Branislav Ivanovic has emerged as a top class player for Chelsea since he joined the club. The Serbian centre-back is a no nonsense centre-back or right back whose versatility has made him an asset for every manager whom he has served under. There is however a debate in some quarters over what his best position is, so is Ivanovic wasted at right back?
Ivanovic in stats
|Tackles per game||Defensive actions per game||Aerial Duel’s per game||Pass accuracy||Chances created per game|
Cesar Azpilicueta’s role this season has been reduced to a bit part sub, so I have used his stats from last season, as well as comparing Ivanovic to Chelsea’s three main centre-backs. With regards to whether Ivanovic should be a centre-back we can see that his passing accuracy is quite low compared to John Terry and Gary Cahill. This is the major ‘flaw’ in Ivanovic’s game, he’s not as technical as the other players listed here. To be a centre-back for Chelsea you need to boast a good level of passing accuracy, as they often keep the ball, somewhere that David Luiz is perhaps over-rated.
At right back we can see that Azpilicueta has a better pass accuracy and also creates twice as many chances per game, but in the other areas he is second best to Ivanovic. This is particularly the case with regards to aerial duels. Ivanovic wins more headers per game than any Chelsea defender barring Cahill, he also makes the second highest number of defensive actions, showing what a solid right-back he is from a defensive view point.
What do you want from a right-back?
The debate about who should play right-back largely goes down to what you want from your right back. Branislav Ivanovic is a robust defender who is very, very good at the defensive side of his game, something that not all full-backs are good at. In fact, he’s quite possibly one of the best defensive right-backs in the Premier League, possibly even in Europe.
However, Ivanovic isn’t the best in an attacking sense, although he is not bad going forward either, providing a good threat from set-pieces and also better at crossing the ball than he’s given credit for, although Chelsea don’t tend to whip the ball into the box too much in the post-Didier Drogba era anyway. What Ivanovic provides for Chelsea at right back is a great deal of stability. He has a good engine getting up and down the right flank, but crucially his positional awareness is top class. As we can see from how many headers he wins per game he is also very good at defending the diagonal balls than teams play from right to left as well at defending from set-pieces.
The game against Norwich aptly shows that role Ivanovic plays. The Serb won three headers, two tackles and made seven clearances. We can also see that despite being more naturally defensive he still provides a key role as an attacking outlet wide right:
With Ivanovic spending 38.27% of the game in an advanced right position. The reason for this is that the three attacking midfielders tend to drift inwards meaning that the full-backs must provide an option wide right. Ivanovic isn’t particularly spectacular here though:
He tends to just pop the ball off to whoever is close to him, rather than trying any really ambitious balls as we can see above. Most of these passes are sideways or backwards, rather than being expansive balls into the box or into advanced areas. This is fine though, as it helps keep play ticking over for Chelsea and means that there is little danger of losing the ball.
Branislav Ivanovic is a very good and possibly quite under-rated right back. This season he’s been one of Chelsea’s best players, often working down the right flank without much defensive cover from whoever is in front of him. He can clearly play at centre-back to a high standard, but in the system that Jose Mourinho wants to play he is the club’s best right-back. Ivanovic is better at going forward than given credit for, whilst being a very consistent performer in a defensive regard.