Carlos Cuellar: We focus on his stats, even if he does appear to be making gang signs. Westside!
Last week Sunderland completed the signing of former Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar on a free transfer. Many of us were pleased with the signing, he's known to be a good, solid defender despite age creeping up on him, and we here certainly thought of it as a good bit of business.
The question now however is where does Cuellar slot in to the team if everyone's fit, as we'd hope they are at this stage of the season. Or in fact does he even slot in to the team? Is he just a useful player to have a round to cover for the players we already have at the club?
We've compared Cuellar's stats from last season to see whether he could be a new centre half, a new right back for us, or will he find himself to be regularly riding the pine on the bench? Lets have a look...
So to compare Carlos Cuellar to our defenders from last season we can start with the fact he played in 18 games in total, 17 starts and 1 appearance from the bench. Comparatively this puts him around the middle of the pack for our defenders, more than Kilgallon and Bramble combined, and perhaps oddly less than Wes Brown despite no listed injuries for last season.
Cuellar's starts came across the back four, with 10 games in the middle, 6 at right back and 1 at left back. Whilst there's the versatility to play at left back on his CV, with only one game there last season and without a particularly noted history of being able to play the position, we can all but officially rule out the fact he's going to make a push for that position with us.
There has been debate however as to whether he'll play at centre back or right back for us though, as with the other options he had on the table from Sevilla and Olympiakos this summer, and given his age, there has to have been either the lure of games and/or money to come to us. With Financial Fair Play in full effect, it would seem playing time might have been a key factor (aside from Martin O'Neill) for the 30-year old.
Looking at his time in the middle, his statistics look to see him as a very good addition to us. His 38 tackles from last season in ten games would put him at joint-second among our central defenders with Wes Brown, and trailing leading tackle-maker Michael Turner by only 5. Good going considering he played less than half the amount of games in the position Turner did, and exactly half the amount Brown did. By comparison Matt Kilgallon played 9 games in the middle, and only produced 9 successful tackles.
An area in which Cuellar falls way behind however is his clearances, in which he only made 54 from centre back, putting him for all intents and purposes (i.e. discounting Sotirios Kyrgiakos), last among our central defensive group. Even doubled up to the amount of games Brown, Turner or John O'Shea played, he'd still trail all three.
Cuellar claws back some respectability when it comes to blocked shots with 9 for the season form his 10 games at the heart of defence, and puts him at around the same level as Titus Bramble (9 in 8 games) and Matt Kilgallon (10 in 9 games). Once again, he'd still trail Brown and Turner should he have played a similar amount of games.
The Spaniard does make quite a lot of interceptions however, with 29 in 10 games, which puts him third among central defenders at Sunderland last season, trailing only Turner and Brown, although if Cuellar had played in 20-ish games like those two, he'd have blown both of them out the water along with the rest of our central defenders.
For a defender who stands at a supposed 6 foot 2 inches, he's not particularly great in the air. Statistically speaking at least anyway, winning only 11 aerial duels, putting him third to last among the group, and only 4 ahead of Kyrgiakos who only played twice.
What's interesting is how Cuellar compares to who is arguably one of his main competitors for the position - John O'Shea. O'Shea played 11 games in the middle last season, and Cuellar 10, so it's a fair comparison to make. Cuellar beats out O'Shea on tackles made, aeriel duels won, interceptions and blocked shots. O'Shea's only trump card is clearances where he is 8 ahead of Cuellar.
There could be an argument made for putting Cuellar in the middle, with O'Shea remaining at right back. However, it would seem that Cuellar would still face very, very tough competition from Turner and Brown as well as O'Shea on which he is statistically right up there with.
During his time at Villa, it was noted on our podcast (listen here) recently that Martin O'Neill signed him and played him at right back over 60% of the time, not only that but brought in further central defenders despite splashing out £7.8m on Cuellar.
Cuellar only played in 6 games at right back last season, as we've noted, but if we look at his stats and multiply them so he has played the same amount of games as the positional leaders Bardsley (19 games) and O'Shea (17 games), then Cuellar comes out of it very well indeed.
For the purposes of example, we'll triple Cuellar's stats so that it appears he played 18 games at right back, putting him on an even keel with Bardsley and O'Shea on a theoretical level.
This would put Cuellar at 69 tackles, comfortable ahead of Bardsley (47) and O'Shea (31). In the clearances column Cuellar would also become the leader with 96, narrowly beating out O'Shea (95) and once again comfortably ahead of Bardsley (66). Looking at aerial duels, again Carlos would be king with 21 ahead of Bardsley's 13 and O'Shea's 9 for the season.
Cuellars weakness would be in attack. He didn't get any goals last season, and contributed only one assist which came whilst playing at centre back, however Kieran Richardson was the only defender, across all defensive postions, to contribute an assist last season for us.
Over in pass completion percentage, Cuellar has a very mediocre 72.2% for last season, which puts him narrowly ahead of Bardsley, but below nearly every other defender we have.
Cuellar would also fall way behind Bardsley on crosses and goals scored, although does best Bardsley defensively, so I guess it's down to a case of do you want your defenders to defend or attack?
There's a coherent argument that one of Martin O'Neill's biggest problems for the season ahead will be deciding how to fit in Cuellar, Turner, Brown and O'Shea, while Phil Bardsley can also make a decent argument that against weaker teams with poorer left backs, his more attacking threat could be useful.
What seems to override all though, is Cuellar has starting ability at Sunderland, and in numerous positions, and shouldn't be thought of as merely useful cover for what we have just because we got him on a free transfer.