Is Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte emerging as the best centre-back in the Premier League? In our analysis, we will look at Laporte’s statistics so far in his time at City and will aim to offer an answer to this question.
In January of last season, Manchester City made Aymeric Laporte their record-signing. They brought in the 24-year-old defender for £57 million pounds for Athletic Bilbao. However, the deal received little fanfare. You’d have thought that £57 million would have been enough to make Laporte the most expensive signing made in an entire season, let alone a single transfer window but that honour went to fellow centre-back Virgil van Dijk. Virgil van Dijk slotted immediately into Liverpool’s back four, going on to make 14 Premier League appearances for Liverpool in the second half of the 2017/18 season. However, due to the high level that City were playing at, it wasn’t a necessity for Laporte to come into the side straight away. Nicolás Otamendi was having his best season to date in a City shirt and although injuries had hampered them, John Stones and Vincent Kompany were both having extraordinary seasons respectively. Laporte featured in 9 of City’s remaining 14 Premier League games and got off to a steady start. But so far this season, Laporte has established himself as a mainstay in Manchester City’s defence playing every minute of every game thus far.
In today’s piece, I will look at how Laporte has compared to the other top centre-backs in the Premier League in the early stages of his City career.
Has Pep Guardiola found his perfect centre-half?
In order to compare Laporte’s stats to those of other centre-backs in the league, I will use both Squawka’s Comparison Matrix and also the stats provided on Wyscout.
First I’ll see how Laporte fared in his first months as a City player in the second half of last season and look at how he compares to the other centre-backs of the top sides in the league. In the image above you can see how Laporte compares to, van Dijk, Bailly, Azpilicueta and Vertonghen. I compared him to these players as the general opinion is that these are the best central defenders from Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs. In my eyes, these are the teams who are most likely to compete directly for the title. (Sorry Arsenal fans)
We can see that Laporte leads the way in both pass completion percentage and aerial duels won percentage. Before looking in depth at the stats, I expected Laporte to have a very good pass completion ratio due to the style of play that Pep Guardiola favours, as well as the obvious ability that Laporte has when he is on the ball. However, I didn’t really expect him to be leading the way in terms of the percentage of aerial duels he wins. Although Laporte is 6’3”, he doesn’t immediately strike the viewer as an imposing player in the air. He is an inch smaller than van Dijk and only two inches taller than Bailly and Vertonghen but he is never really considered an aerial powerhouse like this players are. This shows that Laporte has adapted both quickly and able-ally to the Premier League and its style. Many teams favour a direct, long-ball style and based on the stats, Laporte is faring very well in this aspect of his game.
Along with his high pass completion rate, Laporte also boasts the highest amount of forward passes per 90. This further highlights Laporte’s elite passing ability, as he doesn’t only bump up his pass completion ratio with sideways and backwards passes.
A lot of the time I feel pass completion ratios can be quite difficult to interpret. So in order to give me a bit more detail about Laporte’s passing, I delved a bit deeper and had a look at the stats provided by Wyscout.
Laporte averaged 82.98 passes per 90 minutes in his time at City last season. The next highest average number of passes per 90 by one of his rivals was 66.53 this was César Azpilicueta. Laporte is getting on the ball much more often than any of the other top centre-backs in the league on average and is also completing his passes at a greater rate than any of the other top centre-backs in the league. You may think that this is all well and good and perhaps Laporte is playing short simple passes and rarely risking giving away possession but Laporte is, in fact, playing 4.93 long passes per 90. This number is marginally bested by Vertonghen and Azpilicueta with 5.9 and 5.18 respectively but Laporte completes his long passes 71.2% of the time which is better than both Azpilicueta and Vertonghen at 55.4% and 52.5% respectively. What’s more, Laporte also attempts 10.81 passes into the final third per 90 minutes with an 84.2% completion ratio, which again is more attempted and more completed than any of the other centre-backs mentioned. It’s fair to say that Laporte managed to settle into the Premier League fairly quickly last season and was boasting some impressive numbers in defence and on the ball.
With a full pre-season under his belt, how well has Laporte started the 2018/2019 season?
Defensively speaking, Laporte has started the season reasonably well. So far he is winning his defensive duels 25% of the time, which is at a higher rate than both van Dijk and Vertonghen but slightly less than Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger and exactly the same as Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf. I had to swap Azpilicueta for Rüdiger as the former is now operating in a different role as a right-back and I swapped Bailly for Lindelöf as the Swede has so far been the United central defender with the most minutes this season. Laporte is winning his aerial duels 50% of the time this season so far. This is a solid number and is better than Rüdiger and Vertonghen but slightly less than van Dijk (52.8%) and Lindelöf (52.6%).
The area in which Laporte again excels is his passing ability. Laporte leads the way in passes attempted per 90 minutes with 84.13, also boasting the highest completion rate at 95.8%. He attempts slightly less long passes per 90 minutes – 4.7 – than van Dijk and Rüdiger. However, he has by far the highest completion rate at 84.9%. His nearest rival is Lindelöf with his long passes finding the mark 60% of the time. He leads the way with forward passes attempted at 35.95 per 90 minutes, with a completion rate of 94.1%. He attempts at least 9 more forward passes per 90 minutes than any of his top six rivals with a higher completion rate by at least 9%. On top of this Laporte also attempts 18.33 passes into the final third per 90 minutes at a completion rate of 94.9%. His closest competitor is Rüdiger who attempts 11.31 passes into the final third per 90 minutes with a lower completion rate of 83.3%.
To me, it is clear that Laporte is an elite passer of the ball when it comes to centre-backs. He is easily the best short and long passer of the ball of all the players mentioned in this article. His incisive passing into the final third and pinpoint diagonal switches of the ball are becoming a valuable weapon for Manchester City. His defensive numbers are also impressive. While Laporte may not be considered a ‘true defender’ in the way in which the Premier League normally defines a ‘true defender’, he wins a greater percentage of his defensive duels than both Vertonghen and van Dijk, who are both considered two of the Premier Leagues best defenders.
In truth, Laporte is criminally underrated. He’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as the likes of van Dijk, Azpilicueta or Vertonghen when the debate of best central defenders in the league rears its head. Although it is early days in his Manchester City career, I feel Laporte should be in the conversation of best defenders in the league. What’s more, it is clear Guardiola sees Laporte as his central defensive mainstay going forward, as he is the only central defender to play every minute in the Premier League for City this season so far.
Watch this space and keep your eyes on Aymeric Laporte.