Can Barrow-Boy Ben Davies Be Emlyn Hughes' Successor? A Ben Davies Stats Breakdown.
What can be expected of Liverpool's new centre-back signing from Preston?
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As a Barrow boy myself, I feel particularly invested in this transfer.
Not least, because Ben Davies was in the same primary school class as my little sister.
When approached for comment she responded: “Hahaha I have nothing to say unfortunately”, like an upbeat Mourinho.
Barrow does not produce top footballers regularly. Emlyn Hughes has a statue in the town; notable for his achievements but also his existence - one of the few football names to bear association with the largest cul-de-sac in England.
Emlyn Hughes, affectionately known as Crazy Horse (following an on-pitch rugby tackle), was a versatile defensive player who might be mainly remembered as a defensive midfielder but could also play left-back and centre-back.
My dad, who watched him from the Kop (or more often from the Anfield Road end), describes him as:
“Loved by Kopites, Crazy Horse could take a game by the scruff of its neck, a bit like Stevie G. He could defend., he could attack, he could do everything. Let’s hope this Ben Davies lad is 10% as good as the Mighty Emlyn”.
Another nickname, Mighty Emlyn was the focal point of a chant to the tune of Dylan’s 1967 song ‘Mighty Quinn’, popularised further in ‘68 by Manfred Mann.
Having made a total of 665 appearances for Liverpool, Hughes was a big figure in Barrow in a time when footballers were local people as well as superstars. My dad recalls chatting with Emlyn and his brother in the Cons in Barrow prior to Hughes’ untimely death at 57.
Like Hughes, Davies brings both class and grit to his game - his versatility and left-footedness proving to be strengths for managers who need a reliable player to call upon.
As Shankly brought in Hughes, now Klopp brings in Davies. Two legendary managers; two Barrovian boys.
The plaudits are coming in but it’s uncertain how excited fans should be. Liverpool made a point of only signing ‘the right player’ and didn’t want to bring in a stopgap.
Reports suggested that Arsenal had offered Mustafi and negotiations were ongoing with West Ham for Diop. Proven Premier League centre-backs who had fallen out of favour seemed to be the sensible route to go down - and, no doubt, would have been the chosen approach of any other team in the league.
But Liverpool likes to do things differently.
With the use of advanced analytics and a wealth of data, Liverpool’s recruitment team has looked to find diamonds other clubs haven’t seen. It’s increasingly rare to be able to predict what business the club will do.
I asked the lovely people at r/LiverpoolFC on Friday who the users expected Liverpool would sign. The thread received 187 comments naming Diop, Botman, and my choice Adarabioyo. Not one mention of Davies, though.
Former Palace and Birmingham City striker Clinton Morrison called him one of the best defenders in the Championship early on yesterday and suggested a number of Premier League teams have been tracking him.
It’s not uncommon for Premier League fans to overlook high performing Championship players - especially over the age of 23 - but Davies does strike as someone around whom there was very little hype.
So, what can we say about him?
Preston North End journo Tom Sandells, of the Lancashire Post and others, gives us his impression:
However, even in that thread, some raised their concerns:
And injuries are, truly, the last thing Liverpool needs right now.
For a longer look at how Preston fans feel this video gives a nice walkthrough:
That said, we’re not here to speculate on what injuries he may or may not get. The trauma surrounding that within the Liverpool fanbase is something I’m not here to trigger.
What we all want to see is:
What are the lads’ stats like? Ben Davies stats breakdown
For clarity, though I’ve always had a soft spot for Preston - a team who seem on the edge of promotion every other season but never quite get there - I do not watch them regularly.
I’m only here to present interesting stats and notable trivia. I profess no expertise on his game.
The initial overview stuff from Wyscout is here:
What we can see from the radar is frequent long passes with high long passing accuracy. He also commits very few fouls per-90 and a surprisingly high number of possession-adjusted interceptions.
We can also see that he’s not the aerial powerhouse most Liverpool fans expected, given the team’s current disadvantage in that area. He competes for a higher than average number of aerial duels but has a very average success rate in that regard.
One slightly conflicting bit of data is the T on that radar, denoting tackles. His success rate is presented as 60% - but if we expand that stat to cover all defensive duels we see him hit 74.23%.
