An analysis of Man United’s signing Marcos Rojo: Wing back or centre back?

Marcos Rojo seems to be Van Gaal’s most important signing so far. The argentine, being the 3rd player from Sporting CP to transfer to Old Trafford after Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo, will most likely be playing as the most left centre back position in Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 system. A position where the 24-year old also used to play at Sporting Portugal.

As there is hardly any in-depth data available of the Portuguese league and Sporting did not participate in any european competition since Rojo’s arrival we have to do it with an analysis of his World Cup data. He did not play the same position in Brazil as he probably will be under Van Gaal, but the positive thing is that Argentina’s head coach Sabella used him mainly as a left-back, instead of a wing back, so he does have a lot of statistics on which we can analyze his defensive performance.

A quick overview of his stats compared to a set of 63 defenders with 4 or more matches at the 2014 World Cup:

Captura de pantalla 2014-08-21 a la(s) 12.26.30 AM

An initial conclusion of those numbers is that Rojo did not find himself among the best defenders at the 2014 World Cup when looking at the defensive stats. Of all 63 defenders that played 4 games or more he tends to have rates for defensive metrics that are more or less around the median. When considering a place as centre back for Marcos, those numbers do not appear to validate his €20M transfer fee.

In the attacking aspects of the game he seemed to be more in his element in Brazil. Being good in the departments of crossing, creating chances for his teammates and having GREAT physical abilities. Stemming from those numbers Van Gaal might want to decide to use Man U’s third ever most expensive defender as a wing back. Especially now with Luke Shaw – second most expensive defender – being out.

Here you can read more on the various metrics:


Marcos Rojo measures 1.87m, not tiny but smaller than any of the players that used to play LCB at Man U in the last season (Smalling, Vidic and Evans). On the other side, he is the heaviest of the 4! Seeing from his physical appearance it might not be the weirdest idea to think it is muscle weight..!

Rojo’s top speed at the 2014 World Cup was 31.8km/h, the 12th fastest of all (not the selected list as used for the table above!) defenders, and a lot faster than for example Smalling (28.5km/h).

On average he covered 10.6km per 90 minutes, with only two defenders with 4+ WC matches with a higher distance covered. Notable was as well that he was among the few (17) defenders that covered more kilometers when his team was in possession of the ball than when chasing it.

Defensive actions

Rojo was outdribbled on average 0.7 times per 90 minutes. An amount comparable to that of other World Cup defensive stars like De Vrij, Vlaar, Lahm, Höwedes and Marcelo (all 0.7), but higher than Kompany, Mertesacker, Evra and Thiago Silva (all 0.3). The number is just below the median of 0.8.

Also his other defensive metrics make him end up among the middle part of the ranking. With 6.73 recovered balls per 90 minutes he scored quite good (12th), but the amounts of clearances (33rd), blocks (40th) and aerial duels won (25th) were far from impressing.

Ball possession

Rojo does not seem to be the greatest defender in ball possession. At the FIFA World Cup 2014 he mainly let his colleagues – Zabaleta, Garay and Fernandez – in the Argentine defense do the building up, with Rojo having the lowest passes per 90 minutes average (38.6 completed passes per 90 minutes) of the four.

Also his pass completion rate was far below the rate of those teammates: 72% against 78%, 87% and 87%. Among all 63 defenders that played 4+ games, there were only 12 with a worse pass effectivity than Rojo.

Offensive participation

At the World Cup he created 9 chances for his teammates, after Blind and Marcelo the third most for a defender in absolute amounts. Averaging to 90 minutes (1.32 chances created), there were only 8 defenders with 4+ matches better. Important to note though, none of the chance he created was converted into a goal.

Making a quick side-step to his league stats it can be noted that Rojo scored 5 goals over the last 2 seasons, equaling the amount of the three Manchester defenders.

Rojo also showed to be of great strength in the aspects of crossing (completing 0.73 per game, 6th of the defenders) and delivering successful passes to his teammates in the rivalry area (1.02 per game, 2nd of the defenders).


Rojo tends to behave bad. He picked up 18 yellow and 4 red cards in two season at the Portuguese league. That is more than Smalling, Evans and Vidic combined in the last two editions of the Premier League (13 yellow and 2 red cards, with Vidic being responsible for 10 of the total..) In this light it has to be sad that the average of yellow cards per game in Portugal is a LOT higher than in England with 5.7 against 3.2 per game. As we do not know where the difference comes from – whether it be strict referees, aggressive players, portuguese passion or whatever – we might have to adjust Rojo’s discipline to the English standards, but still it seems pretty high!

At the World Cup he received 2 yellow cards, which is not bad for the 6 games he played. Also the amount of fouls (1.02 per 90 minutes) was far from exceptional.

(Note: all data that has been used in this article comes from and

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