Anthony Ralston Right Back, or Back Up?

A glimmer of hope from the Ibrox defeat was the 45 minutes from Anthony Ralston. He won an incredible 14 challenges.

To put that into context, the best Benkovic has managed this season is 16 – and that was in 90 minutes!

Around the Celtic first team for three years, but loaned to Dundee United last season, Ralston has recorded a mere 816 minutes, equivalent to just over nine matches. It is a small sample, but with Celtic allegedly chasing Piccini in the summer and Castagne this winter, is the solution to the right full-back problem already in the building?

Defending

There are a couple of very useful summary metrics for defending. Defensive Action Success Rate (DASR%) reports the win success of a range of defensive actions such as tackles, aerial duels, interceptions and others. It’s expressed as a % where the higher the number, the more successful the defensive actions. As a benchmark, no one in the time I have recorded data exceeds Virgil van Dijk’s 81%.

The DASR for the three right backs:

  1. Lustig 69%
  2. Ralston 67%
  3. Gamboa 62%

Not surprisingly, given he has played a number of games at centre back, Lustig is the most accomplished defensively while Ralston is not far behind with 62% and it is perhaps no surprise that Gamboa is so far out of the first team picture.

Possession Win % is the percentage of defensive actions that result in Celtic maintaining possession. This is important as losing possession in the defensive third is likely to lead to danger. Note this does not include passes.

  1. Lustig 79%
  2. Ralston 76%
  3. Gamboa 56%

Again, Lustig has an advantage over the younger Ralston. However, Gamboa lags badly by this metric. He is nearer 50% in terms of defensive actions that result in Celtic losing possession.

I track Defensive Errors, which is a subjective measure but at least it is the same person being subjective over the sample of games! The number of Defensive Errors per 90m for each is:

  1. Ralston     0.11
  2. Lustig      0.43
  3. Gamboa     0.51

Small sample warning again for Ralston, but it is encouraging he has a low Defensive Error rate so far. Anything under 0.5 per 90m is, in my experience, decent. Gamboa just misses that threshold.

Creativity

Providing wide support to the attack is vital in Celtic’s system and there are a number of useful indicators of passing and creativity.

Lustig completes the least passes per 90 mins (60.48) and is the least accurate (85%). However, the Impect90 value rounds out that story. What the Impect score is telling you is the extent to which the player plays forwards passes that take out opponents. This is important as it breaks defensive lines and leaves opponents on the wrong side of the ball relative to their own goal. When considering Celtic’s problems breaking the initial press at Ibrox, the importance of this is clear. Lustig averages 36.21 Impect90 which is higher than Gamboa (31.58) and Ralston (12.44).

This is where Lustig is particularly strong. He can play a range of long and short passes and breaks the opponent’s lines to a higher degree than the others. Ralston’s numbers are very low for a full-back and probably is a major reason Rodgers hasn’t had more minutes from him given how Celtic play.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – DECEMBER 29: Ryan Kent of Rangers battles for the ball with Anthony Ralston of Celtic during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premier League between Celtic and at Ibrox Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Counter-intuitively, Ralston has the best assist rate per 90m (0.22 per 90m) but remember this is a very small sample and so two assists give a decent per 90m rate.

Summary

Ralston has just turned 20 compared to the experienced international Lustig (32). Despite this, his defensive stats are not far behind the Swedes. The young Scot seems a natural defender, and, like Tierney, has a safety-first attitude to defending leading to a low error rate.

Where Ralston trails his older colleague is in his ability to take the team up the field with forward passes. A more accurate passer, this is likely a result of taking less risk yielding less potential reward.

An arguably declining Lustig still has the edge over the younger Ralston who has time on his hands to improve and yet has already overtaken Gamboa who is firmly third best.

But perhaps you can now appreciate why Celtic are looking for a first-team ready right back. With Ralston hopefully continuing to develop and learn his trade as back up.