In a previous article, I looked at the best all-rounders in the top 5 leagues between aerial duel success rate and defensive duel success rate. Liverpool stars like VVD & Matip featured in that category in the past.
Davies wouldn’t make it into that list due to his lack of dominance in the air, but his defensive duel success rate would have passed the 74% threshold to get onto the list. However, it does only place him 14th in the Championship based on players who have played 500 minutes or more - so it’s not an exceptional stat.
This hints toward a more general theme: he doesn’t stand out in most traditional stats.
In terms of Championship rankings, the most interesting one appears to be him ranking 24th in Deep Completed Crosses per-90, with 0.1 - a stat you might more often associate with a full-back. But given he’s more than capable of turning out as a full-back, there’s little surprising there.
Moreover, looking at the times he has lost duels and the consequences of those losses we start to see that he’s not a super-safe pair of hands either:
He does seem to like to be on the front foot, though. His heat map suggests similar, his deep crosses, and also his counterpressing numbers - which are pretty high for a centre-back:
There has been suspicion on Twitter that his passing could be the thing which attracted Liverpool’s attention.
And anyone who has watched any of the countless compilations going around will testify to the existence of Hollywood passes and smart balls into the channels.
So what else do we have on this topic? If we look at the overview below for a few progressive passing stats and graphics - some in comparison with all players in the Championship - then we see pretty positive signals straight away:
The first thing I like from above is the passing radar from the advanced central zone. Playing for Liverpool, he’s going to find lots of time on the ball while in that zone, so seeing his range and volume from that area combined with his accuracy and xGBuildup/90 numbers makes me feel very positive about his potential to contribute to the overall team play from the back.
But let’s be careful - just because someone does something a lot is not necessarily a positive to write home about. This is particularly true for centre-backs; a position where doing little can be a sign of strength.
So let’s break down some of these comparisons a little further. Base parameters: have played CB, in the Championship, minimum 500 minutes played:
4th best behind Chester, Kabasele, and Potts - who have all dominated this season (watch out for Potts in the Prem next season) - in accurate passes to the final third %.
3rd best in accurate through ball % behind Kabasele and 22-year-old Harry Souttar, who I’m a little surprised Liverpool didn’t go for. Not only is he destroying the Championship this season, the lad is 6’ 6”.
4th behind Kabasele, Williams, and Gibson on accurate progressive passes %.
I mean, there’s not a whole lot to work with.
The last person mentioned in those bullet points was Ben Gibson of Norwich. You’ve seen Davies’ radar above - check out Gibson’s in comparison below:
Gibson does come with the difficulty that Norwich would be unlikely to want to sell for a low price. The Canaries are top of the league and Gibson has played no small part in that. Preston, in contrast, are midtable and, even at this midway point, do not have much to play for. Plus, the whole ‘six months on the contract’ thing…
We know what to expect but it’s hard to assess the standard
Liverpool’s recruitment team is second to none.
The team consists of scientists and computers, theories and models, and - I assume - a bunsen burner.
There is an underlying theory that motivates Liverpool’s moves in the transfer market and plucks out certain players as being able to shine in Klopp’s system and style of play. This theory is dense and complex.
However, it is worth noting that Liverpool’s most recent signings also comprise Adrian and Andy Lonergan; two players signed for their affordable availability.
Will Davies be a Robertson or will he be an Adrian?
While I hope Davies can be an Emlyn Hughes - a shining light of pride for the folk of Barrow, it is difficult to see the source of that light in this data. Lots of ITKs and clout-chasers will rush to tell us all how amazing he is at x or y without really knowing this for sure.
This isn’t to talk Davies down. Allegedly Leicester was in for him in the summer and The Foxes’ centre-back recruitment is top-draw
That said, there’s a lot of pressure on him moving to Liverpool, despite the low fee. Fans have expectations and those expectations have a floor on them. There’s a basic standard of performance he will have to give.
It is likely healthier for all of us, Liverpool fans, Barrovians, and proud Preston well-wishers, to assume that Davies is not Hughes until he gives us reason to think otherwise. Until then, recognise that he is taking a huge step up and try to help support him in this journey.
I suspect he’ll need it.