Paolo Maldini famously stated that if he had to make a tackle, it was because he had done something wrong to put himself in that position.
While that may be true to some extent of centre-backs, there is no doubt that there is still a place in the game for players that are strong in the challenge.
Some say that tackling is a dying art form, but we’ve taken a closer look at the players that are in fact keeping it alive this season, assessing tackle efficiency in two different categories.
We’ve considered the number of times that players have successfully made a tackle when they have attempted to do so (tackle success percentage), with the remainder representing the number of times they have been dribbled past. Then, we’ve also taken the number of times within those tackles made that said player has come away with the ball (possession won percentage) into account to identify the very best of the best.
To narrow our search we’ve only considered players that produce tackles on a very regular basis, looking at the 37 to have made 50 or more in Europe’s top five leagues this season. By then calculating the average possession won percentage (61.8) and tackle success percentage (71.1) of said players, those that exceed those figures in both categories can duly be considered the most effective in the challenge.
Of course, to rank negatively in this particular study doesn’t necessarily suggest that a player is a poor tackler, making the assessment due to the impressive volume that they produce after all. However, of those that do so regularly, they are simply the least successful in the two categories analysed.
There is, in fact, one man that places last of the 37 in terms of the percentage of times that they come away with possession and second last in terms of the percentage of times that they complete a tackle when attempting to do so.
Wolves’ Joao Moutinho is that player in question, producing an impressive 69 tackles this season but only coming away with the ball 42 per cent of the time. Moreover, the Portuguese has been dribbled past a whopping 60 times thus far - the most in Europe’s top five leagues - leaving him with an overall success rate from tackles attempted of just 53.5 per cent.
Only one player ranks lower in terms of the latter, and that is Felipe Anderson, though the West Ham winger’s presence here is extremely commendable. The Brazilian has made more tackles than any teammate this season despite his advanced position, so his endeavour is certainly to be applauded, if not a 52.5 per cent success rate.
Elsewhere, both Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira and Lyon youngster Lucas Tousart deserve a mention for the volume of tackles each has produced, at a whopping 4.4 per 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic and Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic are way out in front when it comes to the proportion of times that they themselves come away with the ball, at 80 and 81.5 per cent respectively.
It is, however, a clubmate of the latter that has been arguably Europe’s top tackler this season, and at 21 years of age, the sky is the limit for Eagles full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
A converted winger that offers no small input in the attacking phase of play for Roy Hodgson’s side, the youngster has taken to his defensive duties with aplomb. Of the 83 times that he has faced up an opponent this season, Wan-Bissaka has been dribbled past on just six occasions, leaving a success rate of 92.8 per cent that blows the rest of the competition out the water.
Meanwhile, it’s only the aforementioned duo of Brozovic and teammate Milivojevic that rank higher when it comes to coming away with the ball, with the Palace graduate doing so 71.4 per cent of the time.
Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi places fourth in that regard (71 per cent), whilst also scoring above the average of the 37 players for overall success, with 71.9 per cent. The Nigerian, along with Wan-Bisakka, is therefore one of just eight players to score above the average in both categories analysed.
Among the others are veteran Serie A defenders Domenico Criscito and Thiago Cionek, who - at 32 - prove that you don’t lose the knack of tackling with age. Ligue 1 full-backs Frederic Guilbert (Caen) and Sergi Palencia (Bordeaux) also impress and, at 24 and 22 respectively, are certainly ones worth keeping an eye on.
Montpellier’s Ruben Aguilar has caught the eye with his tackling in France too, while in terms of defensive midfielders, Rodrigo has proven to be an absolute steal for Atletico Madrid. The Spaniard, at just 22 years of age, boasts excellent figures for overall success (77.9 per cent) and the proportion of time that he emerges with the ball at his feet (67.9 per cent) to justify his billing as the heir to Sergio Busquets’ international throne.
While the Atleti star has already made the breakthrough into the national set up, however, it is surely only a matter of time before Aaron Wan-Bissaka does so with England.
There’s plenty of competition in the right-back berth, that’s for sure, but the Palace star deserves to be considered alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold as the prime candidates for the position in the long-term. With both Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier flattering to deceive at times this season, if he was to pick his next squad based on performances to now this season, Gareth Southgate ought to give Wan-Bissaka the opportunity his sparkling form has merited.