Data Scout: 2020/21 Steph Houghton WSL stats and analysis for Man City


Manchester City narrowly missed out on the Women’s Super League title against a very good Chelsea side. However, in their own right, the Citizens have been excellent. One of the key figures in their squad has been defender Steph Houghton – here’s a look at her stats for 2020/21.

She might not have had the best of seasons, but it’s still very interesting to see how she fared last season. In the following data, we will compare her to her peers in the WSL.

The WSL data used in this analysis comes from Wyscout. Below, Houghton has been compared to fellow top flight players operating in central defence, which is her main role on the pitch. Every player to play more than 800 minutes during the 2020/21 term has been included in the dataset.

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Defensive duels

The importance of defensive duels is evident. It measures the physicality of a central defender and their ability to win defensive duels. This metric allows one to assess how well a player defends in defensive situations.

When examining the number of defensive duels per 90, we can see that Houghton ranks very low in this particular metric. She has 2.86 defensive duels per 90, which is well below the average of 6.36 defensive duels per 90. She does not engage in many defensive duels.

When we look at the percentages of those defensive duels being won, it can be seen that Houghton ranks exceedingly high. She has a win percentage of 72.9% this season. This makes her one of the best defensive duel winners in the WSL in her position.

Aerial duels

The importance of aerial duels is to assess two things. First, to look at how many times a certain player conducts an aerial duel during 90 minutes of football. Second, to assess how many of those aerial duels the player wins. The aerial capability can be a contributing factor in the defensive strength of a central defender.

When we look at the number of aerial duels per 90, one can see that Houghton ranks high in this particular metric. She has 3.34 aerial duels per 90, which is above the average of 2.71 aerial duels per 90. Houghton takes to the air often.

Observing the percentages of those aerial duels being won, we can see that Houghton ranks exceedingly high. Indeed, only Chelsea’s Millie Bright ranks higher. Houghton has a win percentage of 78.5% in this season, far above the average of 55.1%. This makes her one of the most successful aerial duel winners in the WSL in her position.

Shot prevention

In the scatterplot above one can see the metrics PAdj Sliding tackles per 90 and the PAdj interceptions per 90. The PAdj means possession adjusted, because a player on a team that is dominant on the ball will have to make fewer defensive actions. These metrics help to assess the defending quality of a central defender, because it shows the intelligence of a player in those situations. A player must recognise the movements of the opposition to adequately make a defensive action, and these metrics display a player’s ability to do so.

When looking at the number of PAdj Sliding tackles per 90, one can see that Houghton ranks slightly below average in this particular metric. She has 0.21 PAdj Sliding tackles per 90, which is below the average of 0.39 PAdj Sliding tackles per 90.

When viewing the number of PAdj Interceptions per 90, Houghton ranks slightly above average in this particular metric. She has 7.6 PAdj Interceptions per 90, a bit above the average of 7.35 PAdj Interceptions per 90.

Ball-carrying abilities

Ball-carrying is a valuable tool for a player to have. The ability to carry the ball from the defensive third to the middle or attacking third is not to be underestimated, and this is no different for central defenders that I’m scouting. I’m well aware that this is not something every central defender can do, but I’m looking for a progressing central defender in possession. In what manner do they conduct themselves in progressing the ball? The metrics dribbles per 90 and progressive runs per 90 display this.

Looking at the dribbles per 90 metrics, one sees that Houghton has 0.66 dribbles per 90, and ranks in the lower half of central defenders for this metric. The average of dribbles per 90 is 1.03 for a central defender in the WSL.

Looking at the progressive runs per 90, there is a marked difference. Here Houghton ranks above average. She averages 1.85 progressive runs per 90, which is much greater than the league average of 0.74 progressive runs per 90.

Passing abilities

Passing abilities. One could focus on the percentage of successful passes, but that doesn’t say a lot in itself. Of greater import is to see how well Houghton progresses the ball as well as passing the ball. Previous metrics looked to the progression with the ball on a player’s feet, but it is also important to see how well the progression in passing is. That is why we have chosen to look at progressive passes per 90 and passes to the final third.

Looking at progressive passes, Houghton has 13.28 progressive passes per 90. This is far above the average in the league, which is 6.39 progressive passes per 90.

Looking closer at passes into the final third per 90, one sees that Houghton does very well here. She has 11.50 passes to the final third per 90, again, far above average. League average is 8.88 passes to the final third per 90.

Final thoughts

Questions have arisen whether Houghton is still good enough to impress in the WSL and the answer via data is; we cannot answer this. She performs below average in some of the defensive metrics, but exceeds in percentages of duels won and is very good at ball progression. Purely defensively speaking, she is an average player – but the ability to contribute to the Manchester City attack is not to be underestimated.

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