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October 8, 2019

Aston Villa have given midfielder Marvelous Nakamba a thankless job, and he's doing it admirably

By Mike Goodman

Aston Villa have made a surprisingly strong start to the season. It’s not so much their position in the league table, they’re 15th, but only one point above the relegation zone. Rather, the eye opening number is the fact that eight games into a season where the newly promoted team was expected to struggle, they’ve actually scored one more goal than they’ve conceded. Sadly for Villa, the xG numbers don’t exactly back up their goal scoring record.

Specifically on the defensive side of the ball Villa have struggled with a case of the Arsenals. They give up a lot of shots:

And while the quality of those shots are generally low, they aren’t on average low enough to make up for the extremely high volume.

Nowhere is it as clear just how overwhelmed this Villa defense is than in the numbers of Marvelous Nakamba. The poor guy really is doing the most defensive work he can.

Nowhere will you find a clearer statistical example of a midfielder shielding his defenders than what he does. He just sits in the middle of the field and breaks up play after play after play in front of his own penalty area.

The problem for Villa is that it sure seems like their defensive midfielder is their first line of defense. The side simply offers zero opposition until the ball is sitting in Nakamba’s lap.

Villa’s surprisingly lively attack has received a lot of praise, especially after hanging five goals on Norwich last weekend. And it should. It’s no small thing for a newly promoted team to be a Premier League average attack after eight matches. But it’s coming at a cost. And the brunt of that cost is being born by Nakamba.

That’s not to say, that Villa’s defensive midfielder is perfect, or maybe even above average. His numbers in possession are truly terrible. He does very little to move the ball up the field, and despite his relatively unambitious passing, his pass completion percentage is only 84.5%.

Nakamba is as pure a defensive midfielder as you’ll find in the Premier League. His job is to shield the back line and win the ball. On Aston Villa, that’s a near impossible task. Villa is a classic case of a team that’s putting its defensive personnel in a position to fail. Nakamba is performing admirably despite that. If Villa continue to play this way, and manage to remain in the Premier League it’s going to look ugly defensively all year long. If it works, it’ll just barely work, but if it weren’t for Nakamba it would probably have no shot of working at all.

Article by Mike Goodman