us the answer.
First we looked at the out-and-out English right-backs in the EPL to see how Johnson compared to his peers on measurable defensive interventions. We allowed for the fact that each player might have more work to do by factoring in the average possession of the opposing team over the season (Defensive Interventions per Percentage of Opposition Possession!):
Doesn’t look too good for Johnson does it? Less tackles, clearances and blocks than most and less defensive interventions overall even taking into account the fact that Liverpool have more ball than their opponents.
Next we compared Johnson to fellow Liverpool full-backs Jose Enrique and Martin Kelly (the direct threat to his place) :
By this measure, we see Kelly looks the best defender out of the three by some distance. But all these figures are in isolation. When we looked closer it was clear that Kelly played the majority of his games next to Jamie Carragher. Glen Johnson regularly lined up next to Martin Skrtel. So we looked at the contribution of the two centre-backs:
Carragher, at the twilight of his career is understandably not the commanding physical presence he once was. It could just be that Johnson has to do less because of the sheer amount of defensive work Skrtel gets through.
We also looked at how much Liverpool attacked down their right side and their left side. It’s almost identical – 37% left, 36% right. Both Kelly and Johnson had a variety of wide men in front of them – Dirk Kuyt, Downing, Bellamy. It’s therefore difficult to infer that any of this made much difference to the overall picture.
But then we looked at a more base figure. EPL clean sheets for last season. Here’s the breakdown for Liverpool defenders:
Take another look at the original table. Johnson intercepts the ball more than anyone bar Tony Hibbert. He doesn’t make many tackles yet barely gets dribbled round. Liverpool attack less down their right-side than they do their left. When Glen Johnson played for Liverpool last season in the EPL they were more likely to keep a clean sheet.
What was that about poor positioning, lack of awareness and no concentration?
Because Johnson’s style isn’t ‘British’ maybe the critics are doing him an injustice? Like David James, when he makes a mistake it looks like a real howler. But Roy Hodgson saw fit to pick him for an England side set up around defensive lines. He’s been able to overlook what the critics could not. It’s worked out ok so far…
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