After years and years of constant alterations in the centre of defence, it finally looks like West Ham United have found a centre-back partnership that they are going to stick with, going forward.
It contains two of Manuel Pellegrini‘s summer signings, whose talents and level of experience seem to compliment each other perfectly when it comes to thwarting opposition attacks. Today, we are going to carry out a statistics-driven tactical analysis of the new partnership to determine what makes them tick so well.
The so-far successful duo consist of the man nicknamed ‘The General,’ Paraguayan International Fabian Balbuena and his Aide-De-Camp, France U21 star Issa Diop, both of which made the move to East London in the summer transfer window, from Brazil and France, respectively.
The pair have started every Premier League game together since first appearing in the late-August defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and while they didn’t seem to click immediately, the Hammers are now reaping the rewards of keeping them together.
Over the course of this tactical analysis, we are going to be looking in-depth at both players’ average statistics so far this season, before comparing them and seeing how they weigh up and finally, looking at their sucess as a centre-back partnership. We start by individually analysing Balbuena.
For this section, we have enlisted the help of our good friends over at wyscout.com, to bring you the above graphic, containing the average of all of ‘The General’s’ key statistics in all competitions, this term.
The first stat we are drawn to is how many total actions he has been involved in and the answer is 67.6 so far this season, he has been successful in 60% of them, although, he hasn’t registered a goal or an assist, understandable, for a central-defender.
Of the shots he has had on target, it’s good to know that almost 20% have been on target, understandably, again, his expected goals rating is low, along with his passing accuracy, at 6.2% from the 43.83 passes he averages, per-match.
Balbuena is not well-known for his silky passing, more his strength and nature instincts for being a defender, meaning it is a surprise to see his long passing rank so well, completing nearly 50% over the just-over-five he averages in English football.
The centre-back also isn’t renowned for his dribbling and crossing, which centre-back is? This makes up for his respective 0.19 and 0.5 dribbles and crosses per-match, with success levels of 56.2% and 67.2%.
When it comes to winning duels and aerial duels, Balbuena is consistent as he settles into life in England, winning 43.7% and 42.3% of his per-90 minutes average of 13.83 duels and 5.6 aerial duels.
Balbuena weighs in with an eye-catching average of over seven interceptions each time he takes to the field, and only loses the ball 0.6 six times, although over 50% of those do come in his half, along with 11.79 recoveries, just over 10% of which come outside of his own half.
Discipline, just out of picture, is also a strong area for the Paraguay man, as he is yet to be shown a red card since joining Pellegrini’s men and averages 0.1 yellow cards, per-match in Claret & Blue.
Now, we move onto his much younger accomplice, the man who plays to the left of Balbuena, Diop, as we have selected the same block of stats and a mini-heatmap from Wyscout, to display how he has adapted to life in England, on the field.
This is also for his average playing time of 90 minutes and straight away, from the image, we can see that Diop has an average of 52.1 actions per-game, with an average success rate of 69.6%.
He also has a single goal, netting the equaliser for West Ham in the Carabao Cup Round Two victory away at AFC Wimbledon with a sweet strike and usually carries some kind assist threat, too, averaging 0.02.
41.2% of his shots under Pellegrini have been on target, furthering the notion that he carries with him, an attacking threat, while with his 33.86 and 4.6 average passes and long passes per-90 minutes, he has respective averages of an eye-catching 85.4 and 52.2%, in terms of success rate.
What we are already seeing is that Dio is a ball-playing, free-flowing defender, who plays on the front foot, a clue as to why this partnership works so well, he is also accurate with his few crosses, 66.7% of the time.
The Frenchman should try to dribble with the ball less, gaining the upper hand just 0.06% of the minuscule amount of times he does, as we can see, he is much better at duelling, winning 50 and 57.7% of his 11.54 and 3.05 duels and aerial duels, per-game.
His average of 5.22 interceptions is still right up there, as is 10.92 recoveries, 12% of which come outside of his own half, only 45.4% of the 6.98 average losses, come in the danger area that is his own half.
His full disciplinary record is just out of picture, as was the case with Balbuena, but I can tell you that he averages just 0.22 yellow cards, each time he dons the Claret & Blue, and exactly zero reds.
For the third stage of our tactical analysis, we have used the Premier League’s official website‘s fantastic Player Comparison tool to pit one another up against each other, using some different defensive stats.
Before we get stuck in, it’s worth noting that Balbuena has featured in seven matches in all competitions, this term, and Diop just dive, that equats to a difference of 180 minutes, in total.
On the whole, the graphic tells us that there is very little to separate the two defenders, styles is a completely different matter, but play isn’t, they are very well-matched, I hope you’re making note of these clues.
They have both kept one clean sheet, that came in the same game, the first home point of the season, the 0-0 draw with Chelsea at London Stadium, while Diop has conceded half the goals Balbuens has.
The youngster of the pair has made twice as many blocks as his older compatriot, but the latter has contributed 11 more interceptions, three more tackles and two more tackles won, in the Premier League.
As you can see, neither have made a last-man tackle, while Balbuena has 58 to Diop’s 27 clearances, 26 to his 13 headed clearances and 18 to his nine total aerial battles won, that’s double.
After the Frenchman’s early success in the stats column, things finish poorly for him as his Paraguayan partner has contributed zero own-goals and zero errors leading to goals, but he has one of each, though, both defenders haven’t given away a penalty.
In summary, as a duo, the pair have totalled up one clean sheet in their five matches together, conceded just six goals, and contributed to a mere two defeats, one draw and two victories, not a bad record to have, at all.
Looking ahead, with the main competition coming from out-of-form Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice now playing in midfield and Winston Reid out until the new year, this partnership look set for a very long run in the team together and Hammers will be desperately hoping that they’ve started, as they very much mean to go on.