Blackburn Rovers started the season on a high but their promotion push has been dented by two consecutive losses in their last two matches in the EFL Championship. But despite the results, Blackburn have seen some brilliant performances from their players. Daniel Ayala is one such player who has been the anchor for Blackburn and has driven the team leading from the back.
Recruited as a free agent following his Middlesbrough release. Struggling with persistent muscle injuries and missing the entire second half of the 2020/21 campaign, the 30-year-old made significant strides with his fitness from May onwards and was present for pre-season training when Rovers travelled to their camp in Stirling in early July. After an injury-hit first-year at Ewood Park, Spanish defender Ayala has proven his worth in the early stages of the season. Playing every minute of Championship football, Ayala has netted two goals and helped keep two clean sheets. His physical presence, leadership and experience have helped make him one of Blackburn’s standout performers.
Let’s take a look at what the stats have to say about his performances so far:
Daniel Ayala has been rock solid at the back for Blackburn and has won most of the duels he has attempted while preventing the opposing team the chance to score a goal. He has been involved in a higher number of duels in his own half, including aerial and ground defensive duels. He has attempted 50-50 duels in his own penalty box which indicates that he has good timing for challenges and can win the ball from opponents when they are in threatening positions. The Spanish defender has attempted a lot of aerial duels in the opposition penalty area. Ayala has also been a threat for teams in the opposition box, as he uses his physical strength to win aerial balls from set-pieces.
The 30-year-old has scored two goals for Blackburn so far from set-piece situations. He is always a threat when he is in the penalty area and his presence in the penalty area maintains pressure on the opposition team.
Ayala has been influential in stopping the opposition’s attacks as he has completed a high number of interceptions. When the opposition has the ball in their own half, Ayala urges his team to have a higher line which helps them to intercept passes higher up the pitch. But when the team is in their half, Ayala has been required to perform a higher number of interceptions in his own penalty area by tackling the opposition player.
The presence of Ayala in the opposition has forced teams not to play more aerial balls because of his ability to win these aerial balls with ease. Ayala has attempted a total of 121 aerial duels and has won 85 of these duels. A partnership with Darragh Lenihan has blossomed, and in his absence Rovers have lost their last two games. The concern for Rovers is to ensure that the duo can endure the duration of the season.
The above visual shows us the aerial duels that Ayala attempted in their loss against Blackpool before the international break. Despite the loss, Ayala showcased that he is the best defender that Blackburn have by winning 14 aerial duels and only losing five duels. Most of these duels were won by Ayala in the opposition half while trying to find an equaliser.
While Ayala has performed his defensive duties well for his team, he has been able to create a threat with the passes he has attempted in the final third of the pitch. He has the highest xT with the passes he has made to Brereton Diaz.
The main concern for Blackburn is the long history of injuries that Ayala has had and will want to use him throughout the season as he is an important figure at the back. Training is a sacrifice worth making if Ayala can sustain this level of performance and his manager Mowbray feels there is plenty more to come.