Kyle Walker, was he deserving of a spot in the EURO Team of the Tournament?
Following the not-so-great final of EURO 2020, UEFA presented its Team of the Tournament on July 13th. The Euro 2020 team of the tournament includes England’s Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire, and Kyle Walker. Gareth Southgate’s team has the second-highest number of representation in the squad, with Italy’s five picks. After his penalty shootout heroics, player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma has been nominated, along with young player of the tournament, Pedri. This group also included Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. He has assisted on three of Denmark’s 12 goals and has completed the majority of his team’s passes.
How is the team selected?
The team is selected by UEFA’s technical observers, who also decide the player of the tournament and young player of the tournament awards. The observers are a mix of former players and coaches, with Southgate an observer at Euro 2016 when he was in charge of the England Under-21 side.
Among the 16 observers at this year’s tournament, there are numerous familiar faces for fans of English football, such as West Ham United manager David Moyes, Robbie Keane, and former England manager Fabio Capello.
Kyle Walker’s inclusion as the team’s right-back made me wonder if he deserved to be there. or is there another RB who has done better than him? So, let’s look at the data behind each Right Back who has played at least 300 minutes in this tournament to find out.
Players who satisfy these conditions are:
Benjamin Pavard, César Azpilicueta, Connor Roberts, Denzel Dumfries, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Jens Stryger Larsen, Joshua Kimmich, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Mikael Lustig, Oleksandr Karavayev, Silvan Widmer, Stefan Lainer, Thomas Meunier and Vladimír Coufal.
Note: Kyle Walker has played as a CB for 2/7 games, RB for 4/7 games, and was not in the Playing 11 for Scotland game. So, we can consider him in our analysis since he has 300+ minutes as RB.
Assists vs. Expected Assists (xA)
The simplest and most obvious one first — how does each player compares in terms of assists and expected assists (xA). xA is the likelihood of a pass being converted into a goal assist. The value under each player’s name is their expected assists (xA).
Meunier has two assists, but they account for only 0.3 xA, implying that the goal scorer does the most of the effort. (One of which is Thorgan Hazard’s belter against Portugal).
Larsen, Oleksandr Karavayev, Kimmich, and Trippier all have one assist, but their xA is higher than Meunier’s. This signifies that these players have created a much better chance for the receiver to score a goal.
In the graph above, Walker is nowhere to be found. One probable explanation is that England’s defensive play and lack of progression caused Walker to sit back instead of carrying the ball as he did under Pep Guardiola.
Shot Creating Actions (SCA) vs. Goal Creating Actions (GCA)
Goal Creating Action is any offensive action directly leading to a goal, such as passes, dribbles, and drawing fouls. Shot Creating Action is any offensive action directly leading to a shot, such as passes dribbles, and drawing fouls.
It is not about assists anymore — this is an amalgamation of all the things a player does that lead to a shot or a goal.
Out of all of our Right-Backs, Meunier has shown the greatest ingenuity. The offensive style Belgium has shown justifies this. Kieran Trippier has produced more chances than Walker, indicating that Walker was designed to play defensively rather than offensively.
Based on stats, Meunier/Larsen are the top offensive RBs of the tournament.
Let’s take a look at how these players defend. What are their defensive numbers, and how good (or poor) are they? (There are numerous indicators by which we might assess defensive performance and make a decision.) But, with publicly available data like fbref.com, we can only do so much).
Throughout the competition, England only allowed two goals. One was the free-kick scored by Damsgaard and the other one scored by Bonucci. That infers, either England was up against a weak opponent or they put on a defensive masterclass. England faced Croatia, (Croatia had scored 3 goals against Spain, but none against England) Germany (Germany scored 4 goals against Portugal, but none against England), and Italy (Winners who scored only once against them). So with such strong opponents, it definitely had to be the latter which tells us Walker could come out on top.
In terms of basic defensive duties, I’d like to look at a few basic stats to see how effective each right-back is.
What is the effectiveness of their press?
Applying pressure on the opposition is one of the most significant aspects of modern football. The effectiveness with which you can accomplish this determines how much possession you will have in the game.
Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Karavayev are the only players who have outperformed the average. Applying pressure correctly necessitates the participation of your entire team. During Ukraine’s first group encounter, we saw how they exerted pressure on the Netherlands. On the other hand, England sits deep and plays on the counter. One of the reasons Walker’s stats are so low in comparison to Oleksandr Karavayev is because of this. Also, notice that Meunier’s stats are not far away from these two players.
Other Defensive Characteristics
The primary responsibility of a defender is to recover the ball from the other team. Right Backs especially have to be good at both, aerial (to avoid those long diagonal balls) and ground passes.
Thomas Meunier is way ahead of everyone in terms of tackling statistics. Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Karavayev have had nearly identical performances. Walker has the most interceptions (21) among England’s whole defense. Walker remained in the defensive third for most of the time, while Meunier was free to tackle in the opponent’s half. But in terms of tackling, Walker is still above Pavard, Dumfries, Larsen, and Kimmich.
In terms of possession, which right-back is the best?
(Carries 1/3 are the number of times a player touched the ball in the final third of the pitch) and (Progressive carries are carries that move the ball forward at least 5 yards)
It was quite obvious who would come out on top. Those who have watched Germany’s matches are familiar with Kimmich’s style of play. Kimmich is used as a winger who makes spectacular crosses into the area. (One of the pieces of evidence is assist for Gosens against Portugal).
We’ve already discussed Meunier, but take a look at Walker. He has the fourth-best progressive carries while playing mostly defensively. Oleksandr Karavayev has also done well as compared to other right-backs.
Based on the information above, I believe these are the best right-backs in the tournament so far.
Oleksandr Karavayev, Kyle Walker, Jens Stryger Larsen, and Thomas Meunier
Other Factors to Consider
Finally, to rank them, we can also look at the following metrics:
Meunier’s Dribbling Succese% is a bit lower here than Walker’s, but that’s because he’s carried the ball more times. Aside from that, there isn’t a single statistic in which Walker outperforms all of the other right-backs.
However, I believe Walker’s consistent performance and status as a finalist earned him a position on the Team of the Tournament. Otherwise, Meunier may be the tournament’s best Right-Back.