Finding the best young centre-backs in Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

The French league has achieved the fame of being a hub of exciting young players. However, the young players most talked about in Ligue 1 are usually attacking. This is a shame as the Ligue 1 provides talent both in attacking and defensive phases, especially centre-backs. Some of the most known examples are Presnel Kimpembe, Adil Rami, and Samuel Umtiti among others.

We have made this data analysis to focus on Ligue 1’s young centre-back prospects and to see the future that Ligue 1 has in this position. This report will focus on finding some of the best young centre-backs that are currently playing in Ligue 1. Because these findings are purely based on the certain important data and statistics and do not consider all the possible data, the report only serves as a starting point to identify promising centre-backs in Ligue 1. Detailed analysis of the players might be required in the future to understand their actual potential and style of play.

Selection criteria

Since this report is about finding young talents, we have only included players with a maximum age of 23 years. It is also important to know that every player in this analysis has played at least 1000 minutes of football in Ligue 1 this season. This criterion is important to create a fair comparison among the centre-backs since a player who has played a significantly fewer number of minutes than another player could have inflated statistics, but it does not necessarily make him a better player.

The final criterion is to consider only those players that have significantly served the team as a centre-back. Although it is impossible to find players that have only played in one position throughout a season due to the tactical flexibility of the modern managers, this report will only have centre-backs who have not deviated away from their position for too long.

Aerial duels

Finding the best young centre-backs in Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

A centre-back must be able to deal with aerial threats to be a good defender. This is to clear the ball away from danger in crosses and in general. If not capable in this aspect, there is the danger of having the ball played behind you, losing aerial duels to strikers which creates an advantage for the opponents, and be vulnerable to crosses.

For this, we look at how many aerial duels the defenders make per game in order to see their success rate. Depending on how much their success rate is compared to their aerial duels per game will show us if they are solid in the air.

Here, Wesley Fofana from Saint-Etienne is the best. He makes 6.67 aerial duels with a 72.92% success rate. After that, J. Gnagnon from Rennes stands out with 6.12 aerial duels and 62.77% success rate. Next is Benoit Badiashile from Monaco with a 6.34 aerial duels per game with a 61.32% success rate.

Also worth mentioning are Gabriel from Lille (5.22 aerial duels per game with a 64.34% success rate) and Duje Caleta-Car (3.98 aerial duels per game with a 68.89% success rate).

Defensive duels

Finding the best young centre-backs in Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

The main duty a centre-back has is to win defensive duels. A defensive duel measures the individual player’s game in defence. It ranges from a 1 vs 1 to sliding tackles but ultimately is summarised by the following definition. It is a defensive duel when there is a contact between the defender and the attacker, or the opposite player is trying to dribble or eliminate the defensive player.

This is why we look at how many defensive duels the young defenders make per game to then see their success rate. This will give us a good idea on their defensive abilities and capability of stopping an attacking player.

The furthest player in the top right in the graph is Boubacar Kamara. He makes 7.74 defensive duels per game with a 70.35% success rate. The next player is Mohamed Simakan, who makes 8.72 defensive duels per game and a 67.31% success rate. Another player with good stats is Harold Moukoudi from Saint Etienne who has the highest success rate (80%) and makes 6.38 defensive duels per game.

There are other notable players such as Wesley Fofana (7.02 duels per game and a 67.33%) and Mamadou Fofana from FC Metz (8.29 duels per game and 57.59% success rate).

Forward passes

Finding the best young centre-backs in Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

With forward passes, centre-backs can help immensely in the build-up by cutting through the opponents with strong passes to teammates. With this, they get the ball to the talented attacking players quicker, which increases the speed of the play and the quality.

A centre-back with good forward passes will be of great value when the team is in possession. It allows for the team to be able to play out from the back with more efficiency and better. This is why we look at forward passes and their accuracy instead of looking at the player’s normal passing accuracy.

This is done because maybe the centre-back does many back passes or easy lateral passes which increases their passing success rate but does not correlate with his real passing ability. Looking at the forward passes gives us a better idea of this.

Malang Sarr from Nice is the furthest in the top right quadrant with 23.51 forward passes per game and an 85.01% accuracy. The next player is also from Nice and that is Stanley Nsoki. He makes 23.58 forward passes per game with an 83.57% accuracy. Further on is Joachim Andersen from Lyon and makes 22.38 forward passes per game with an 84.56% accuracy.

Moreover, it is important to highlight Gabriel who makes the most forward passes per game (24.21) and has good accuracy (75.92%). Lastly, Benoit Badiashile also performs well with 22.44 forward passes per game and 81.07% accuracy.

Long passes

Finding the best young centre-backs in Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

To unite the defence and attack in a more simple and effective way, teams use long passes. These passes are capable of surprising the opponents and create plays from behind. Centre-backs with good accuracy in this aspect have an added resource when playing out from behind which could greatly benefit the team’s play.

This is why we will analyse how many long passes these young players make along with their accuracy, to check whether they add value to the build-up through long passes. Additionally, this type of play is usually used in the EPL, where clubs take a more direct approach.

Jeremy Gelin from Rennes stands out with 6.86 long passes per game and 68.83% accuracy. Moving on is Jean-Kevin Duverne from Stade Brestois who makes 8.31 long passes per game and 58.62% accuracy. Followed by him is Joachim Andersen with 6.31 long passes per game and a 59.13% accuracy.

We should also highlight Boubacar Kamara who makes 5.87 long passes per game and does so with a 61.59% accuracy.

The shortlist

After this data analysis, we have found three centre-backs that stand out from the rest and are performing as the best centre-backs in Ligue 1.

Boubacar Kamara

The first highlighted player is Boubacar Kamara from Marseille. His best facets are his defensive duels and long passes. He was one of the best by making 7.74 defensive duels per game and having a 70.35% success rate which is impressive.

As for his long passes, he was also in the top-right quadrant making 5.87 long passes per game with a 61.59% accuracy.

Then, for forward passes he is above average with 19.28 forward passes per game and 80.85% accuracy which is good. However, he is average in aerial duels, making 4.32 per game with a 55.86% success rate which is decent.

Therefore, he does above average in three of the characteristics and is average in the other, meaning that he is a complete player which we should have an eye on for the future.

Joachim Andersen

Next up is Joachim Andersen from Lyon who has already been tested at a UEFA Champions League level. It is an interesting case because he excels in the playmaking abilities and does worse in the more defensive ones.

He is one of the best in forward passes with 22.38 forward passes per game with an 84.56% accuracy. Similarly, he does well in his long passes with 6.31 long passes per game and a 59.13% accuracy. This shows that Lyon relies on him to play out from behind in an effective manner.

On the other hand, he does slightly above average in aerial duels by making 5.1 per game and with a 59.14% success rate. This is alright and means he clears away more than half of the balls coming in from the air.

Then, for defensive duels he is one of the worst. Even though he still wins more than half of his defensive duels (55.88% success rate), he only makes 3.73 duels per game. This might be due to Lyon being a dominant team in Ligue 1 and controlling the game more, meaning there are less chances for defensive duels.

As mentioned before, Lyon are one of the best Ligue 1 teams. So if they control the ball more, they need their centre-backs to help with the build-up more. It also means that less defensive duels are needed because the opponents have less of the ball than normal.

This makes Andersen perfect for Lyon as his capabilities match the club’s position and needs.

Wesley Fofana

It is the opposite case for Wesley Fofana from Saint Etienne. He does better in the defensive statistics than in his playmaking statistics. He is the best in aerial duels as he makes 6.67 aerial duels with a 72.92% success rate.

Furthermore, he is one of the best in his defensive duels. Here he makes 7.02 defensive duels per game and has a 67.33% success rate which is good.

He suffers more in his build-up stats. For forward passes, he is below average, making 15.78 per game with a 74.01% success rate. Once again he is below average for long passes, making 3.96 with a 42.11% success rate which is not good at all.

This means the opposite of Joachim Andersen as it is clear that Wesley Fofana is not relied on to start the play from the back. Instead, he is more focused on being defensively solid for the team.


This data analysis has shown us some useful metrics to measure centre-backs. Nowadays centre-backs are asked to help in the playmaking of the team as well as defending so different types of metrics have to be used. Thus, it is more valuable in today’s age if a centre-back can play from the back well at the same time as being a good defender.

The data analysis also gave a good indication of talented young centre-backs that Ligue 1 has. With Kamara, Andersen, and Fofana, the French league possesses three very talented centre-backs under the age of 23 years.