If anything has become very clear over the past few years, it’s that Leicester players have been deployed in multiple positions in many different formations. Well except Harvey Barnes, he is one of the very few players to only play in their desired/best fitting position. Much of this is due to injury and some to the lack of a permanent right winger. Under seemed to be a fit, until he wasn’t and he played very few games in his season on loan. Lookman worked on the right but really was much better and effective on the left. The lack of a fixed right winger has left a gaping hole in the team formation, thus impacting how the Leicester midfield and defense are set up and which personnel are used.
Injuries to the defense have been heavy, last season and the season prior. James Justin can play on the right or left, as a full-back, wing-back, or a center-back. He’s been used in all three positions on both sides. Currently, he’s the first choice for fullback or wingback on the left although for the Brighton and Manchester United matches this season he was deployed on the right. This begs the question, is he better on one side over the other?
Justin joined Leicester for the 2019/2020 season. Data for each season since and for all club first team competitions were analyzed. Any matches where he played less than 30 minutes were tossed out and not used in the analysis. There are times when Justin has been utilized on both the left and right sides within a single match. For our purposes, the side he was on for the majority of his time on the pitch was used. In two matches he played around the same amount of time on each side, so those were tossed out.
There were 68 matches that fit the above criteria for Justin. Of those he played 31 on the left and 37 on the right. He played 2,642 minutes on the left and 3,241 on the right. He’s played a bit more on the right than on the left, it is not too lopsided with a 45/55% split. Stats for attack, defense, possession, and overall team performance were analyzed. Leicester has a higher win percentage when Justin is on the left. Looking at team goals for or against, Leicester scored more when he was on the left at 60 goals (average of 1.9) and had fewer goals against when he was on the left at 37 compared to 47. But are these differences that big of a deal? Statistically speaking for General/Team stats the average Goals For per 90 at 2.17 on the left vs. 1.43 on the right is significant, in that when Justin plays on the left Leicester get more goals. Whether those are directly related to his involvement is a different matter and will be discussed next.
Rodgers structures his team where the full-backs push far up field to participate in the attack, but the attack is not so dependent on goal or assist production from the backs that may be seen in other Premier league teams. The full/wing backs are often there to get the pass before the assist, make runs dragging a defender out, or to create the width/space for others to work their magic. Does Justin contribute more in this manner on the left or right, or just not at all? He does contribute with around 1.5 shot creating actions per 90 on both sides. Is this better or worse than other fullbacks around the league? Good question, but that isn’t what we are assessing here.
Overall Justin hasn’t scored or assisted much, but he does get shots off with about one shot every other match. A higher percentage of Justin’s shots are on target when he plays on the left. This is likely due to his being predominantly right-footed. Justin does get off quite a few crosses, the average Cross per 90 is 1.58 on the left vs. 1.97 on the right. He does have a higher total and average of crosses on the right compared to the left, but nothing statistically significant. Where he statistically has the most impact on the attack is in Goal Creating Actions (GCA). His average GCA and GCA per 90 are both higher when he plays on the left rather than the right.
For defensive actions, Interceptions, Blocks, and Tackles won (tackle where he gains possession) were assessed. His Blocks per 90 are noticeably higher on the left vs. right, but not significant. Overall he’s won more tackles on the right side but again nothing significantly higher than the left. Defensively the biggest difference in his output is Interceptions, with the right side doubling that of the left at 55 total (average of 1.6) compared to 26 (average 0.9) on the left.
In possession, there’s nothing stands out about either the right or left. He has more passes, total and average, on the right but his pass completion percentage is similar on each side. His pass received percentage was included since it is often a theory that a left-back should be left-footed, so they can receive the ball more naturally with their left foot. In my opinion, if a Sunday beer leaguer can comfortably receive with both feet, then a player in a top league should be relatively comfortable with both. James Justin has a similar receive percentage when playing on the left or right side, with an 89.5% average on the left compared to an 87.0% on the right.
Does Justin play better on the right compared to the left? There isn’t much here to support that. There are a lot of metrics presented here, but only a few with any significance between the two sides. GCA, GCA per 90, and Goals For per 90 were on average statistically higher when he played on the left side of the pitch. Only Interceptions had any significance when Justin plays on the right, with him having a higher average and count when on the right. Some of the differences between the two sides, whether statistically significant or not, could be attributed to team dynamics at that time. For instance, Justin gets deployed to the right side of the pitch most often when the Foxes have a high injury count. He’s the first-choice starter as the left-back or left wing-back. His higher Interceptions on the right could be that he must pitch in more defensively since other positions for the Foxes may also have injured starters, leading to one of Rodgers’ makeshift formations and lineups he’s had to implement over the past two seasons.
The higher team goals for when he plays on the left is also likely attributable to injuries, or really lack thereof. If Justin is starting on the left, the Foxes very likely have most of their starters available, or at minimum, most players on the pitch are in their preferred position rather than another Mary Shelley creation. The same logic goes for goal creation, it’s better on the left likely due to Leicester having their best options available for most positions. Justin does get more crosses when playing down the right side which could be due to Leicester often playing without a proper right winger for so long, so the right back fills that space. This is the case even for Ricardo and Castagne, so it is very plausible to extend this logic to Justin.
James Justin plays equally well on the left or right side for the most part for Leicester. Now this isn’t to say he’s the best left or right back in the league, but that he can be comfortably deployed to both sides. His form this season isn’t at the heights it was prior to his injury, but most of the Leicester squad isn’t playing well this season. He tends to contribute more to the attack when on the left, but there is most likely a better collective talent on the pitch leading to a better performance for all the squad. Even saying that, he was very enjoyable to watch on the left in the months prior to his injury. May we get that Justin back sooner rather than later.