Kyle Walker Is No Idiot - the Stats Show Man City's Defender Is Undervalued

George Cannon
Kyle Walker has arguably been Manchester City's most reliable defender in recent years but he's still not world class
Kyle Walker has arguably been Manchester City's most reliable defender in recent years but he's still not world class / Visionhaus/Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

Sprinting back at twice the pace of a hapless forward who thinks he's in on goal without even looking like he's trying before nudging them off the ball and starting yet another Manchester City attack. That's how Kyle Walker has spent the last three seasons since making the move to the Etihad Stadium.

His £54m transfer from Tottenham in the summer of 2017 raised more than a few eyebrows at the time, but it's hard to argue Pep Guardiola hasn't had value for money. 154 appearances to date, two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and three League Cups isn't a bad return by anyone's standards.

However, despite Walker's success at club and international level, there are still significant swathes of supporters who aren't fully convinced by the 30-year-old's defensive capabilities.

Kyle Walker has won two Premier League titles with Manchester City
Kyle Walker has won two Premier League titles with Manchester City / OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

He often seems overly reliant upon his natural God-given turn of pace rather than his positioning and tackling, attributes which are traditionally more aligned with defenders that are honed and mastered on the training field.

Walker's concentration and ability to read the game and correctly assess imminent danger has also been called into question. Sky Sports pundit and former England coach Gary Neville has recently drawn attention to his belief that the marauding right back tends to switch off when the ball is on the opposite flank.

The former Sheffield United academy graduate only added fuel to his critics' fire over the weekend when he needlessly bundled over Sadio Mane inside City's box to give a penalty away. The clumsy incident led to some scathing half-time criticism from the never shy Roy Keane.

Asked how Mane earned himself a penalty for Liverpool, Keane told Sky Sports: “Because he’s up against an idiot. Kyle Walker, people are telling me he’s playing well, I don’t think so. This guy is 30 years of age, an international player, he’s a car crash. He keeps on making these type of mistakes. He was rightfully punished for it.”

Walker bundled Mane over to concede a penalty
Walker bundled Mane over to concede a penalty / SHAUN BOTTERILL/Getty Images

An idiot off the pitch during England's first national lockdown Walker may have been, but on it the defender has been anything but for quite some time.

He's arguably become the Cityzens' most reliable defender during his time at the club. John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy, Vincent Kompany and Oleksandr Zinchenko have all had issues with injuries, form or both, while Walker has stayed off the treatment table and remained relatively consistent throughout.

The stats, provided by FBRef, back this up. When comparing Walker to Danilo, Cancelo and fellow England international Trent Alexander-Arnold - whose defending ability also raises questions - the City number two comes out on top in several areas.

Walker has seen off plenty of competition during his time at Manchester City
Walker has seen off plenty of competition during his time at Manchester City / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

In the three years he's been at the Etihad, Walker has made one error leading to an opponent taking a shot. Danilo and Cancelo have made a combined two errors during their time in England, while Alexander-Arnold has made four.

Being hard to get past is one of Walker's key attributes, and the stats confirm it. An opposition attacker has only dribbled past the full back 50 times from 2017/18 to 2019/20. Alexander-Arnold has been left for dead on 147 occasions, while Danilo and Cancelo's joint total comes in at 63.

Keeping possession and using the ball well is a crucial component of any top side. Walker has better pass completion rates on average than Cancelo and Alexander-Arnold for the mentioned period, though what is especially interesting is his long pass completion percentage compared to his compatriot.

The Liverpool academy graduate is renowned for his raking cross-field balls, but Walker completed 79.4% of his in 2019/10 compared to Alexander-Arnold's 49.4%. Maybe he's not just a speed merchant after all.

Walker has been a consistent performer in Manchester City's back line
Walker has been a consistent performer in Manchester City's back line / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It's hard to recall too many of these 'car crash' moments that Keane had been so quick to point out. At home to Crystal Palace back in 2018 springs to mind, as does Norwich away last season, but these moments are few and far between. Nobody is perfect, and with City's current defensive woes as a collective, it would surely be impossible for anyone to be at this moment in time.

Walker has also seen off considerable competition for his right-back berth. Danilo only lasted two seasons despite arriving for £28m from Spanish giants Real Madrid, and his replacement, Joao Cancelo, has been forced to try and tie down a position on the left-hand side such is the Englishman's dominance over the former Juventus man's favoured role.

A lack of tactical understanding is something many may associate with Walker, although he has proved that is not the case. England reached a World Cup semi-final with him playing as a right-sided centre back, and Guardiola has transformed the speedster from a one-dimensional overlapping full back to a player capable of carrying out an array of intricate instructions.

England reached a World Cup semi-final with Walker playing in a back three
England reached a World Cup semi-final with Walker playing in a back three / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Yet there is still an underlying lingering doubt surrounding Walker that just won't seem to go away. His red card against Iceland on international duty and the penalty incident at the weekend highlight exactly why this is the case.

At the elite level, every mistake is scrutinised, and most of them are punished. Not even his blistering recovery pace can completely cover up the lapses in concentration and rash moments that have punctured his career.

So an 'idiot' or a 'car crash' Walker certainly isn't, but those occasions where he looks less than ordinary will always prevent him from being world class.

facebooktwitterreddit