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Nugent, Monthe or Tafazolli - could Sunderland look to target one of these three defenders?

Sunderland are still in the market for a central defender. With that in mind, Josh Wilkinson runs the rule over three potential recruits who the club could target this summer, and looks at the statistics behind their performances last season.

Tranmere Rovers v Newport County - Sky Bet League Two Play-off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

In the wake of the recent signings of Conor Mclaughlin and Jordan Willis, there is a clear optimism that a well known problem area of the pitch is getting some long overdue strengthening. But is it enough?

Given the suggestion in the game against South Shields and Benfica B that Jack Ross may again be looking at a return to a back three (a system in which I thought we played our best football last season), I thought it best to look at who’s out there for some more potential centre half recruitment.

For this, I thought it best to have a clear type of player in mind, and as such, looked at players who met the following requirements:

  • Aged 27 or under;
  • At least 6ft tall;
  • Wins a good number of aerial duels (At least 60%);
  • Market value of less than £1,000,000;
  • Playing in England or Scotland.

Manny Monthe - Tranmere Rovers

Playing a huge part in Tranmere’s promotion season last year, it will be interesting to see how Manny makes the step up to League one football.

Comfortable in either a back three or a back four, the stats suggest that he will be more than capable to play at this level.

At 6 foot tall, Monthe is also strong and quick, and unsurprisingly not easy to get past. He seems comfortable in one on one situations, which makes him very effective on the left side of a back three if pulled out wide to take on an attacking winger as seemed to happen rather often last year, as can be seen in his heat map.

His defensive duel success rate of 73.03% in the league is further proof that he is not an easy proposition to get past.

He’s not bad in the air either, with a strong aerial duel win percentage of 64.54%, it shows he excels in a skill that is certainly needed at this level. However, the one caveat of this is that his number of attempted aerial duels per 90 (5.69) is quite a lot lower than the average for a centre back, certainly at this level. It’d be interesting to see how this win percentage would change should he attempt more aerial duels per 90.

He’s also a presence in the other box too. His two goals last season both came from set pieces, and his physicality in the box would give us something different that we certainly were missing last season and at just 24, there’s plenty time for him to improve.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Manny signed a new deal with Tranmere last month, and appears to be somewhat of a cult hero at the club.

Nevertheless, he should definitely be one to keep an eye on this season to see how he deals with the step up, and provided he manages it well, perhaps could be one to look at in January or next summer, promotion or not.

Tranmere Rovers v Liverpool - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Ryan Tafazolli - Free Agent

It’s somewhat surprising to me that since his release from Peterborough at the end of last season, Ryan Tafazolli has of yet, failed to find a club - although he has been on trial at Hull City, and Blackpool are also supposedly interested.

I don’t blame them. Admittedly he was in a side that had what was probably seen as a bad season for Peterborough, but nonetheless, Tafazolli’s stats show him to be a solid option at League One level.

Standing at 6’5”, he offers the height that we had with Jimmy Dunne, but offers something Dunne could not quite offer which was experience in this league.

Naturally, this helped him win more of his aerial duels than not, winning 63.7% of his 465 which is certainly a respectable offering. In fact, unlike Monthe, he averaged 12.42 attempted aerial duels per 90 and it’s a safe presumption that a number of these were in the opposition box too, so he’d certainly offer us a strong aerial presence both defensively and offensively.

He’s not bad on the floor either, averaging 6.65 defensive duels per 90 and winning 73.9% of them. Similar to Monthe in win percentage figures however he does have fewer defensive duels per 90 than Monthe and this is perhaps where Monthe’s physicality comes into its own.

He’s fairly confident on the ball too, and has a propensity to step up play a good number of forward passes (13.87 per 90) as can be seen from his heat map.

A good number of which he manages to make (64.73%) so while we may not be looking for another ball playing centre half he certainly gives us that option.

As mentioned, he may already be on his way to a new club, however if not I certainly think he could be a smart addition especially when considering there would be no fee involved. He strikes me as a jack-of-all-trades type centre half, and at only 27 is arguably yet to enter his peak. Provided the wage wasn’t too crazy, I think you could do a lot worse at this level.

Scunthorpe United v Peterborough United - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Ben Nugent - Stevenage

Ben Nugent is another player on this list who has plied his trade in League Two recently. Nevertheless, his contributions last season are certainly good enough to warrant him being considered as a potential Sunderland signing.

Since we’re ultimately looking for a strong aerial presence in defence, his aerial duel numbers make for very good reading. Of his 6.39 aerial duels per 90, he won 75.8% of them, an astounding return and one that made him far and away the best in the air in League Two last term. Of course, his 6’5” stature certainly helps in this regard, but he also read the game and the path of the ball in the air very well.

His ability to read the game is further proven by his defensive duel win percentage and high interception numbers. He attempted 4.73 defensive duels per 90 and won an impressive 72.7%, so while his attempted numbers are lower than most his high win percentage suggests that he is rarely rash in the tackle and makes good decisions on when to challenge.

Additionally, his 6.42 interceptions per 90 is a more than solid return and very similar to the numbers of a certain Jordan Willis who made 6.57 interceptions per 90 last season.

For a big man he also seems decent on the ball, with a forward pass completion rate of 64.73% which was identical to Ryan Tafazolli’s, but Nugent’s higher number of attempted forward passes (18.29 per 90) shows he made more overall.


The Verdict...

For me, I’d be happy to see any of the three join, but when taking everything into account I think Ryan Tafazolli would be the most sensible addition.

He has experience at this level so wouldn’t be too much of a risk; he also seemed to impress on trial at Hull City recently so if we could convince him to have another year in League One it’d be shrewd business, especially considering there wouldn’t be a fee involved.

That said, I’d certainly keep an eye on both Monthe and Nugent who are both only 24 and 25 respectively. It will be especially interesting to see how Monthe deals with the step up and Nugent’s stats show him to be one of the better defenders in League Two. And after Luton’s performance last season and the excitement behind Lincoln this season, League Two players certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted.