Ever since Brendan Rodgers assumed the Liverpool helm, he’s been linked on a daily basis with his former Swansea colleagues and today was no exception.
The Daily Mail today claimed that Brendan Rodgers is looking to raid former club Swansea in the event that Daniel Agger does make the rumoured £18-20million switch to Manchester City or Barcelona. As a ball playing centre back, Agger is rightly touted as one of the key components of Rodgers’ reformed Liverpool, which values possession, patient passing and cool heads on the ball as essential ingredients to success.
So the question is; would it be worthwhile recouping a figure in the region of £20million, taking the Agger ingredient from Rodger’s creation and replacing him with the Welshman Ashley Williams? Here’s my brief statistical take on the interesting transfer manoeuvre.
Ashley Williams is a 6 foot, 27-year-old Welsh international who currently holds the fort for Brendan Rodgers’ previous club Swansea. Thus, the Swansea centre back is the same age as Daniel Agger, but comes in at 3 inches smaller than the Dane. Williams secured a move to Championship side Swansea in March 2008, initially on loan with a view to make it permanent, which was inevitably activated at the end of the season for £400,000. He has since made 178 appearances for Swansea and scored 11 goals, which led to selection for the Welsh national team and 33 appearances for them, scoring a solitary goal. In his time at Swansea, he has collected two individual accolades; “Wales Footballer of the Year” (2009) and “Championship PFA Team of the Year” (2010). Williams also featured in 106 consecutive league games, ending in 2010, which equalled Swansea’s club record.
One of the biggest (and only) concerns surrounding Liverpool’s Daniel Agger, is his ability to see out an entire season, unblemished by injury. Unfortunately, this concern is an accurate one and a significant risk to the club’s fortunes. Since the 2007/08 Premier League season, Agger has averaged only 17.8 games per season, meaning that the 27 appearances he made in the Premier League last season was in fact his equal highest tally in a Liverpool shirt and begrudgingly, an anomaly (he made 27 apps in 2006/07).
Ashley Williams however, started 37 of Swansea’s 38 Premier League games last season and featured in every single Championship league fixture the two previous seasons in the Championship. Williams, therefore, has been a highly reliable defender who historically hasn’t needed a perpetual standby centre back, as is the case with Agger, and whose contribution and availability is essentially guaranteed over the course of a season.
What may come as a surprise to many is how alike Agger and Williams are statistically, or at least, how different they are not.
Duels and tackles
In terms of 50-50 ground duels, Daniel Agger was involved in one every 13.05 minutes, compared to Williams’ 13.7 minutes. However, Agger trumped Williams with a 67% duel win rate compared to Williams 55%. In terms of aerial duels, Agger was again involved more frequently and more successfully, attempting one every 31.03 minutes winning 64% of them, edging Williams’ 31.12 minutes per duel and 50% success rate.
However, Williams was a more effective tackler in 2011/12, making a tackle every 58 minutes with a 75.4% success rate. Agger, on the other hand, made a tackle every 67 minutes with a 65.6% success rate and was therefore a less successful tackling presence in defence than his Swansea competitor.
Moreover, both made frequent interceptions, with Agger managing to cut off an opposition pass and reclaim possession every 32 minutes, which was more frequent than Williams who did so every 37.4 minutes under Brendan Rodgers who employed a high pressure philosophy – a trait generally associable with a high tackle and interception rate.
On the ball
As previously mentioned, Daniel Agger is rated very highly for his ball control and marauding runs with the football. To have one stagnant centre back (Skrtel/ Carragher) and another who is capable of pushing the defensive line forwards to assist an attacking movement without compromising their side’s defence, is a trait any team would like to have. Chelsea, for instance, were regularly criticised last season for their leaky defence due to Luiz’s inability to track back having marauded forwards (further emphasised by AVB’s high line for a large part of the season), whilst praised when his runs produced an effective attacking contribution. The question is then, how valuable is Agger’s ability make runs forward with the ball?
Agger’s ability to ‘maraud’ forward is evident given his 0.41 successful dribbles per game, compared to Williams’ 0.24 successful dribbles forward. Despite this, both players only scored 1 goal apiece for the season. Agger’s pressure on goal is blatant via his shot rate, whereby he managed a shot every 79 minutes compared to Williams who managed one only every 238 minutes. Yet, despite having a superior shooting accuracy (DA’s 22% compared to AW’s 14%) and more frequent shot count, his actual goal contribution was the same as Williams’. Moreover, Williams created a chance every 278 minutes, surpassing Agger’s 306 minutes per contribution. As such, despite his ability to maraud forward, Daniel Agger was actually less effective in terms of his shot conversion (AW’s 7% compared to DA’s 4%) and his ability to create chances.
Side note: In terms of passing, Agger’s 84% pass accuracy is only just surpassed by Ashley Williams’ 85%. Furthermore, the involvement of centre backs in play – and not just defending – and the critical importance of possession under Brendan Rodgers is evident here. Ashley Williams averaged an incredible 70.4 passes per game last season for Swansea, or 0.78 passes per minute. On the contrary, Daniel Agger averaged only 39.5 passes per game, amounting to 0.5 passes per minute under Kenny Dalglish. As such, Brendan Rodgers may prefer a player less likely to give the ball away, i.e. by marauding forward but rather value one who’s able to conform to a high passing and patient defensive game.
Although this is only a brief gaze into the statistical performances of both, it does seem as though fans’ qualms relating to Ashley Williams are unfounded. His tackling prowess surpasses our best defender’s and his actual attacking contribution is also superior, despite Agger’s entertainingly impressive ability to make penetrative runs forward.