Packing for Scotland

Player Analysis
Stewart Brown

Stewart Brown

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Packing is a recently introduced model of analysing the game/players looking at how many players are beaten by passes. Stefan Reinartz and co who developed the model used the example of Brazil vs Germany at the most recent World Cup that showed Brazil ahead on some basic statistics that are commonly used but Germany thumped them 7-1 in said game. Packing showed that Germany beat 61 players more than Brasil which obviously doesn’t completely explain the game it certainly gives us a better idea of how the game went.

The current version of Packing looks at all passes completed and totals up how much players were removed in these passes but what I’ll be looking to do is refine and narrow the field down to the passes that I feel are a bit more insightful for Centre Backs in Scotland’s Big 4 Clubs.

As we all know Centre Backs passing % is one of the most overrated stats in football statistics. Centre Backs usually rank high in this category due to the high probability of the passes they make usually for example the short back pass to either the other Centre Back or the Goalkeeper. I’ll be removing those as they don’t bare any relevance in judging a Centre Backs ability with the ball.

I’ll be focusing on Successful Forward Passes that are made to the opponents half or made in the opponents half. The better Centre Backs are able to pass through the lines and start creative build ups for midfielders and forwards.

I chose to focus on just Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts and Rangers due to those teams dominating in the possession stakes more often than not so Centre Backs will have a lot more players to pass through and a lot less space to do it in due to teams playing them with a lower block. I’ll be totalling all players beaten by the Centre Back’s passes and dividing it by how many successful forward passes that are made to the opponents half or made in the opponents half to determine how many players are beaten on average of a successful forward pass. Here are the results;


Anthony O’Connor is really good with the ball. At the time of writing Anthony has gave up an absolute howler of a goal in the 3-0 loss to Rangers that finished the game as a contest however this put a dampener on what was a really good performance. O’Connor handled the nuisance that is Joe Garner and other than a late fatal mistake produced a number of fine passes that broke down an organised Rangers side. Rangers had a counter-attacking approach to the fixture which meant both Aberdeen Centre Backs had a lot of the ball. As you can see Anthony O’Connor is one of only two Centre Backs in the Big 4 clubs that has a packing rate of over 3 players. His usual partners at the back are Reynolds and Taylor who are more traditional Centre Back’s than O’Connor. They either distribute the ball to people like O’Connor and the deep lying midfielders so they can make the more difficult passes or they’ll go long to the central striker. The onus is on O’Connor to bring it out from the back to break down determined teams in a low block and he thrives in that role. Here is some of the ability demonstrated from games against the top 6 this season.

John Souttar is only 20 years old yet for a Centre Back so young his passing is of someone more experienced. Up until his injury in late January Souttar had been very effective in building the play through his ability on the ball. His impressive packing rate is no surprise to anyone who’s watched him play at Dundee Utd and then Hearts as he’s always been a positive Centre Back who looks to play the ball forward and build attacks. Souttar’s absence due to injury has left Hearts without a focal point to start attacks from and they’ll be keen to have him back next season.

Celtic’s stats should maybe only be compared to themselves. Most teams that face Celtic domestically use a really low block in comparison to the type of system they use when facing the rest of the big 4 clubs. Dedryck Boyata has the highest pass % in the league however his packing rate is only 1.8 which shows that the passes that he is making may be successful however they tend not to break down the opposition and his lower than teammates Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic. Jozo Simunovic has an impressive packing rate per pass of 2.4 which shows how effective he is in comparison to other Celtic Centre Backs in passing through teams who usually keep 10 sometimes 11 men behind the ball for most of the game and he ranks second to Wilson in total players beaten by his passes again showing what he can do when passing.

Danny Wilson is the premier passer amongst Centre Backs at Rangers. Wilson has beaten more players with passes than any Centre Back in the big 4 clubs per the packing metric. Wilson has a terrific range of pass and it certainly seems that the onus is on him to pass through the lines as he’s attempted more passes to the final third per game than any Centre Back in the big 4 clubs. Wilson is often criticised but his effectiveness with the ball continues to rank above his Centre Back teammates. Both Clint Hill and Rob Kiernan have good packing rates per forward successful pass however the second image shows that the amount of players they have actually beaten isn’t in the same league as Wilson. Evidence of his ability can be found here:

Hopefully the use of Packing can provide a bit more insight on how good Centre Backs are with the ball at their feet than traditional passing metrics.

All stats correct at the time of writing.

For any discussion, insults or hopefully compliments you can reach me on twitter @TheSPFLRadar

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