Analysis: Who are Di Canio’s best options at centre back?

The central partnership in the Swindon Town defence has been up for grabs since Paolo Di Canio took charge earlier this summer. With the departure of Scott Cuthbert, Lescinel Jean-Francios and Andy Frampton, Town’s new look backline has seen five players compete for the right to play at centre back in League Two; Aden Flint, Alan McCormack, Alberto Comazzi, Joe Devera and Oliver Risser.

We all imagined the experienced Comazzi would be an automatic first choice however it hasn’t turned out that way for the Italian. Di Canio has fiddled, chopped and changed the central pairing, with six different combinations used so far, serving only to fuel the debate on who is the best central defender and which is the better pairing? A challenge we couldn’t resist.

Discounting Oliver Risser’s 16 minute cameo against Southend United, the four central defenders have achieved the following in League Two after 13 games:

The table is sorted by the final column which shows the number of minutes between the team conceding while each player has been on the pitch. Alan McCormack’s statistics include only those minutes when he’s played at centre back.

The impact of McCormack’s performances at the back shouldn’t be underestimated. The former Charlton man, who’s best known as an experienced central midfielder, has surprised by outperforming his contemporaries in all areas. Alan has won 2 points per game, a point every 43 minutes and his inclusion in defence has strengthened the back line to concede a goal every 86 minutes, 8 minutes better than the team’s average of conceding a goal every 78 minutes.

Clearly McCormack’s impact proves Di Canio’s original brave decision against Southend to switch him to cover for the injured Oliver Risser was absolutely right. For whatever reason the confidence he gives his players to play in unfamiliar positions has worked wonders for the team. Not only has Raffaele De Vita benefited, as covered yesterday, but McCormack has been given the faith to make this un-natural position his own. And all this when other natural and experienced options had been available.

The second overall most efficient central defender is Aden Flint, beating Joe Devera, who himself has played in 4 of our 5 clean sheets. The former Alfreton man is highly regarded amongst the supporters, eager to see his towering height and firm head lead the backline, and is only likely to concede 5 minutes earlier than McCormack and give a better points contribution than Devera. Comazzi is on par with all three apart from being the most frequent to concede.

Looking at the pairings, the most used have been Devera with Flint – 4 times conceding 5 goals – and Devera with McCormack – also 4 times with 5 conceded.

Judging by these efficiency ratings, McCormack and Flint seem to be the combination to progress with. Di Canio played with these two at the back together for the first time on Saturday at Accrington Stanley with great results.

The pair restricted the Accrington attack to a total of 5 shots on goal including 2 on target, which was less than half of their 10.3 average shots per game at home achieved from their previous 6 games. It wasn’t just restricting shots as the pairing contributed to the team dominating their opponents to just 34% of possession, well behind their previous average of 51% at home.

While the team selection should always depend on the opposition, there’s no substitute to a settled pairing, particularly at centre back. So given the positive impression Alan McCormack has made on the central defence in his five games I can see no case for returning him to his natural midfield berth.


  • Whilst the central defence pairing is important, looking where each of the goals came from may provide some additional info, in particular who played when the set pieces were conceded, and from opponent buildup on left, right or centre. Also the left back position has seen at least 3 different players, not sure though if there has been any sufficient playing time by all to draw any meaningful conclusions. For now at this stage of the season, my preferred back 4 is: Caddis, Flint, McCormack & Ridehalgh.


  • We have all that information and in a few weeks we’ll post a detailed piece on the defence in general, where goals have been conceded from and suggestions to improve the defence.

    I’d agree with your backline suggestion of Caddis, Flint, McCormack & Ridehalgh.


  • I’m a proper geek when it comes to stats. This backs up what pretty much everyone has been thinking. Flint plus McCormack seems to be the best pairing but frankly I don’t think we needed stats to confirm this. Just watching how much more confident the side looks when these two play is answer enough. I think Smith’s (midfield) contribution goes un noticed too often. Can we see the same stats based on midfield pairings too?


    • I know what you mean when you say “Flint plus McCormack seems to be the best pairing but frankly I don’t think we needed stats to confirm this”, but having the stats proving this pairing helps to confirm what we have all been thinking over the past weeks.

      I’ll see what we can do with the midfield and attacking stats over the next couple of weeks. Any particular stats you might be interested in them being included within the aassessments?


  • Makes you wonder with Comazzi’s stats how much worse they would if Barnet had capitalised on his terrible early miskick. He’d have conceded far more often without that clean sheet.

    Or, if you fact in cards as he seems to play like it was still the mid 80s and mugging forwards was still allowed.


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