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  • Writer's pictureBilly Mulley

Why Reece Burke is massively important for Luton Town

Luton Town's defensive department have seemingly taken hit after hit during the first half of this Championship campaign, leaving the backline very short of competition.

Sonny Bradley and Reece Burke have both missed large parts of this campaign, whilst Dan Potts, who has been a source of consistency for the Hatters, is the latest player to be added to the casualty list at Kenilworth Road after it was confirmed that he had fractured his back during a trip to Blackpool earlier in the month.

With Kal Naismith and Peter Kioso departing in the summer, and the Hatters opting not to add to their backline, defensive numbers were slightly limited going into the new campaign.

Add to that somewhat of a defensive injury crisis and it places high emphasis on adding a centre-back when January comes around.

Here, one particular absence is looked into with Reece Burke not featuring for the Bedfordshire club since late September. Regarded as a vitally important player within the squad, with this only heightening after Naismith’s departure was confirmed, his continued absence has been a real blow for the Hatters.

However, Luton have not defensively capitulated as a result of Burke’s spell on the sidelines, as they have kept four clean sheets in 10 games since the 26-year-old’s injury was sustained.

Perhaps the sole benefit of Burke’s absence has been that players who otherwise would have been on the fringes of things have stepped up, but you cannot help but feel that Luton’s rather strong defensive record could have been even better if the former Hull City man was available.

Reece Burke's percentile rank performance against other Championship CBs who have played more than 500 minutes this season

A lot of Luton fans would argue that Burke is one of the best defenders in the division, and the above graphic goes a long way to prove that. It is a Percentile Rank graph that looks into how the defender ranks against his central defensive counterparts in the second tier.

Before going into what certain bits of data could possibly mean, it is vital to point out that Burke has played fewer minutes than most central defenders in the Championship, meaning it is difficult to draw too many conclusions but it is still a good indicator of his importance.

Returning strong data is the majority of measures there are, it is clear to see that Burke is one of the more impressive and important centre-backs in the Championship.

Firstly, looking at total successful defensive actions per 90, Burke is within the top 1.5% of central defenders in the division, suggesting that he is constantly involved for the Hatters in his own third.

Despite averaging slightly under the Championship norm when it comes to the number of aerial duels he engages in per 90 minutes, he is within the top 1% of second-tier centre-backs when it comes to the percentage of aerial duels he wins. Perhaps his dominance in the air means that clubs have tended to try and avoid battling with Burke in the air.

Proving to be an excellent reader of the game too, the 26-year-old top 7% and 8% for possession-adjusted interceptions and shots blocked per 90 minutes respectively. The former measure here allows us to determine how many interceptions a player makes relative to the amount of possession his club sees.

The only measure here that Burke does not absolutely thrive in is the percentage of defensive duels he wins, with the defender ranking in the top 72% in the division, emerging as somewhat of a surprise, but is perhaps reflective of the lack of minutes he has seen this season.

Losing Naismith was gutting, not because of his defensive abilities, but more because of the way he brought the ball out from the back and helped progress from the defensive third into the middle of the pitch.

Now, when looking at Burke’s progressive numbers, he is within the top 8% of Championship centre-backs when it comes to progressive passes per 90, whilst he is within the top 17% for progressive runs per 90.

The data certainly suggests that the Hatters have missed having Burke in the side this season, however, with numbers as good as his, he could have been subject to Premier League interest if he had been playing regularly.

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