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Analyzing Marcelo's impact on both ends of the pitch

Marcelo is nothing if not entertaining, but is his risky play too detrimental?

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

There's always been little middle ground with Marcelo's performances. His propensity to over-pursue in attack has put him, and Madrid, in a bind hundreds of times since he arrived in Real Madrid, but it's endearing. He's so easy to spot on the pitch, and seeing his bobbing afro charge back in desperation is pure entertainment. But is it time to start questioning if he's transitioning from a play-maker with baggage, to a liability?

It's difficult to measure Marcelo's impact given the volume of minutes he plays (Marcelo has actually logged more minutes than any other defender on the squad this season), and the adjusted roles of fullbacks in Ancelotti's system. Defensive stats in general are difficult to judge and weigh, as there is often very little deviation. But, relative to the rest of the squad, he's lagging behind in defensive efficiency.

Player Clearances per game
Varane 5.6
Pepe 4.3
Sergio Ramos 4.0
Coentrão 2.0
Dani Carvajal 1.8
Marcelo 1.4

Clearances per game is a stat which naturally favors central defenders (Though Varane's 5.6 is among the world's best), but Ancelotti's system which relies heavily on the wings, also means teams try to attack Madrid through the flanks. Marcelo and Carvajal's role in defending is mostly to pinch opposing wingers and prevent them from cutting inside.

Player Blocks per game
Varane 0.7
Sergio Ramos 0.7
Pepe 0.6
Carvajal 0.3
Coentrão 0.3
Marcelo 0.1

Again, relative to the group, Marcelo is a bit behind in another key stat. But, he's not as much of a defensive liability as blocks and clearances would suggest. Marcelo's pace and physicality make him a great man-marker, even if he lacks in technical tackling ability, but he's actually thriving.

Player Tackles per game
Carvajal 2.9
Marcelo 2.3
Sergio Ramos 2.0
Coentrão 1.8
Pepe 1.6
Varane 1.4

Just how center-backs are more likely to make clearances, fullbacks are more likely to make one-on-one tackles. In short, Marcelo is competent at the defending roles he's expected to achieve, but he's still behind his peers.

There isn't a stat which measures positional discipline or awareness, but if there were, I imagine Marcelo wouldn't measure well in it. Marcelo's pace is absolutely game-breaking in attack, and his man doesn't often run past him -- instead, they run around him.

Yesterday, Aleix Vidal turned Marcelo around easily en route to setting up Sevilla's second.

Varane is the help defender, but Marcelo still turned to face Gameiro, and Vidal went right around him. Marcelo's lack of awareness to cutting attackers and movement off the ball is probably his biggest flaw as a defender.

We know Ancelotti more or less gives Carvajal and Marcelo carte blanche to run up and down the pitch as they like, but poor discretion can swing a game, like it did against Celta de Vigo.

Real were attacking, Marcelo pushed a little too far up, and paid the price. It's these minor positional mistakes (or eagerness to attack) which have been getting the better of Marcelo for years.

But it's a small price to pay for the offensive power he brings. When Marcelo and Ronaldo are in a rhythm, there's little defenses can do to slow them down.

Not many defenders can hit a screamer the way Marcelo can, but scoring isn't his offensive strong-suit. He has twice the assists of the nearest defender on the team (Marcelo has eight to Carvajal's four), and ranks among the forwards in successful dribbles per game.

Player Dribbles per game
Isco 2.4
Bale 2.0
Modrić 1.8
Marcelo 1.6
Ronaldo 1.6

Player Passes per game
Sergio Ramos 59.9
Marcelo 56.8
Pepe 45.7
Carvajal 41.3
Varane 41.2

Marcelo has been steady for Madrid, taking the lion's share of the left-back minutes even with Fábio Coentrão on the roster. Here's his assist totals over the years in the Champions League and La Liga, excluding 2012-13, which he missed the bulk of with injury.

Season Assists
2014-15 8
2013-14 6
2011-12 8
2010-11 6

He's on pace to set a career high for assists, but conversely, his tackling numbers have been on their way down.

Season Tackles per game
2014-15 2.1
2013-14 2.3
2011-12 2.3
2010-11 2.9

These numbers show that Marcelo has basically become a bit of an exaggerated version of the player he is. He's getting better in attack and poorer in defense. Coentrão undoubtedly offers more defensive fortitude, and the trouble is he's got one foot out the door.

If Coentrão does leave, it would probably be in Ancelotti's best interest to bring in a rotational, defensive-minded left-back. Marcelo is still young and has shown little signs of breaking down despite his insane amount of minutes, but a situational back-up for him would be valuable.

So what do we know about Marcelo? He's a lovable goofball. He's a dynamic playmaker. And he's a liability in defense. Most of his defensive problems are self-imposed, and if José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti can't get him to be more positionally disciplined, well, I don't think anyone can. But Marcelo's impact is worth the risk, and all we can do is enjoy his play, and hope we don't see him frantically chasing down his man too often.

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