Scott Dann – the face, and beneficiary, of Crystal Palace’s defence
This season there has been a continuation, a passing of a very specific crown from (coincidentally) British head to British head, a crown that, as with an inherited monarchy, is not wholly deserved.
Ashley Williams, Chris Smalling, and now (though to a slightly lesser extent) Scott Dann have successively been the big defender of the moment during various parts of the season. As well as being British, what they also have in common is being part of a larger successful defence at the time. Williams with a good few months for Wales and Swansea; Smalling during the more stable time of United’s season; and now Dann, as his Crystal Palace sit 7th in the table having conceded the 4th fewest goals in the league.
However, since the former pair have been lauded, their stars have fallen, or faded at least. Swansea have dropped down to a level more in line with, and then even below, what analysts saw in the team last season (eg http://statsbomb.com/2015/06/were-swansea-lucky-to-finish-8th/). United, possibly as Van Gaal tries to shift his team’s attack out of neutral in order to appease the fans, aren’t what they were either: they’ve conceded 7 in the last 5 league matches after letting in only 10 in the 15 preceding games (1.4 per game versus 0.67 per game, to make the comparison easier).
Is it likely that Dann will hit a similar bump? Well, Palace currently concede a goal for only 6.5% of the shots they face versus a league average of 10.2%; 24.4% of shots on target against a league average of 30.2%. These may well be some of the best, or most fortunate, rates in the league. Leaders Arsenal concede a goal for 7.8% of the shots they face, and 22% of shots on target they face.
To some varied extents, these rates do involve a combination of quality, tactics, and luck. Quality and tactics can limit oppositions to taking shots from poor positions; luck (or ‘fortune’ or ‘results which may not be sustainable’) can be the half an inch of a bounce or connection on a boot or amount of spin or direction of travel which turns a thirty-yard screamer into a row-Z hitting embarrassment.
Dann’s star is unlikely to continue at its current level for long. It should be noted that he, Williams, and Smalling received attention following successes which were not solely down to their defensive work: Williams with Wales; Smalling with United’s tighter defence, which, as has been well commented on by now, largely comes from Van Gaal’s tactics; Dann gained some support for a future England cap after scoring against Liverpool.
However, what the three also have in common is that they all have genuine quality (to differing extents) and, perhaps more importantly to this matter of being hyped up, they are all the best centre-back in their team. Williams over Fernandez, Smalling over Blind, Dann over Delaney – they are the faces of their team’s defences. The attention that the three have received is almost certainly partly a symptom of how we as football fans and commenters struggle to understand the defensive side of the game.
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