Player Comparison: James Collins vs Winston Reid vs James Tomkins
Squad Number: #19
From: Aston Villa
Reported Fee: £2,500,000
Club Appearances: 95
Club Goals: 4
Debut: 20/09/2005 vs Sheffield Wednesday
Debut Goal: 26/12/2005 vs Portsmouth
2012/13 Premier League
Squad Number: #2
From: FC Midtyjlland
Reported Fee: £4,000,000
Club Appearances: 83
Club Goals: 5
Debut: 14/08/2010 vs Aston Villa
Debut Goal: 21/02/2011 vs Burnley
2012/13 Premier League
Squad Number: #5
Reported Fee: Academy Graduate
Club Appearances: 150
Club Goals: 7
Debut: 22/03/2008 vs Everton
Debut Goal: 04/04/2009 vs Sunderland
2012/13 Premier League
As the season draws ever closer, the debate is soon to switch from 'Who should we bring in?' to 'Who should we start with?'. One area that is sure to cause a bit of a headache for Wesr Ham fans and staff alike is the first choice centre back pairing. Each of James Collins, Winston Reid & James Tomkins performed admirably last season for the club, and all three pairings have been used so far in pre season.
So who should start against Cardiff City at the Boleyn Groun on August 10th? Should Collins & Reid continue as the first choice pairing, given their excellent partnership towards the end of last season? Should James Tomkins come in to replace Collins and rekindle his understanding wiith Reid, developed in our promotion season of 2011/12? And should Reid be guaranteed a starting spot? Can Tomkins & Collins make a claim as a pairing themselves?
The common consensus seems to be that Hammer of the Year Reid has cemented himself as our first choice centre half, and it's easy to see why. The New Zealand international not only made tackles with a greater regularity than his competitors, but made easily the most interceptions of the trio, and won the most aerial duels.
However, Reid was actually the least successful in the tackle, winning 77% of his attempted tackles, compared to 79% by both Collins & Tomkins. Of course, a lower success rate may be reflected by the significantly greater number attempted, with Reid attempting a tackle once every 44.9 minutes, compared to 47.0 minutes by Collins, and 52.7 minutes by Tomkins.
Reid also makes the fewest defensive actions of the three (clearances, blocks, interceptions). The Kiwi made a defensive action once every 7.4 minutes in the Premier League last season, compared with 7.3 by James Tomkins. Collins, meanwhile, leads the way be some distance, clearing, blocking or intercepting on average once every 6.1 minutes.
This figure is boosted greatly by Collins' massive block frequency. The Welshman made 1.4 blocks per game last season, compared to 0.7 by his centre back colleagues. He also made more clearances than Reid & Tomkins, with one coming every 7.8 minutes on average, compared to 9.5 (Reid) and 9.0 (Tomkins).
The fact that Collins made defensive actions most regularly last season may not come as much of a surprised, given his blood and thunder approach to the game, flinging himself in the way of shots and making last ditch tackles.
What may be surprising though, is that, despite a reputation for being an excellent header of the ball, he was signficantly outdone in the air by his greatest challenger, James Tomkins.
Tomkins won 73% of his aerial duels in the league last year, compared to 64% (Collins) and 62% (Reid). He also competed in duels more frequently, with one coming every 17.9 minutes. (Collins 19.5; Reid 22.6).
Being an aerial 'duel', this figure doesn't count unchallenged headers, meaning the numbers are smaller than memory may serve. However, this does give an indication of how successful Tomkins, and the other centre halves, are at winning the ball under pressure in the air.
One main criticism of James Collins since he returned to the Boleyn Ground last season, is his insistance on playing long balls, and his poor generally passing ability. It's very common to see the ball rolled into Ginge and him loft a high ball as far forward as possible.
This perception is completely borne out by the facts. On average, the 'Pink Pelé' plays significantly more long balls than either Tomkins or Reid, at 5.9 per game compared to 4.0 (Reid) and 4.2 (Tomkins), respectively. Additionally to this, 27% of passes by Collins were long balls, whilst both Tomkins and Reid played just 17% of their passes as long balls.
