Austria 2019/20: Finding the best centre-backs – data analysis
Within the last couple of years, RB Salzburg made a name for themselves as they sold several talents to clubs across Europe. However, the most people just recognize or remember the offensive players like Takumi Minamino who joined Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, Erling Haaland who moved to Borussia Dortmund or Valentino Lazaro who currently plays for Newcastle United in the Premier League.
However, Salzburg and the other clubs of the Austrian Bundesliga produced also some great young centre-backs like Martin Hinteregger, Aleksandar Dragović or Dario Maresic within the last years who then moved to other clubs in Europe. Considering this, we can see that within the last seasons the talents in Austria got more and more and the number of young players who want to play for the Austrian national team grows. Besides, some older players already have played at a high level within the last few years. Because of that, Austria’s head coach Franco Foda has often a hard choice which players he should nominate for the international games as there are several good players for each position.
Due to that, this will be the first data analysis of a series in which we use data to find the best Austrian players for several positions. Since data can’t tell you that much about goalkeepers and the two best Austrians are currently clearly Alexander Schlager and Cican Stankovic, the first data analysis will be on the centre-backs and we skip the keepers. In light of this, we’ll use data in this analysis to find the best centre-backs for the Austrian national team. Also, all statistics which are used in this data analysis are the average values per 90 minutes.
Before we look at the graphs and metrics, I have to make clear which filters I used. First of all, I looked for all Austrian players who primarily play as a centre-back at their club and were in this season at least 916 minutes on the pitch. With that, we just get players who show decent performances on a regular basis.
Since then we also get a lot of central defenders from Austria’s second division, I picked from this league just U23 players. The reason for that is that a centre-back who plays, for example, at the age of 25 still in the second division of Austria won’t be interesting for Foda within the next few years. However, a young talent which is in this league to gain experience will definitely have a real chance to be part of Austria’s national team within the upcoming years.
Considering these aspects, we’ll get in the graphs all Austrian centre-backs who play regularly for their clubs as central defenders and additionally the talents who play in Austria’s second division. To close the topic of the filters, I want to add as the last point that I didn’t include David Alaba even though he played in this season often enough as centre-back for Bayern Munich. The reason for that is that in Austria’s national team he plays under Foda only as a left-winger.
With the first metrics at which we look, we want to find the players with the best defensive abilities. For that, we take the success rate in defensive duels in % of the players and the successful defensive actions per game as we can see in the first graph of this data analysis below.
Already in the first graph which is the most important one as the defensive abilities are vital for a centre-back, we can see that there is a huge number of good Austrian centre-backs and there is not much do divide them. The 21-years-old central defender of Austria Vienna II Johannes Handl stands out as he has for both metrics solid values. The 22-years-old Philipp Schmiedl of Altach has the best value for successful defensive actions per 90 minutes with 13.68.
Next, we will look at their abilities in the air. To do so, we take their success rate in % for aerial duels and additionally look in how many aerial duels they are involved per 90 minutes.
Without any great surprise, Gernot Trauner is the Austrian centre-back who is involved in the most aerial duels per 90 minutes and additionally wins 67.27% of them. Handl is again among the players with the best success rate while Michael Madl and Constantin Reiner are the other two players who stand out.
As the last point before we look at five players in more detail, we have a graph in which you can see how confident a player is during the build-up. As Foda’s team is one who want to build up their attacks with short passes from the back and have on average 59.6% of possession (average value for their 10 games during the Euros Qualifiers) the centre-backs need to be strong with the ball at their feet. For that, we look how many forward passes they play per game and their success rate for them in %. These values help us to pick out the players who are important for their team’s build-up and the progression of the ball.
When it comes to the forward passes, Dragović is the man with the highest value for both statistics. One main reason for that is that his team Leverkusen is really offensive-orientated. Handl has the second-highest number of forward passes per 90 minutes with 26.71 while RB Salzburg’s Maximilian Wöber has the third-highest value (25.33). Next, we will look at a few players in more detail.
Johannes Handl, 21 years old, Austria Vienna II
The 21-years-old central defender of the second team of Austria Vienna stood out in all three graphs above. Of course, you have to consider that Handl plays in Austria’s second division and that means that the level is lower compared to players who play in the Austrian Bundesliga or the German Bundesliga.
Anyways, the metrics are still awesome for a 21-years-old as he wins 74.41% of his defensive duels and 69.23% of his aerial duels. Additionally, he has 10.61 interceptions per game and 12.61 successful defensive actions per 90 minutes are also great. In addition, his values for passing are also decent as he plays 56.98 passes per game and 26.71 of them are forward passes what shows us that he is not always looking for the easy options and could fit well in Foda’s system and tactics. The 21-years-old can surely become an option for Austria’s national team, but for that, he has to gain more experience and show good performances in the Austrian Bundesliga. I can imagine that Austria Vienna will try to integrate him in their squad in the upcoming summer and this could be a good chance for him.
