"He's a kid but plays like a man."
These were the words of then-Chennayin FC manager Marco Materazzi (yes, that Marco Materazzi). The Italian definitely saw something in Jerry Lalrinzuala when he started the Indian left-back in 11 games in the 2016 Indian Super League season, which is odd given that the left-back in question was 18 at the time. Soon enough, in that ISL season, Jerry picked up the Emerging Player of the League award.
Born in Mizoram, Jerry had done well in India’s U14, U16, U17, and U19 sides and trained for a couple of months at FC Metz, and then was signed by ISL club Chennayin in 2016. After the ISL season (the Indian league system is weird), Jerry was loaned to I-League club DSK Shivajians, where, after playing 18 games, he bagged the I-League Emerging Player of the Season award.
After Chennayin retained Jerry for the 2017-18 ISL season, the now-19-year-old left-back began to have a more integral role under new manager John Gregory. The Englishman used Lalrinzuala for the full 90 in every game except in Chennayin’s final league game against Mumbai City, when they had already qualified for the play-offs. So the question is, what makes Jerry a regular at left-back? Let’s start with looking at his player bar chart:
While most of the metrics I’ve used here talk more about full-back style than performance, Lalrinzuala’s numbers look impressive. Now, let’s examine each of his attributes in detail.
Jerry Lalrinzuala is excellent at creating shots for his teammates. Let’s look at the top players in the ISL when it comes to Expected Assists (xA):
As you can see, Jerry has put up the 17th-highest xA in the league with 2.2. That position on the graph is decent for an attacker, but for a 19-year-old left-back who usually crosses to a (rather talented) striker who’s 5’8” tall, it’s exceptional. Breaking down these shot assists by type, you find that the majority of his shot assists (66.6%) are crosses. While Lalrinzuala isn’t the most frequent crosser in his position in the league (1.95 crosses per 90 minutes – 53rd percentile rank for ISL full-backs), he is the best in his position at creating shots out of these crosses, with 20.5% of his crosses directly leading to a shot.
Another facet of Jerry’s play is that he’s quite involved in Chennayin’s build-up and can recycle possession. He passes 43 times p90, which is rather high for a full-back (68th percentile). While his pass accuracy percentage is just 65.8% (21st percentile), this says more about the location and risk of his passes rather than lack of passing ability. Lalrinzuala is also a good set-piece taker. According to this rating, which combines a multitude of factors like set piece xG, xA, and shot conversion rate, Jerry is the 13th-best taker of set pieces in the league.
Jerry Lalrinzuala, at least according to the statistics, looks like the best attacking full-back in the league, but what about his defending numbers?
While on-the-ball player defending stats tell you close to nothing about player defending quality, since the objective of defending is to prevent certain actions from happening, they can tell you something about style.
Let’s start with defensive actions. Lalrinzuala makes 3.95 tackles and interceptions p90, which is about average (57th percentile for ISL full-backs). Compare that to his shots blocked and clearances numbers, however, and you get slightly more valuable information. Jerry’s ‘front foot’, which is a ratio of the number of tackles and interceptions a player makes to his number of blocks and clearances (introduced by Mark Thompson), is 1.27, in the 89th percentile. This means Jerry is a more active defender, winning more tackles and interceptions than sitting back to block shots or relieving pressure by clearing the ball. Chennayin’s right-back Inigo Calderon, on the other hand, is more of an all-action defender (as well as a good attacker) who blocks a lot of shots and clears his lines, and has a front foot rating of 0.61.
Jerry is somewhat prone to conceding fouls, though. He committed 1.5 fouls p90 (63rd percentile) this season, and he commits a foul in one in every 2.15 of his tackles, which is in the 41st percentile.
Jerry plays 20.47 passes for every clearance. While this is a rather flawed stat given that there’s no context about where the passes and clearances were made or about the amount of pressure the defender was under, it probably indicates that he doesn’t clear the ball too often.
Although the Indian national team has a lot of full-backs in contention for a spot in the starting lineup, like the 23-year-old Narayan Das, I think Jerry can become their go-to left-back in the coming years. He’s the only Indian in a back four that only conceded 19 goals (only Bengaluru and Jamshedpur conceded less) in 18 games, and I believe he’s the best young Indian in the league. If injuries don’t get in the way, the future is bright for Jerry Lalrinzuala.
Quick note: while Mark Thompson’s original calculation involves dividing the number of tackles and interceptions a player makes by his/her tally of blocks and ball recoveries, I used clearances instead of ball recoveries.
I’d like to thank Amrit Murali for providing me with the shot data for this article. I can imagine it’s a huge effort to watch the games and record the data, and it opens new doors in the data analysis of Indian football.