John Stones and David Luiz are the two most expensive defenders who have played football and whilst you may not think it they have more than their expensive price tags in common. Both are comfortable on the ball and like to bring the ball out of defence, both are prone to make costly mistakes whilst playing their natural game and both really aren’t ever going to be remembered as world class defenders.
Both players I imagine started out as midfielders who couldn’t get a game playing in their preferred position and subsequently decided to drop back into defence where at least they were getting a game and they were sure of seeing a lot of the ball. Yet whilst Stones seems to be stumbling from one mistake to another for both club and country David Luiz has been putting in a series of impressive displays for Chelsea. The reason for this difference is how they are deployed, and protected, by their respective managers.
Whilst at Manchester City, Stones is part of a flat(ish) back four and partnered by Otamendi, another who makes the list of most expensive defenders, David Luiz has less responsibility at Chelsea because he is playing as part of a back three.
In today’s modern game it is expected that one, and usually both, of a team’s full backs will be one of their sides main offensive weapons and whilst this is a bonus going forward it places added pressure on the centre halves to be able to defend, and defend resolutely. In Stones’ case he was bought more for his ability to build Manchester City’s attacks from the back than his defensive prowess which means Manchester City’s back line consists of at least three players who are motivated to attack the opposition goal. The result, the remaining defender is expected to be the defensive lynchpin who covers for his absent colleagues, a position I expect even Otamendi’s mother wouldn’t be too keen on handing her son. This is why I feel John Stones is currently making so many high profile mistakes.
At Chelsea, whilst they still have the two attacking full backs, when David Luiz wants to launch himself and Chelsea up the park he can do so knowing that there are two defenders behind him who will be able to cover any gaps. Similarly, when Azpilcueta makes a surge forward Luiz and Cahill are there to cover his back.
When, or if, Vincent Kompany returns from injury it will be interesting to see whether Pep decides to restore the Belgian in a centre-half partnership, thus relegating Otamendi to the bench, or whether he takes a leaf out of Conte’s book and plays Stones, Otamendi and Kompany together as a back three.
In the meantime I expect to see Chelsea’s defence to continue their miserly ways whilst up in Manchester, Stones and his teammates to continue to look good going forward and an accident waiting to happen at the back.