Key Battle: Schenkeveld v Pepper

Melbourne City FC and Brisbane Roar face off in a blockbuster Elimination Final on Friday night. With two attacking forces going head-to-head, all eyes will be on the men out to stop them. Ahead of the match, we take a look at they key numbers between two of the most consistent defenders in the league, Bart Schenkeveld and Jacob Pepper.

Bart Schenkeveld and Jacob Pepper have taken dissimilar paths to get to this weekend’s Elimination Final.

Originally a youth product of Feyenoord and U19s Netherlands international, Schenkeveld joined City at the beginning of the season when he made the switch from Dutch side PEC Zwolle in the Eredivise.

Since his debut for City, the lightening-quick defender has taken the Hyundai A-League by storm. He has played an integral role for Warren Joyce’s side this season, which saw him awarded as Melbourne City FC’s Player of the Year on Monday night.

On the other side of the pitch, will be Jacob Pepper. The 25-year-old Australian has become one of the most experienced defenders in the A-League since he made his debut for Newcastle in 2010. Pepper represented Newcastle and Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia’s premier football competition, before joining Brisbane in 2016.

Despite their differing journeys, both players have been equally as important to the performances of their respective teams this season.

Schenkeveld’s speed and aerial strength has seen the defender win several duels this season, his speed paired with his ability to read the play has also seen him make many interceptions.

So far this season, the City defender has made 52 interceptions (Pepper – 32 interceptions), won 67% of duels (Pepper – 39.7% duels won) and won 68% of aerial duels (Pepper – 42.7% of aerial duels won). The number of tackles he has won may also be a reflection of his strength; he currently has a tackle success rate of 61.5%, in comparison to Pepper’s 40% tackle success rate.

On the other side of the field, Pepper’s defensive strengths come in the form of blocks and clearances. This season, the Roar defender has made seven more blocks and 19 more clearances than his City counterpart.

In terms of distribution out of the back third, both players have played key roles for their teams this season, which is reflected by their passing numbers.

Schenkeveld holds a staggering 90.7% pass success rate, with a success rate of 60.9% for long passes – demonstrating his ability to distribute the ball consistently without error.

The central defender averages 45.5 passes per 90 minutes, with 63.5% of his passes directed out to the left and right wings and 29.0% of his passes directed forwards, which demonstrates the defender’s attacking mindset. He has also completed five key passes this season and one successful cross.

In comparison, Pepper currently holds a pass success rate of 82.2% (long pass success rate of 47.5%) and averages 44.5 passes per 90 minutes.

Like Schenkeveld, the defender has demonstrated his willingness to move the ball forwards with the direction of his passes. Only 5% of his passes have travelled backwards, with 37.8% of his passes travelling directly forwards. The Roar defender has completed one key pass this season.

When it comes to the attacking third, the Roar defender has a slight edge over his City counterpart. Pepper has taken six shots at goal this season, which includes two shots on target and one right-footed goal. Schenkeveld is yet to produce a shot on target from two attempts at goal.

The threat of Schenkeveld’s speed and ability to counterattack is reflected in the number of fouls the defender has won this season. So far, he has won 28 fouls compared to Pepper’s six. In terms of conceding fouls, Pepper has conceded 33 fouls this season, seven more than the City defender.

With the do-or-die nature of Elimination Finals set to take hold, both Warren Joyce and John Aloisi will be looking at their central defenders for reassurance at the back.

In a game that is set to be action packed with attacking entertainment, the speed and aerial strength of Schenkeveld at the back will be equally as important as Pepper’s ability to make important blocks and clearances.

City host Brisbane Roar in a crucial Elimination Final at AAMI Park on Friday 20 April, kick-off 7:50pm.