The retirement of Gary Neville has led to a problem for the England in the right back position. Whilst Capello was in charge of England Richards was constantly overlooked which led to him reacting angrily over his Twitter account, as Glen Johnson seemed to be preferred, as well as Kyle Walker who was recently capped. Now Capello has resigned every position is far more up for grabs than previously and Richards has a fresh chance to state his case after experiencing a strong season so far.
Statistics: A comparison of Richards and his two main rivals
|Tackles won per game||Interceptions WPG||Aerial Duels WPG|
The defensive stats reveal that all three players are on the face of it relatively tight. Man City have conceded fewer goals than both Liverpool and Spurs but that may be down to other factors such as the teams tactical ethos and other defenders. The reason Richards may edge it here is due to his greater athleticism and dominance in the air which in the modern game is crucial especially as teams so often switch the play from left to right which can exploit full-backs who are not aerially proficient. Johnson who was previously thought of by some pundits as defensively unreliable has certainly improved this side of the game this season as Liverpool have only conceded 23 goals, only four fewer than Man City. Walker as well should not be overlooked the high numbers of tackles and interceptions he makes arguably points to him being the strongest defensively, at least in the statistical sense, although this can be slightly misleading.
From an attacking perspective one would probably have expected Walker and Johnson to have provided more assists due to the fact that both are more traditional attacking full-backs who are comfortable on the ball and like to attempt to play crosses into the box. This is surprising as Johnson and Walker are probably technically better than the more powerful Richards.
The right backs all slightly differ in style. Micah Richards is probably the most complete player out of his rivals with the best balance of attacking and defensive qualities. Richards is physically strong and very quick which makes him an effective defender from one on one situations as well as being more tactically astute than the other players, who can at times find themselves out of position in defensive situations.
Further to this from set-pieces, both attacking and defensive, Richards represents much more of a goal threat as well as a much better man marker due to his aerial quality as well as his positional awareness which are superior to his rivals due to his experience as a centre-back for City. The differences mean that an opposition winger would probably fancy their luck more against Johnson or Walker due to their willingness to get forward and arguably their lapses in defensive play. Walker for example struggled when he came up against Ashley Cole earlier this season due to his expansive full-back play and rather than pressing Cole back he often found himself on the back foot. The fact that Richards is more solid in his approach is an important factor considering that some of Europe’s top sides not only possess power and pace but also have quality attacking full-backs as well as aggressive wingers.
Johnson is known for his attacking exploits but with his experience for England he has shown before that he is not good enough at defending at the top level which could certainly count against him, although as noted he has improved his defensive game. Walker has enjoyed a fine season so far but his inexperience may count against him, however the possibility of Redknapp taking over for England means a place in the squad for Walker is increasingly looking likely.
For Richards the fact that he still starts for City is testament to his quality in an era where many of the clubs home grown players such as Michael Johnson or Nedum Onuoha have been moved on. With his tactical discipline and defensive qualities as well as his productivity in the final third he should certainly be in the squad for Euro 2012. If we assume that Smalling and/or Jones will go as a centre-back he will provide further cover at right-back also which means one other right-back will come in which case it is a tossup between Walker and Johnson who have as stated both been good this season.
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All stats are taken from whoscored.com