Though hardly an international superstar, there are many reasons you may know the name Duje Ćaleta-Car. After four increasingly impactful seasons as a centre-back with RB Salzburg, Ćaleta-Car joined Marseille, where he has carved out an important place for himself in the defensive line. At just 23 years old, he has contributed to four Austrian Bundesliga championships for Salzburg and played in the World Cup for his home country of Croatia. Especially since moving to Ligue 1, he has made a name for himself and drawn considerable attention from other clubs in the process. But how does he stack up against the competition? In this data analysis, we’ll compare Ćaleta-Car to other formidable players with similar CV’s.
In the 2018-19 season, Ćaleta-Car’s first with Ligue 1, he demonstrated his excellent defensive skills. Averaging more than one block and interception each per 90, there’s little doubt that he’s a great choice in a defensive line-up. But looking a little more closely, these achievements seem a little more mediocre. Comparing Ćaleta-Car to the five other centre-backs who joined Ligue 1 in the same season, some of his stats fall more in the middle of the pack, and one (blocks per 90) is squarely at the bottom.
In this group of six, Ćaleta-Car came in at fourth and third for tackles per 90 and interceptions per 90, respectively. With only about one block every two games, he was dead last for blocks per 90. He managed only about a third of the blocks as the leader in that category, Stefan Mitrovic of Strasbourg. It should be noted that these stats still rank Ćaleta-Car in (or very near) the top half of all defensive players in Ligue 1. But in these areas, at least, he definitely had room to improve.
When it comes to aerial duels, though, Ćaleta-Car is an absolute stand-out. Not only did he win 27% more aerial duels per 90 than his closest competitor, Nayef Aguerd of Dijon, but he also maintained the highest win percentage of them all. Of all the centre-backs joining Ligue 1 that season, Ćaleta-Car is easily the one you’d expect to consistently churn out successful duels.
So based on his first season in Ligue 1, Duje Ćaleta-Car appears to be a pretty average player in this crew. But how did these men fare during year two? Of those remaining (Gen Shoji left Ligue 1 for Asia), progress during the sophomore season with their respective clubs was varied.
Adding one point to Ćaleta-Car’s tally, he was one of only two players in this bunch to increase his number of tackles per 90. Improving this statistic by over 20%, the Croatian’s progress was so marked as to pull him almost even with Loïck Landre of Nimes. Every other player in this group lost ground in this category.
Ćaleta-Car didn’t enjoy much improvement in successful interceptions, increasing by only 7% from the 2018-19 season. The only player to best this was Aguerd, who achieved a staggering 53% increase from the year before. Still, let’s not overlook the fact that, excepting Aguerd, there was yet another decrease for all other players. Given this, even a slight improvement is notable.
It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows. In arguably his worst area of the 2018-19 season, Ćaleta-Car didn’t make up any ground the next year. He made 20% fewer blocks per 90 during his second season with Marseille, while the rest of his cohort remained relatively steady or improved dramatically. (Take a look at Denayer’s jump of almost 50% and Aguerd nearly doubling his first season’s performance.) So, our man started from the bottom, and he is most certainly still there.
Perhaps the biggest bright spot: year two in France saw Ćaleta-Car maintain his duelling prowess. Though his number of duels won per 90 took a hit, this could simply be due to having fewer duelling opportunities that season. It does not indicate poorer performance. In fact, he slightly improved his already impressive percentage of duels won. Again, the only player really giving him a run for his money was Aguerd, who rocketed to the front of the pack in both categories.
Marseille knows the value of the defensive skills Ćaleta-Car brings to the table, but they’re not oblivious to the offensive help he contributes, too. During his time at Marseille, he has proved that he can be a valuable asset to his team’s offensive line.
In the 2018-19 season, Ćaleta-Car made shots at a rate that was higher than average (denoted by the dotted line) for this group of centre-backs, leading to 2 goals. As with the defensive stats from this season, though, above-average didn’t mean the top of the class. He was edged out slightly by Lyon’s Denayer in shots per 90, and the entire group was eclipsed by Aguerd, who made nearly one shot per game. Ćaleta-Car had even worse results in passing, making below the average number of passes that led to a goal, landing him near the bottom of the rankings.
Last season, these statistics could hardly have been more different than the year before for Ćaleta-Car. Though he didn’t make any goals of his own, he easily topped the list for both shots per 90 and key passes per 90, making his contribution to the offensive hard to ignore. Even Aguerd, seemingly his stiffest competition of the group, fell significantly below average in both areas.
Marseille knew what they were doing when they picked up Ćaleta-Car. He may not be the best in his field, but there are plenty of reasons that he’s advanced so much in his career so far, which have led him to be linked with clubs like Manchester City. Out of the crew of centre-backs who joined Ligue 1 two years ago, his biggest competition is almost certainly Aguerd, who has put up strong defensive numbers, topping Ćaleta-Car in many areas. But our analysis shows that Ćaleta-Car has demonstrated significant improvement during his first two seasons and seems poised to take on any challengers for the title of the best centre-back in Ligue 1.