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Analysis: Stats show why Declan Gallagher can be complete defensive package for Aberdeen

Motherwell's Declan Gallagher during a Scottish Cup tie against Greenock Morton at Fir Park.
Motherwell's Declan Gallagher during a Scottish Cup tie against Greenock Morton at Fir Park.

Aberdeen have agreed a deal to sign Motherwell’s Scotland international centre-back Declan Gallagher in the summer – but what will he bring to manager Stephen Glass’ restructured team?

Gothenburg Great Willie Miller said pushing through the signing of Gallagher would bring the complete defensive package to Glass’s squad.

High praise from one of the greatest defenders ever to grace the Scottish game, who in his prime was one of the top stoppers in not just Europe but the world.

Miller pinpoints Gallagher’s ability on the ball, reading of the game, mobility, imposing presence, experience and big game mentality as key strengths as to why the 30-year-old will be such a strong addition for Aberdeen.

When a defensive legend makes such a glowing assessment of a centre-back, you have to sit up and take notice.

We examine Gallagher’s stats to pinpoint just what Aberdeen have secured in negotiating a two-year deal with the player.

Gallagher has featured in 29 Premiership games for the Steelmen this season, who are in the bottom six.

He averages just under three headed clearances inside the box per game and has a pass success rate of 73.7%.

He has won possession roughly four times in each game.

With 31 fouls conceded in the 29 games, Gallagher gives away roughly one free-kick during a game which is an impressive return and underlines his tackles are clean.

He has picked up only six yellow cards.

Declan Gallagher’s stats for the 2020-21 Premiership season.

What Gallagher will bring to Aberdeen was displayed in his superb performance at the heart of the Scotland defence in the historic Euro 2020 play-off final defeat of Serbia in Belgrade last November.

In only his sixth cap for his country, less than a year after his debut cap (2-1 defeat of Cyprus, November 2019) Gallagher was dominant at the back as he kept out Fulham striker Aleksander Mitrovic and won countless balls in the air.

Declan Gallagher in action for Scotland during a Euro 2020 Play off match against Israel on October 8 2020.

Gallagher did not feature in any of the World Cup qualifiers in March against Austria (2-2), Israel (1-1) or Faroe Islands (4-0 win), having only recently battled back from a hamstring injury suffered the previous month.

Now back to full fitness, Gallagher has been at the heart of a Motherwell defence that has registered four clean sheets in the last six games.

Having played such a vital part in securing qualification to Euro 2020 in the penalty-shoot out defeat of Serbia, the defender looks certain to be named in Scotland boss Steve Clarke’s 26-man squad for the finals.

Gallagher has been in impressive form for his club – in both a three and four at the back.

In the 2-o defeat of Kilmarnock at the weekend, Gallagher, operating at right-sided centre-back in a back four, was pivotal in a second successive clean sheet.

Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass has used utilised a back four since arriving at Pittodrie, which was a major shift from defensive three with wing backs predominantly used by former manager Derek McInnes this season.

It is understood Glass’ preference will be to go with a back four next season as he looks to bring a more attacking, fluent and faster style of play.

Motherwell’s formation against Kilmarnock with Declan Gallagher at right-sided centre-back.

Gallagher was rock solid defensively against Kilmarnock with the following stats:

  • Tackles – 1
  • Clearances – 2
  • Interceptions – 4
  • Possession gained – 5
  • Passes – 48 with 38 successful (64.6%)
Declan Gallagher heat-map in 2-0 defeat of Kilmarnock. Supplied by Opta
Declan Gallagher touch map in 2-0 defeat of Kilmarnock. Supplied by Opta

Aberdeen will be able to secure Gallagher under freedom of contract as he will be a free agent in the summer.

There had been reports earlier this season Gallagher would trigger a contract extension if he played 25 Premiership games this term – he has played 29.

However, Motherwell boss Graham Alexander recently brought clarity to the situation by confirming no trigger existed and the 30-year-old was free to leave in the summer.

Alexander said: “He is out of contract in the summer and he is free to play without that changing his future.”

Gallagher underlined in the 1-0 defeat of Hamilton on April 21 that he is equally adept in a three-man back-line.

He was in the heart of the three centre-backs and delivered a clean sheet.

Of course, every Scotland fan knows how strong he can be in a back three after his colossal performance in the defeat of Serbia.

Motherwell team formation for 1-0 defeat of Hamilton.

Gallagher posted the following stats during the win over Hamilton:

  • Tackles – 1
  • Clearances – 5
  • Interceptions – 1
  • Possession gained – 5
  • Passes – 32 with 18 successful (56.3% success rate).

With Gallagher marshalling the back-line, Motherwell restricted Hamilton to just one shot on target over the entire 90 minutes.

That shot came from Aberdeen’s on-loan striker Bruce Anderson, who was limited to just 24 touches and 13 passes during his entire 90-minute shift.

Of those 13 passes, only six found their man for a 46.2% success rate as he was harried by Gallagher in the central centre-back role.

As expected, when playing in the heart of a back three against Hamilton, Gallagher’s play was mainly restricted to the central area in Motherwell’s penalty area and half.

Gallagher, as his heat map indicates,  was also in the Hamilton box for set-pieces, as would be expected for a six-foot-four defender with such a strong presence in the air.

However, the Motherwell skipper also pushed forward on the left side at times in support of the wing-back.

That is further illustrated in the touch map from the game where the defender had three touches so far forward he was near to Hamilton’s byline.

Declan Gallagher heat-map in 1-0 defeat of Hamilton.
Declan Gallagher touch map in 1-0 defeat of Hamilton.

This summer Gallagher looks set to feature for Scotland in the Euro 2020 finals, where they will face beaten World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia, World Cup 2018 semi-finalists England and Czech Republic in Group D.

The 30-year-old could come up against world class strikers like Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) at Wembley on June 18.

Ironically, those England strikers will be coached at Euro 2020 by Aberdeen assistant manager Allan Russell, who is part of England manager Gareth Southgate’s backroom staff.

Facing strikers of that level at a major tournament will only further improve Gallagher’s game.

One of Scotland’s greatest ever defenders, Willie Miller already believes the Motherwell skipper is the complete defence package – and the stats back it up.

Gallagher could return from the Euro 2020 finals an even stronger player and ready to take the new season by storm.