Leandro Bacuna has enhanced his penchant for stunning free-kicks, but his recent performances at right-back have exposed his defensive failings.
Leandro Bacuna earned support from his Aston Villa team-mate and fellow defender Ron Vlaar earlier this week, as the skipper looked to diffuse some of the negative press surrounding the 22-year-old.
Bacuna was badly at fault during Villa's 4-1 defeat to Manchester United last weekend, with all four goals deriving from United's left wing station coinciding, in turn, with his lack of positional awareness at right-back.
The first saw Shinji Kagawa afforded too much room to pick out a cross for Wayne Rooney. The next goal was as a result of Bacuna's rash challenge on Juan Mata; Rooney dispatched the ensuing penalty.
The third was a mess, with the ball bobbling from the left into Marouane Fellaini and, ultimately, Mata, who lashed home.
By the time Adnan Januzaj had skipped clear down the left and supplied Javier Hernandez with a stunning cross for the fourth, Bacuna's defensive flaws had been not so much underlined as they had brutally exposed by a United frontline who had previously failed to register in their last two home matches.
United embarked on something of a goal fest at Old Trafford after Villa midfielder Ashley Westwood's opener and, although the likes of Vlaar, Ciaran Clark and Ryan Bertrand should not be taken out of the firing line, it was clear United knew where Villa's primary weakness lied, as they exploited it fully.
Vlaar appeared to hit the nail on the head with his assessment of the criticism aimed in Bacuna's direction, telling reporters: “He is doing well. It’s not easy and he’s not even a right full-back originally. He is improving and he is doing good work but sometimes you just have a less of a good game.”
Bacuna, who was also scolded for Stoke City's recent 4-1 win at Villa Park, has stepped into the right-back role, attempting to answer the prayers of manager Paul Lambert, who had seemingly seen enough of Matt Lowton, whose spells in the first-team this season have been intermittent, despite a promising debut season in the top flight.
It perhaps speaks volumes about Bacuna's defensive worth that he is currently Villa's second top scorer domestically, having scored five goals, falling behind just Christian Benteke in the goalscoring ranks.
His conversion to an auxiliary full-back has helped yield positive performances in the attacking third of the field, but how has he fared defensively, particularly against his fellow peers in the Villa backline?
The statistics certainly make for interesting reading.
Bacuna, despite his Old Trafford horror show, has actually conceded the least goals per appearance of any of the Villa backline to have made over 20 appearances. Antonio Luna's 1.06 per match is actually the best total of the defensive unit, but the Dutchman's 1.24 is particularly impressive given he has made more appearances than the rest of his peers.
Luna is also the only player to record more tackles than Bacuna each game, while international compatriot Vlaar (89.1%) is the only man to beat Bacuna's success in the challenge, having amassed an 86.1% rate himself.
But with the pros come the inevitable cons, something Bacuna certainly has against his name. For a start, only two other defenders have committed errors leading to goals per appearance, although a total of 0.03 is better than the 0.04 of Nathan Baker and the 0.06 of Antonio Luna.
Bacuna extends that to 0.03 errors leading to shots per game, something Baker suffers in once more with 0.09, whilst Vlaar posts 0.04.
Likewise, Bacuna's tackling success masks another shortcoming in his game, where he has committed 1.21 fouls per game, the highest of any defender. Only Clark and Baker (both 1.17) come close to matching that tally.
The condemnation of Bacuna appears harsh, to say the very least, regarding his recent performances and seemingly fails to take into account the fact he has been shoe-horned into a defensive role to suit Lambert's requirements.
Bacuna's true potential is unlocked further up the field, when stood over a dead ball, or racing down the right flank. The concession of eight goals in two games should reflect poorly on the entire Villa defence, not just Bacuna.
|Player||Team||Pos||Goals Conceded / apps||Error Lead To Goal / apps||Error Lead To Shot / apps||Total Tackle / apps||Won Tackle / apps||Duel Lost / apps||Duel Won / apps||Fouls / apps||Apps||Mins|
|Ciaran Clark||Aston Villa||DF||1.42||0||0||1.67||1.42||3.00||4.71||1.17||24||1,943|
|Matthew Lowton||Aston Villa||DF||1.35||0||0||1.53||1.18||3.59||2.59||0.71||17||1,168|
|Nathan Baker||Aston Villa||DF||1.30||0.04||0.09||1.17||0.87||5.09||4.65||1.17||23||1,848|
|Ron Vlaar||Aston Villa||DF||1.28||0||0.04||2.20||1.96||1.88||4.12||0.36||25||2,175|
|Leandro Bacuna||Aston Villa||MF||1.24||0.03||0.03||2.52||2.17||4.66||4.10||1.21||29||2,247|
|Antonio Luna||Aston Villa||DF||1.06||0.06||0||2.53||2.06||4.00||4.41||0.76||17||1,381|