Premier League

No room for error in battle of the England hopefuls

 • by Mark Thompson
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Leicester City’s clash against Burnley this weekend won’t just be a battle for seventh place in the Premier League, it will be a game featuring two centre-backs who could become unlikely stars for England this summer.

Harry Maguire – after an injury to Joe Gomez – and James Tarkowski shared the left centre-back role during the international friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy and both played well.

Maguire equips himself so well as a forward-minded centre-back that a small section of the Leicester support are even wondering whether he could be a temporary fix to the club’s central midfield dilemma.

With Vicente Iborra and Matty James injured, Wilfred Ndidi serving the final game of his suspension, and Andy King and Nampalys Mendy away on loan, only Adrien Silva and youth product Hamza Choudhury are available.

Maguire the Marauder

These calls to start Maguire in central midfield may help his claim for a starting berth at the World Cup in Russia.

The wide role within a back three fits somewhere between traditional English ideas of a centre-back, a full-back and a central midfielder. Yet it’s the rate at which Maguire moves forward with the ball which suggests he is a midfielder in a defender’s position

He completes 1.4 successful take-ons per 90 minutes and while might not sound like a lot, it’s the highest per 90 rate of all Premier League centre-backs.

Tarkowski completes far fewer take-ons (0.48 per 90), but plays within a Burnley system which is more restrictive and conservative.

Harry Maguire, James Tarkwoski comparison

Tarkowski’s usual partner partner in defence, Ben Mee, completes just 0.1 successful take-ons per 90. Compared to that the newly-capped England star is a veritable explorer.

How many times Maguire is dispossessed could be make-or-break in the calls for Claude Puel to give the defender a start in midfield. Yet both sides could form strong arguments.

Maguire loses the ball 0.43 times per 90, which is a high rate amongst Premier League centre-backs. This could either come from running into blind alleys, or from poor technique on the ball, neither of which is wanted in a midfielder.

However, the amount of take-ons Maguire completes indicates he’s encouraged to move forwards in a way that many other defenders aren’t, and that is likely to be why he loses the ball more often.

The match at hand

While much of the debate around whether Maguire, Tarkowski, or both should be in the England squad for the World Cup has centred around their ability on the ball, it will be their pure defending that’s put to the test at the weekend.

Maguire has won 3.03 aerial duels per 90 – just above the average for centre-backs in the league. Leicester fans will be hoping that this is a matter of engaging in fewer headed duels rather than a lack of ability, as he’ll be put to the test against Burnley’s physical forwards.

The Clarets defend very differently as a team which makes direct comparisons between players hard, however, Tarkowski has won the fifth highest amount of aerial duels per 90 with a towering 5.04.

He will have to be wary of Leicester’s counter-attacks and may find himself having to help out his partner Kevin Long, who is likely to start in the absence of injured Ben Mee.

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Jamie Vardy tends to run in behind on the left side of the pitch, giving the right-sided centre-back a torrid time. This is the side of defence which Long occupied last week against Watford, with Tarkowski moving across to the left-side where Mee usually lines up.

It means that the former Brentford man will have a lot of responsibility when Leicester travel to Turf Moor. If Long’s concentration slips, then the 25-year-old will have to sweep across and cover Vardy’s movement. If not, he will have to be aware of supporting runs into the box from the other Leicester forwards. It’s a tricky balance to striker.

Seats on the plane to Russia in Gareth Southgate’s squad will be limited, and the England manager is sure to be at Turf Moor to watch two of his centre-back options in action.

Both can play a similar role for England but it will be their performances for their club in games like this that gets them there.

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