Premier League back four groups

Michael Steele

I brought this subject up briefly in Monday's Hoddle and it was suggested I expand some of what I found into a FanPost. So blame a01 if you waste your time reading it.

I wanted to know how many times Spurs' best back four (in my opinion) - Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose - have started together this season. I was also wondering how many different combinations of players Spurs have started in their back line instead of those four.

To figure it out I simply went back and looked at the ESPN match reports for every game Spurs have played this season in all competitions. I kept it pretty simple, not looking for any deeper lying patterns beyond who played with whom and how many times. Not the most scientific method, but here is what I found:

Total combinations: 17

Most frequently used back four (starts in all comps): Walker (RB), Dawson (CB), Chiriches (CB), Rose (LB) - 7

Times ideal back four started together: 0

That's right, Spurs best back line haven't started a single, solitary game together this season. In fact their most frequently used foursome didn't include either of the team's best center backs.

For the sake of comparison I decided to do the same for the four teams currently ahead of Spurs in the Premier League table. My initial prediction was that Arsenal have fielded by far the fewest combinations of different players in the back four, and that Liverpool have used the most because of their injuries and Brendan Rodgers being a crazy person.

Here are the rest of the numbers including games played up to this morning. Please remember there are some mitigating factors, such as the different number of games the various teams have played:


Total combinations: 12

Most frequently used back four: Sagna (RB), Mertasacker (CB), Koscielny (CB), Gibbs (LB) - 17

Tottenham's two best center backs, Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul have started together as the center back pair four times this season (Vertonghen has also started two games at left back with Kaboul at center back). Mertasacker and Koscielny? 33 times!


Total combinations: 10

Most frequently used back four: Ivanovich (RB), Cahill (CB), Terry (CB), Azpilicueta (LB) - 17

Considering the size of Chelsea's squad it definitely surprised me that they've used so few different lineups. Also, I thought I remembered them having some injury problems at the beginning of the season. Similar to Arsenal however I think it's fair to conclude that this level of continuity has had a significant effect on the overall success of the team's defense this season.


Total combinations: 19

Most frequently used back four: (tie) Johnson (RB), Agger (CB), Skrtel (CB), Flanagan (RB)- 4

Toure, Skrtel, Cissokho, Flanagan - 4 You figure out who was playing where!

This one was a mighty pain in the ass. I'm pretty sure a few of these lineups were back fives (three center backs) but keeping track of Brendan Rodgers' insanity was probably the worst part of this exercise. To what do we attribute Liverpool's success this seasons considering how unstable their back line has been? It's all about the offense baby.

Manchester City

Total combinations: 20

Most frequently used back four: Zabaleta (RB), Kompany (CB), Demichelis (CB), Kolarov (LB) - 6

And here is your winner, not surprising given the injury problems Kompany and Nastasic have suffered as well as the mammoth size of the City squad. I bet Manuel Pelligrini isn't too thrilled to see Martin Demichelis' name here. (Ed note: Pellegrini's blind spot is that he thinks Demichelis is good.)

Summation? Somewhat surprisingly Spurs are smack in the middle in terms of mixing and matching their back four players over the course of the season. The two teams who have used the most players also happen to have the two best offenses in the league - but are both known for having suspect defenses. The teams who used the fewest, Chelsea and Arsenal, also have two of the best overall defenses in England. No big surprise there.

Mostly this was just for fun but it does underline the fact that Spurs have rarely had a chance to play their best players together for any length of time. That inability to create a coherent, consistent lineup, specifically on defense has undoubtedly played a part in the team's lackluster play and a number of their poor results this season.

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