It’s been a while since we did one of these. In part four of this series, we discussed AS Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile. We also went over his strengths, weakness’ and how he’d potentially fit in to Chelsea’s team, should he decide to join the Blues. At the time of publication of part four, we were comparing him to Kurt Zouma and Virgil van Dijk because those were very easy decisions. Zouma was Chelsea’s standout centerback over two seasons at the time, he was the Blues’ most preferred centerback of the trio of himself, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen.
From this installment forward, the comparison will be made with just one Chelsea centerback. The Chelsea centerback will be the Premier League benchmark. The centerback that has been the most consistent for the past two seasons. It is important to note that since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel, whatever centerback configuration was used under Frank Lampard has pretty much gone up in flames. This has made the centerback for comparison a bit less straightforward.
The point of this series was to scout centerbacks that could potentially replace Thiago Silva when he eventually does leave, as he clocks 37 years old this September. Many centerbacks have different styles of play, so this series is not only restricted to centerbacks of Silva’s playing style. Silva’s numbers were also not used in this comparison because he’s only spent one season in the Premier League, though he’s been very good.
Method of comparison
Two of the most consistent centerbacks at Chelsea since the beginning of last season are Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma. Rudiger’s minutes and successes are more directly tied to Tuchel’s arrival and the change in formation and system though. Tuchel’s arrival puts Rudiger’s recent stellar defensive performances in context, but it doesn’t discredit it. To decide on a centerback to use for this comparison, a method was devised.
This method took as much of the centerbacks’ statistics from the last two seasons. These statistics were categorized into four: Defensive actions, duels, passing and other. These categories were also weighted. They were weighted to be as fair as possible and with the consideration that some actions or aspects of a centerback’s game are of more priority than others.
Some of the items under ‘other’ may fit into some other categories, as well, but they were grouped that way to be understood and calculated more easily. The weights are: defensive actions (40 percent), duels (28 percent), passing (20 percent) and other (12 percent). Defensive actions are just as important as duels, especially in a system that means you have a lot more of the ball and aren’t required to make as many defensive actions as some teams. Zouma won out with 52 percent compared to Rudiger’s 40 percent. This is because Zouma mainly won in defensive actions, though no one took the points for blocked shots, because they were tied.
In this part of the series, we’ll be discussing VFL Wolfsburg’s Maxence Lacroix. Lacroix spent last season in France’s second division with Ligue 2 club Sochaux. He then moved to Wolfsburg and became a starter instantly, at the age of 20. He made 30 appearances in the league for Wolfsburg, starting 29 games and keeping 12 clean sheets. Wolfsburg also conceded the second fewest goals in the league (37) and even overperformed their xGA (39.16). It’ll be mental gymnastics to try and separate Lacroix’s presence from Wolfsburg defensive achievements this season.
Lacroix has objectively been one of the best centerbacks—defenders, even—in the Bundesliga this season. He’s ranked top 10 for defenders in interceptions per 90, clearances per 90 and clean sheets amongst defenders in the Bundesliga. That is impressive for someone who was 20 years old when the season started. The Wolfsburg scouting team knew what it saw, and what it saw was excellent.
Lacroix is also a high volume long passer, so he matches the amount of long passes for a top centerback, but not necessarily the accuracy. Long passing is something that has to be honed over time though, so he’ll definitely get better at it the more times he does it. His reading of the game is at a very high level for a player of his age. His skillset will be very valuable for Chelsea, should he make the move.