Ward in the Middle

Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Joel Ward this season has seen his reputation grow much further than anyone could have possibly anticipated as his defensive performances have brought up the question, is there a new England right-back in the making?

The past six games have seen him play in the middle of the park, away from his position at right-back with Adrian Mariappa taking over from those duties. A number of Palace fans have questioned the decision but does Tony Pulis’ thinking have statistical support?

Over the period that Joel Ward has been playing as a centre midfielder Crystal Palace have had a tough run of fixtures compared to the last six in which he played in defence, this could be put into consideration but at this level every single player should be playing their best no matter who the opposition is. The table below shows the results and points from the twelve games where he was playing in defence and midfield:

Ward in Defence 6 3 1 2 5 3 +2 10
Ward in Midfield 6 2 1 3 3 7 -4 7

The six games monitored for his defensive attributes this season were against Everton, Hull, Norwich, West Ham, Cardiff & Chelsea whilst the remaining six are for the last six games where he has been playing in the central midfield position. During this time the Eagles have conceded four more goals and scored two less whilst he has been playing out of position against Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Norwich, Tottenham and Stoke.

It’s fair to say that defending in the Premier League is not a one man game but in the twelve games where Joel Ward’s position and team performance were monitored, Crystal Palace’s defence performed much better when he was with them rather than sitting in the midfield. In the past six games, the Eagles have managed on average 57 defensive actions per game whilst controlling 42% of the possession; this is compared to the six games before where Crystal Palace were on average completing more defensive actions with 72 but at the same time were controlling more of the possession.

Avg. Defensive Actions Goals Conceded Possession
Ward in Defence 72 3 43%
Ward in Midfield 57 7 42%

Playing in midfield has also seemed to have affected his performance in terms of duels won on average per game as his success rate has decreased from 70% to 59%, these statistics are reflected in the table below:

Tackles Take Ons Headed Duels
Ward in Defence 20/26 (77%) 7/10 (70%) 13/21 (62%)
Ward in Midfield 11/16 (69%) 7/14 (50%) 10/22 (45%)

Adrian Mariappa has been covering the duties of Joel Ward on the right hand side of the defence in the past six games but the main question is, what player has done better over a six game period? The answer is Joel Ward.

To be honest I think any of us would pick Joel Ward at right back compared to Adrian Mariappa any day of the week and the statistics continue to plead our case. In the six games, Joel Ward managed 10 defensive actions on average per game whilst winning 70% of his duels; when you compare this to Mariappa, it gets you thinking. The alternative right back only managed an average of 8 defensive actions per game whilst winning only 59% of his duels on average; you could say that this is made up by the 10% difference in average pass accuracy but is that really important?

Appearances Avg. Pass Accuracy Avg. Duels Won Avg. Defensive Actions
Ward at RB 6 68% 70% 10
Mariappa at RB 6 78% 59% 8

If I was to pick the team every week, Joel Ward at right back would be my first choice. Statistics prove that it would be a great decision but also my mind as I know what he is capable of. England call-up in the future? It’s not off the table.

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