This article is part of Football FanCast’s In Numbers series, which takes a statistical look at performances, season-long form and reported transfer targets…
Leeds United certainly need a centre-back. The Yorkshire club have sold multiple defensive options already in this transfer window including Paudie O’Connor and Aapo Halme, but the man they will miss the most is undoubtedly Pontus Jansson.
The Swede has been a rock at the back for United ever since joining the club in 2016 and his good performances last term earned him a spot in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
One name recently linked with the Whites is former Chelsea man Gary Cahill, but it was reported by The Mirror (12/07 via FLW) that Leeds are set to turn down the free agent this summer – and the statistics suggest that’s the right decision.
It sounds preposterous that a two-time Premier League winner and a Champions League winner isn’t as good as a Championship player in Jansson, but a look at Cahill’s stats from his last full Premier League season suggests that he isn’t at the level he once was and would arguably be a downgrade on the recent Elland Road departure.
It’s not always easy comparing two defenders who are playing in different leagues, but these numbers can tell us what each player does well, and what Cahill would need to do if he came to Elland Road.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that during these seasons both clubs were in relatively similar positions in their respective divisions – Leeds finished third while Chelsea finished fifth – so there is some similarity in terms of the pressure both defenders were put under by the opposition and the extent to which their own teams dominated games.
Based on these statistics, Jansson makes over double the number of tackles Cahill does per game. Of course, Cahill may have had less necessity to make challenges as he was covered by N’Golo Kante who made 3.3 tackles per game that season, but this shows that he would have a much increased workload if he signed for Leeds. It remains to be seen how he’d handle that.
And while that number may not be indicative of the 33-year-old’s ability to defend, his tackle success rate shows how often he is successful when going for the ball. Jansson’s numbers in that regard are also better than the former Chelsea captain, albeit against less gifted attackers.
Cahill is also dribbled past more times than the Swede, and he makes fewer interceptions. Surprisingly, the former England international is better in the air than the 28-year-old, but that is the only area he beats him in.
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Last season Cahill was completely ignored by Maurizio Sarri as he played only two games in the Premier League. The veteran most likely will have regressed even further since the 2017/18 season, and he will surely need to get his match fitness back given he has played such little football.
So bearing in mind it’s not even clear if Cahill would be better than a player the club have just sold, the Whites appear to have made the right call in not taking up the chance to sign the ageing defender this summer.