Martin Hinteregger, 27 years old, Eintracht Frankfurt
Hinteregger is clearly among the very best Austrian centre-backs within the last years or even the best one. This also can be seen when we compare the market values as he is with £16.2million the most valuable Austrian centre-back at the moment. Even though his metrics don’t stand out massively in the three graphs above, he is always among the best or at least better than the average even though he plays in the Bundesliga which is clearly a higher level compared to the Austrian Bundesliga or even Austria’s second division.
His passing stats are quite decent what is no huge surprise since you notice this quite fast when you watch him. He plays on average 49.82 passes with a success rate of 82.86%. Furthermore, he plays 24.89 forward passes per game which means that almost half of his passes are going forward. His values for the aerial duels are not outstanding as he only wins 51.79% of his 4.46 duels in the air per 90 minutes. He wins 67.11% of his 8.29 defensive duels per game what is not outstanding at all and makes only 5.56 interceptions per game. However, I need to note once more that there is much between the league of Hinteregger compared to the one of Handl.
Aleksandar Dragović, 29 years old, Leverkusen
According to the statistics, Dragović is the best ball-playing centre-back of Austria as he has the highest value for forward passes per 90 minutes (28.65), the success rate of these (87.76%) and also the success rate for all of his passes (92.89%). And the special thing to mention here is that the 29-years-old Austrian plays for Leverkusen on a really high level in the Bundesliga.
Also, Foda lined up his team in nine out of the 10 games during the Euros qualifiers in a system with a back four (in the one game with a back three, this was made out of Hinteregger, Dragović and Wöber). In seven out of these nine teams the central defence was made out of Hinteregger and Dragović what shows us that this is Foda’s favourite pairing in the centre-back positions.
Anyways, the statistics of the 29-years-old for the defensive abilities are not that outstanding as he wins 68.32% of his defensive duels what is good but only has overall 7.72 successful defensive actions per 90 minutes. Still, he played in this season not that much for Bayer Leverkusen and should probably look for a club where is a regular starter.
Gernot Trauner, 28 years old, LASK Linz
LASK Linz’s captain clearly is the best Austrian centre-back when it comes to the aerial duels when we look at the statistics as he is involved in 8.72 aerial duels per 90 minutes and wins outstanding 67.72% of these. Considering this, it’s no surprise that he is among the players with the best values for that in the Austrian Bundesliga too.
When it comes to the defensive values, he’s among the very best Austrian centre-backs as he wins 67.41% of his 8.27 defensive duels per game. Additionally, he makes 8.72 interceptions per game and 11.39 successful defensive actions.
Also, the statistics for the passes are interesting as he plays 43.77 passes per game and 7.19 of these are long balls since it’s a common pattern of LASK Linz that Trauner starts their build-up with long diagonal passes to the wing-backs.
However, the 28-year-old played until now just one game for Austria’s national team but showed last campaign and in this season outstanding performances. Hopefully, he’ll get a few more appearances within the upcoming months before the Euros 2021 start.
Maximilian Wöber, 22 years old, RB Salzburg
RB Salzburg’s centre-back is only 22 years old but already played in the Netherlands for Ajax Amsterdam and in Spain for Sevilla. He was 19 years old when he left Rapid Vienna to move to Ajax and joined Sevilla in 2019 (at first on loan and then on a permanent deal). However, he was not part of Julen Lopetegui’s plans who took the team over in the summer of 2019 and due to that RB Salzburg signed him. The centre-back was the record transfer of the Austrian Bundesliga as Salzburg paid Sevilla £9.45million but in this winter transfer window, the team of Jesse Marsch signed Noah Okafor for £10.08million and Wöber is now in the second position of this ranking.
Still, Wöber has the potential to become one of the best centre-backs Austria has seen within the last decade as he’s still just 22 years old, but already a great player and also has international experience. RB Salzburg’s defender has for all metrics great values and is among the best but never the very best. However, he wins 72.31% of his defensive duels, makes 7.15 interceptions per game and plays 25.33 forward passes per game. The fact that he plays on average 54.11 passes per 90 minutes shows us that he is one of the players of Salzburg who are responsible for the build-up and this is quite important to fit into Foda’s tactics.
We looked in this data analysis at five players in detail. Dragović and Hinteregger are currently the two favourite ones of Foda while it won’t take that long until Wöber will play an even greater role in the fight for the positions in the central defence. Trauner is behind these three men besides Stefan Posch clearly the next best option while Handl could be one who gets important within the next few years, but this will depend on when and how many games he plays in the Austrian Bundesliga.
To put it in a nutshell, Austria has several decent centre-backs who are in the race for the place in the starting XI of the national team. Also, they have a good mixture of older ones and young talents who will replace them within the next few years. In the next data analysis of this series, we’ll look at the Austrian full-backs.