Collins is also the least successful of the three with long passes. Of the 171 long balls played by the Welshman, just 40% (69) met their target. Reid, on the other hand, hit the mark with 82 of his 145 long balls (57%), and Tomkins was accuarate with 56% of his (61/108)
Somewhat surprisingly, Collins is also the least successful with headed passes. Just 48% of his headed passes were accurate (58/122). Tomkins, in compairion, was successful with 53% (52/99), and Reid led the way with 62% of his headed passes reaching a team mate (106/171).
In terms of a short, simple passing game, Tomkins plays a far higher proportion of his overall passes short to a team mate than his colleagues. 67% of his total passes were short balls, with a fantastic success rate of 87% reaching a team mate (359/414). Reid wasn't significantly far behind, with 62% of his passes going short, and with an equally high success rate of 87% (450/515).
Shockingly though, Collins actually has a short passing success rate to rival his positional competitiors. 86% of his 342 short passes (293) reached their target, a fantastic return for any professional. What lets Collins down is the fact that just 54% of the passes he attempts are short, with a large portion going down as wayward long balls or headers.
For this comparison, errors are: misplaced passes, dispossessions (tackled), turnovers (loss of possession due to miscontrol) and dribbled by (being dribbled past by an opposition player).
The final area to compare is that of defensive mistakes. Top class centre backs excel not only in their ability to win and keep hold of the ball, but their concentration and consistency.
Part of the reason Winston Reid has become such a cornerstone in the West Ham defence has been his incredible consistency and reliability. Reid made fewer mistakes per game, and made mistakes less frequently than both Tomkins and Collins in 2012/13. On average, the Kiwi made a mistake once every 13.7 minutes, compared to 10.5 (Tomkins) and 10.1 (Collins).
Perhaps the most key of the combined areas from a defenders perspective is the ability to stop an opponent going pass you. This is an area in which Reid performs admirably, only being dribbled by once every 150 minutes; significantly outperforming James Collins, who was dribbled by once ever 108 minutes.
That said, Reid was not the best performer in this area, with James Tomkins only being dribbled by once every 248 minutes, an astonishingly high return for a player in his position. This goes to show how far the young defender has come since our relegation season of 2010/11 under Avram Grant, when it seemed he couldn't put a foot right at times.
Errors are a part of the game though, with all players making mistakes throughout every game. What is important is how much they cost you. According to Squawka, no mistakes made by James Tomkins in the Premier League last season led directly to a shot on goal, let alone a goal conceded. Winston Reid made one mistake leading to a shot on goal, though no this chance wasn't converted.
James Collins, on the other hand, made 4 mistakes leading to shots on goal last season, with two of these leading directly to goals conceded. Both of these mistakes live on in the memory, with woefully short backpasses allowing Miguel Michu to open the scoring back in August, and handing an easy opportunity, and eventual three points, to Pavel Pogrebnyak at the Madejski Stadium in December.
In summary, West Ham are very fortunate to have three very strong centre backs, who each excel in key areas.
Collins makes more defensive actions than his colleagues, and is by far the most aggressive of the trio. Tomkins makes the best use of the ball, with a greater frequency of his passes going short to a team mate. Whilst Reid is the most consistent of the three. Rarely making mistakes, major or otherwise, and boasting an excellent pass completion rate of 77%.
I think it's safe to say that one half of the partnership is already guaranteed. Winston Reid had such a successful last season, that he has become one of the first names on the team sheet.
The dilemma is deciding his partner.
Collins' is the sort of defender who puts his body on the line and throws himself in the way of anything that might trouble the net, but his concentration and his poor passing success rate, particularly with the long ball, let him down.
Tomkins, on the other hand, is exceptional in the air and possesses a high quality of passing skill (a trait that has seen him step up into midfield on occasion), but he lacks the experience and authority of Collins', and his overall defensive game still needs improving (he made the least interceptions per game of the three, suggesting his reading of the game is not quite as tuned as his competitors).
Against Cardiff, I'd go with Tomkins and Reid. If the preseason friendlies so far are anything to go by, Sam Allardyce looks to be tweaking his tactics to include a greater emphasis building attacks from the back. If this is the way the club want to go, then Tomkins and Reid are a partnership that can be central to the building up of the club over the next five years or more.
But, in Collins, we have an incredibly capable backup, and should either of the starters slip up, they should be aware that the Welshman will be ready to pounce.