Grading centre backs will always be much more of a challenge than grading attackers. They…
Rangers haven’t wasted any time conducting their business in the transfer window. Nikola Katic and Connor Goldson are Steven Gerrard’s fifth and sixth signings of the summer as the Liverpool legend continues to rebuild his squad at Ibrox.
My colleague Stefan Bienkowski highlighted where Gerrard has to improve this Rangers team and to his credit, he seems to be addressing those problem areas. Rangers’ defence was a huge problem area last season and the Ibrox faithful will be hoping Katic and Goldson can change that.
But what kind of players have Rangers signed? Moreover, what will this duo bring to Gerrard’s side in the defensive third of the pitch? We delved into the numbers to take a closer look.
The 21-year-old was born in Bosnia but has already accrued one cap for the Croatian national team. This is no mean feat given that he played for Slaven Belupo, a mid-table club in Croatia’s top division. The youngster was also wanted by Champions League side Spartak Moscow until a deal fell through. The fact he was wanted by a team playing in the premier competition in European football tells you he must be of a decent pedigree.
Rangers are getting a player who is already a good defender but who can still be moulded and developed from a young age. Far too often Rangers would rely on older, big-name players which have rarely paid off. The most recent of these is 36-year-old Bruno Alves who endured an extremely disappointing campaign last season. When we take a look at Katic’s attributes it suggests he has every chance of being a success in Scotland.
Winning balls in the air is a defender’s bread and butter. And judging by his stats for last season this is something Katic is able to do well. No other player in the whole of the league contested more aerial duels than the young defender (266). Furthermore, his success rate in said headed battles is impressively high. He won 62.78% of these meaning he was only behind two of his teammates in this metric. Similarly, he was in the top 20 in the whole of the division when it came to winning aerial duels.
Of course, he’ll have to be a whole of a lot more than an aerial presence to succeed in the Scottish Premiership; just ask Bruno Alves. Therefore, it’s important to see what other strings Katic has to his bow.
The graph above highlights that Katic is a good ball winner. In terms of interceptions, only Bozo Musa (251) had more than Rangers’ new signing (221) in the Croatian top-flight. Similarly, through the defensive duels metric it’s evident that the 21-year-old is someone who looks to put himself about and battle to win the ball for his team.
His teammate Milos Vidovic partook in the most defensive duels for Slaven Belupo last campaign (253), but he was closely followed by Katic (230). What’s important to point out is that Katic’s success rate for defensive duels was actually higher than any of his teammates. Simply put, he wins just over a third of all the defensive battles he takes part in.
Katic appears to be physically imposing, however, there is one part of his game that needs to improve and that’s his distribution. The 21-year-old’s passing stats aren’t nearly as impressive as his defensive numbers.
It’s glaringly obvious that Katic lost the ball more than any other player at Slaven Belupo in 2017/18. In total, he gave the ball away 429 times. That’s almost 100 more than Bozo Musa (335) and Mirko Ivanovski (331) who were the worst offenders after him. What’s also concerning is that Katic lost the ball on average 12.29 times per 90 minutes which was also the most of any of his peers.
Clearly, distribution and use of the ball is something he must improve on at Ibrox. If you dig deeper into his numbers it appears to be numerous misplaced long passes that are the main issue. The 21-year-old played 216 of these last campaign and only 46.76% were accurate. He might be a bit raw, but if coached properly this could be a bit of a coup for Rangers. He’s already been tipped by many to feature heavily for Croatia in the future and he has the attributes needed to become a top defender.
With Goldson it appears that Rangers are signing a quality player. The Ibrox club have finally got their man after chasing him for months. The fact they are able to attract a player of his calibre to the club is an example of the kind of pull Gerrard possesses. Goldson had the potential to feature more next season in the Premier League, but that wasn’t enough to prevent him from moving north of the border.
We’ll get to his defensive stats shortly, but the one main concern Rangers fans might have is surrounding Goldson’s lack of game time in recent seasons. He’s only played eight league games in the last two campaigns. He missed games after undergoing heart surgery in 2017, but even since then has struggled to nail down a regular place on the south coast.
That said, it does appear as though Rangers have signed a truly modern centre-back. Whilst Katic’s passing and distribution leave a lot to be desired, Goldson is more comfortable with the ball at his feet.
We’ve taken data from Brighton’s 2015/16 season in the Championship. This is for two reasons, the primary one being that it’s the last time Goldson clocked consistent game time and secondly it was for a team at the top of a division in a similar position to Rangers.
What we can take from the graph above is that the 25-year-old is comfortable with the ball at his feet and isn’t scared to pick out a pass. Goldson is in the top eight in overall numbers of passes, long balls and passes into the final third. Evidently, this is a defender who not only enjoys playing out from the back but also picking out a long ball to put his team on the front foot.
Goldson played 996 overall passes with an accuracy of 83.73%. Only two of his teammates had better passing accuracy overall. Similarly, he was fifth highest for long passes (163) but impressively bested all of his teammates in this metric when it came to accuracy (56.44%). The 25-year-old is also in the top eight for passes played into the final third (173).
Goldson’s defensive numbers are also impressive. He’s not only a player who is mobile – something Rangers have definitely lacked in the recent past – but he’s also physical and a presence in the air.
The table shows us that Goldson was one of the top five players in this Brighton side when it came to interceptions; his overall number was 142. Similarly, it’s apparent that the 25-year-old is a force to be reckoned with in the air. He may have taken part in significantly less aerial duels (172) than some of his teammates like Tomer Hemed (458) and Lewis Dunk (343), however, he did win 63.37% of these headed battles. There’s no doubting that’s a decent success rate.
It could well be that Rangers have found two central defenders who compliment each other rather well. The raw and relatively inexperienced Katic will be a physical old-school style defender which could be ideal in the Premiership. Meanwhile, Goldson is more of a modern centre-back who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and can play out from the back as well as being able to do all the dirty stuff well. There’s the possibility that Katic’s distribution and positioning could improve just by him playing next to the more experienced Goldson. Just look at how Danny Wilson improved whilst playing alongside David Weir. Bottom line, it looks like some smart business from Gerrard and Rangers.