Melbourne City FC and Sydney FC will contest the A-League 2021 Grand Final on Sunday, with two of the competition’s best central defenders, Nuno Reis and Alex Wilkinson, set to go head-to-head as they seek to keep crucial clean sheets on the night.
Reis has been integral to the Melbourne City defensive unit since arriving in January and had a huge influence on last Sunday’s semi-final against Macarthur FC, keeping a clean sheet in the process.
Set to line up at the heart of the opposition defence, Wilkinson has played every possible minute this season, proving to be the ever-reliable leader at the back for his side.
Given the significant discrepancy between the minutes played between the two, with Wilkinson nearly doubling Reis for time spent on the pitch, the defensive contributions of the pair will need to be measured on a per-90-minutes basis to ensure a fair comparison.
Thanks to this, Reis’ front-footed, all-action defensive style is immediately apparent, near-quadrupling Wilkinson for successful tackles (0.85 to 0.22) and near-doubling for interceptions (1.7 to 0.96). The pair are much closer for clearances though (3.9 to 3.25) and both record 0.85 blocks per 90. Though he attempts fewer tackles, Wilkinson is more successful with these challenges, winning 75% of the time as opposed to Reis’ 60%.
In terms of their aerial dominance, the central defenders record fairly similar success rates, with Reis’ 59.7% aerial duel win-rate slightly inferior to Wilkinson’s 61.1%.
Given their position on the field, it’s no surprise to see Reis and Wilkinson record high passing volumes, though the former’s 70.1 passes per 90 at 88.1% accuracy severely overshadows the latter’s 53 at 91.8%.
What analysis of the defensive duo’s passing tells us, however, is that the pair fulfil vastly different roles in their respective side’s build-up play, with Reis proving to be the far more progressive passer. The Portuguese defender passes forward 43.5% of the team, with 16% of his total passes being long-range. Wilkinson, on the other hand, plays just 33.7 of his passes forward, with just under 6% of his total passes travelling further distances.
Whilst they do their best work trying to protect their own goal, the defensive duo are certainly no strangers to contributing to their side up the other end of the pitch, with Wilkinson boasting two goals and an assist to Reis’ single assist.