Marvelous Nakamba is beginning to live up to his name.
During the summer, I wrote of how the Zimbabwean could turn into a key player in the Villa midfield – if given the opportunities to ply his trade. Whilst the former Brugge man has only started 3 league games this season, that trio of matches have all ended in claret and blue clean sheets.
With every game that passes where Nakamba has played (either from the start or when introduced from the bench), the appreciation of his performances has grown. Dean Smith has commented before on the importance Nakamba has in his squad. After the recent victory over Arsenal, the head coach stated:
“‘Naka’ came in and gave us some really good energy. He’s more of a defensive midfielder than Douglas (Luiz) and gives us something a little bit different.”
Apart from internal sources at the club though, few pundits have given the player credit for his part in Villa’s performances. As Nakamba is not currently a regular starter, to a degree, this is understandable.
However, this article aims to bring to light the pivotal role that Nakamba has played for Villa in his 7 league appearances this season. After days’ worth of deep statistical digging, here are the numbers certifying why Nakamba deserves your praise.
Perhaps the easiest aspect of Nakamba’s game to pick up on just by watching him – the defensive midfielder rarely concedes possession. Averaging across his 7 league appearances this term comes to a pass completion rate of 90%. The figure is higher than some of the leagues most coveted central-defensive midfielders. Compared to Fernandinho (Manchester City), Thiago (Liverpool), and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Spurs), Nakamba’s pass completion rate ranks higher than all three. At 94.2%, John Stones leads the way in this regard.
Triumphing above all three of these afore-mentioned players is a true credit to Nakamba, however besting a player of Thiago’s stature is where I will zoom in more closely. Liverpool’s Spaniard is widely regarded as one of the finest passers in world football. Having won 2 Champions Leagues, 11 league titles, plus a myriad of other domestic and European trophy’s, the summer signing caused media a phenomenon for weeks on end.
Comparing Nakamba with a player of this stature is a testament to how well he has played when Villa have relied on him this season.
Thiago has racked up 11 league appearances to Nakamba’s 7 this term. The Liverpool man is known for his ability to link up players from all areas of the pitch. His passing quality has been a key component in many of his trophy-winning sides. Despite this, Nakamba has been utilized by teammates more times (on average) than his Liverpool counterpart.
Nakamba has successfully received 95.7% of passes in his direction compared to the 95.3% Thiago has received. This statistic shows that when in possession, Villa’s man is responsible for more ball-playing actions; more play funnels through with his influence than it does at Liverpool with Thiago. The players around Nakamba clearly value his midfield worth.
In reference to the top five European leagues, as well as European competitions this season, Nakamba ranks in the 96th percentile for touches in his defensive penalty area. At 4.4 touches per 90 (compared to midfielders average of 2.4) he is responsible for breaking up opposition moves as the last line of defence, as well as starting counter-attacking moves for Villa.
In the same broad context as the previous statistic, Nakamba has posted high numbers for defensive actions this season. In terms of blocking passes, the Zimbabwean records 3.10 blocks per 90. A clear indication that Nakamba breaks up the play and nullifies opposition attacks that are in motion.
This figure is actually rather incredible. Placing Villa’s CDM in the top 1% of midfielders in Europe and beyond, Nakamba is just 0.08 off the leading midfielder in this regard – Ander Herrera at 3.18 blocks per 90.
When looking at clearances, Nakamba ranks highly too. At 2.2 per game, he is among the top 10% of midfielders in this regard. An aspect that may go unnoticed, the know-how of when to clear the ball from a position of danger is obviously important in preventing opposition goals/chances.
The aim of this article was to dissect the benefits of having a player of Nakamba’s quality in the squad. I hope these statistics prove useful in portraying the value that Nakamba holds to Dean Smith and his Villa teammates. After a tough first season in England, nowadays he is a player to be relied upon. If rumours of Douglas Luiz returning to Manchester City in the summer are true, Nakamba may be given the chance to shine in the Brazilian’s absence.
From liability to reliability – Marvelous Nakamba is due some recognition.