‘They like to play it out from the back’ quite possibly the most over used phrase in English football over the last 18 months or so. Free – flowing attacking football seems to be the main trend at the moment especially in the Premier League. We’ve had the seasons where counter attacking football has ruled the league and we’ve also had the seasons where a defensive approach has served teams well in the past.
But as for now it appears the late great Johan Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ ideology is dominating how teams play in the PL, by that I mean managers want to fill their teams with 10 players (11* if your Bayern Munich & Manuel Neuer) who can all contribute to a team attack.
With this said, it’s no surprise that ‘quality’ CB’s’ are at a premium. Centre Backs who can defend but can also contribute in an attacking capacity. Last summer we saw John Stones move from Everton to Manchester City for £47.5m, 2nd to David Luiz in the list of most expensive defenders in history.
Make no bones about it, even for Manchester City and their bankrollers that’s a lot of money to spend on a player still making his way in the game. Pep’s justification? ‘He’s one of the World’s most promising Centre Backs’ with the characteristics of a ‘ball playing, 21st century defender’.
There’s that word again ‘Ball Playing’ defender, we’ve got to a point now where our beloved game is so advanced that managers want players who have multiple strings to their bows.
There seems to be an epidemic at the moment for these new ‘21st century model’ defenders, but are they really the right option? We often find that these same players slip up during games. So quick to set up an attack – it leads to poor decision making moments. Which ultimately effect the overall result.
On the other hand, we have players like Wes Morgan & Robert Huth (also known as The Human Battering Rams) who last season blew us away with some of their heroic defensive displays. Players who certainly aren’t known for their ability to ‘thread a pass through the eye of a needle’ but they certainly were effective in helping the Foxes to the league title.
IMO, Managers are sometimes quick to forget the fundamentals of a defender. To defend and help keep clean sheets should always be the priority. Defenders are similar to goalkeepers, if they make a mistake it will inevitably end up in a goal. (E.g. Ragnar Klavan’s air kick against Southampton in the EPL Semi Final 1st leg).
We’ve also disappointingly seen a decline in youth players coming through who are born to defend, your Jamie Carragher’s of this world.
But I suppose when there are defenders who can do things like this, why would a manager want anything else?
But anywhooo let’s look at my Top 3 Centre Backs in the PL at the moment.
Player: Virgil Van Dijk
Is there a better defender in the PL?
An absolute monster for Southampton this season. When Virgil signed for Saints back in 2015, he had potential for sure, but no one could have predicted what a player he’s turned into.
He’s turning into a match winner for Southampton, and if they can keep hold of him until the summer they will have done well.
A clear replacement for the injury prone Kompany, but City will have a battle to sign him. Will take a world record transfer bid for a defender to sign him.
Player: Toby Alderweireld
He probably would have been my number 1, but for injuries. Makes Tottenham tick, when Dier deputised at CB earlier in the season, they weren’t the same force. His passing and reading the game is exceptional. Especially with Spurs having two aggressive full backs in Rose & Walker who are continuously bombing forward.
Spurs have arguably the best defence in the league but if they want to continue to challenge for the title they need Alderweireld fit and playing consistently. Helps that he has mate Vertoghan next to him.
Player: Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave)
Mr. Reliable for Chelsea over the years. Spent the majority of the time playing at left back, when he first arrived. For someone who’s naturally right footed that is quite the achievement. Since Conte has switched to a 3 man CB system, he’s looked at ease playing on the left side, so much so he’s keeping club legend JT on the bench.
He’s the quickest and most mobile out of Cahill & Luiz and often finds himself covering others due to great positioning. Often overlooked for praise and awards but not this time Dave.
Ta for reading folks!