Getting The Best Out Of David Luiz

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.

A Man on the Post

back-to-basics

With all the fuss surrounding the new anti-Stoke laws concerning grappling in the box one worrying aspect of how clubs are marking at corners has been overlooked. In both the Stoke City and Manchester United games this weekend the score lines could have been dramatically different if teams had gone back to basics and set up defensively like we were taught when we were growing up.
For all three of the Manchester United’s goals scored from corners there was no player stationed on the back post. If a player had been stood there I am not saying Manchester United wouldn’t have scored but would Leicester have conceded three? And what makes this failure to do the basics so infuriating is that Leicester were not caught once or twice but three times. Surely Wes Morgan or Robert Huth have the experience to see what was happening and to change things? Then again in the Stoke match, from the West Brom corner Stoke were caught short because there was no player on the back post, if they had of been would be now celebrating three points?
The tactics of today’s modern game are constantly changing but in the rush to get one over on their opposition managers are often forgetting the basics which are known as the basics for a reason, they work. Time and time again I have watched the Boy’s team concede goals from corners because they did not have players on the post and this is because this is what they see every week on the TV. They Boy’s team have since learned their lesson and for every corner there is a man on both posts, now if only Mystic Mark could learn his.

The Lone Striker – Just Watch Zlatan

Picking up the newspapers last Sunday morning I was shocked, if sadly not surprised, by the reaction Wilfried Bony received for his performance against West Brom. In the old days you would judge a centre forward’s contribution in one currency and one currency only, goals, but in today’s modern game the vogue is to play with a lone striker and what they bring to the team is a lot more than goals.

This current trend of a solitary target man has filtered down to the amateur and youth leagues, as every trend, good or bad, seems to do and watching the Boy on a Saturday morning I am constantly amused by the number of teams who line up with only one up front. With a striker who knows what their role in the team is, this lone striker can cause havoc amongst an opposing defence but as the Boy like to tell me, “they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Invariably the Boy and his partner are left marking a solitary, static striker who, whilst having a nose for goal, is not getting the service because they are not working the centre forwards and their midfield believes their jobs are complete once they have got the ball up to their front player. Watching Manchester United dismantling of Leicester I would argue that the man of the match was not Pogba or Mata but a player who seemingly had no contribution to any of the goals, Zlatan.

Against Leicester, Zlatan held the ball up when it was played to him allowing his midfielders to receive it back whilst their teammates ran into space behind the defence. This had the effect that the Leicester defence were being turned and their own midfield were having to expend energy to cover the gaps being created. But what sets Zlatan’s performances above most of his peers is the movement and running he does when he doesn’t have the ball.

Time and time again, against Leicester, he pulled out to the wings and when he managed to lure one of the centre-halves with him spaces suddenly appeared in the Leicester back into which the likes of Rashford and Lingard poured. Yet it wasn’t only this lateral movement which caused Leicester so many problems, when Rooney entered the fray Zlatan preceded to drop deeper, which allowed Rooney to play further up the pitch. This constant movement not only creates spaces for others to exploit but also plants a seed of doubt into the opposition’s minds because nobody knows just who is supposed to be picking him up.

Going back to Wilfried Bony and the match against West Brom, when he was on the pitch Bony held the ball up well and, whilst not as mobile as Zlatan, moved the defenders around to create the space which Shaqiri, Alllen and Arnie were able to run into. Yet when Two Meter Peter replaced him the only space Stoke was seeing was when we broke on the counter attack. Personally I am one of Two Meter Peter’s biggest fans, I think he is one of the most underrated forwards of the last ten years and his England record of a goal every two games should have brought him more than the forty-two caps it did but he is not a lone striker. As the Boy said after watching the match at the weekend, the way Stoke are set up he would much rather play against Two Meter Peter than Bony – out of the mouths of babes.

Stoke City Need To Work Before They Start To Play

This season there has been a lot of people, myself included, criticizing Stoke’s woeful defensive displays but I don’t believe all of the blame should be focused solely on the back four. Ignoring, for now, the fact our full backs are getting pulled out of position, when they do it is up to other players to fill in where the full back should have been when the opposition attacks. This is obvious and the majority of the time the Stoke players are doing what is expected but the problems are occurring at the next link in the chain.

Against Spurs Stoke’s centre-halves were forced to push wider than they are accustomed to with the result that there were vast, gaping holes in the centre of the defence for Spurs’ midfielders to pour into. It is up to either the other centre half or the midfielders to plug these holes and the full backs or the forwards to plug the subsequent holes further down the chain, defending is a team responsibility and until Stoke begin to work, not play but work, as a team we are going to keep on conceding avoidable goals.

If you look again at the first and last goals scored by Spurs, on both occasions Joe Allen is pulled out of position to cover the gap left by the absent Pieters. This in itself is not a problem, more a part of the game, but on both occasions there is no one covering where Joe Allen should be and it is too easy for the opposition attackers to find space in our penalty area. Modern football is all about manoeuvring the opposition to create these spaces but instead of being undone by the fourth, fifth or six move, at the moment Stoke are being undone by the first or second.

One player who was in the penalty box for both of those goals was Imbula but instead of doing the fundamentals, such as getting goal side of the attacker, on both occasions he seems to be deciding what he is going to have for tea and this attitude is another factor in why we are constantly getting hammered. Almost every match this season we have conceded goals when the opposition has upped the tempo and at the moment it seems we are unable to respond when the opposition decides they want it more than we do. Against Middlesbrough, Man City, Spurs and Palace we conceded goals because the opposition were first to the ball, more resolute in the tackle and willing to run that little bit harder to get into position. Over the course of a game teams are physically unable to maintain this pace for ninety minutes but opposition managers must surely be aware that if you can put in three or four ten minute bursts against Stoke you are almost certainly going to get the ball into the back of the net.

Why we seem particularly vulnerable to these high intensity bursts I don’t know, is it physical or more worryingly mental, but one thing is sure if we don’t address this problem by the time we come up against a team such as Liverpool then we could easily see a reverse of that famous last day Britannia massacre. Jurgen Klopp’s teams have always been built around high intensity pressing and no matter a player’s ability they have to be willing to work hard before they are trusted by the manager, just ask Daniel Sturridge next time you spot him on the Liverpool bench.

Stoke’s current squad may just be the most talented to ever be assembled in the Five Towns and, on paper at least, they should have the ability to pull themselves up the table but until they start working, and working as a team, they are not going to have the chance to play.

In Defence of Ronaldo

“If we were all at my level maybe we would be leaders”

No doubt you will have seen the above quote from Cristiano Ronaldo after his Real Madrid team were beaten by their cross city rivals Atletico. Taken at face value most of us would agree that having eleven Ronaldo’s in your team would almost guarantee victory any given Saturday. Here is a player who has mesmerized us ever since he first broke through at Manchester United, but if you had a team packed with Ronaldos, each believing they are the main man, then success wouldn’t be forthcoming.

But, and I never thought I would ever be saying this, in defence of the Portuguese winger. I don’t believe this is what he was alluding to.

On Sunday Ronaldo may have been frustrated by his team-mates performances but the truth is that they were beaten by a group of individuals who their manager, Diego Simone, has got playing as a team. At times their style of football may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the traditional big two in Spain but it is effective, and it is effective because the Atletico players play for one another.

Like all successful teams Atletico are a team made up of smaller pockets of players who combine together to produce a sum that is greater than their parts.

The full back needs to form a cohesive unit with his winger, whom he supports when the team are going forward but also requires assistance from when they are defending. In addition the full back needs to know he can trust his centre half to cover him but also he must be willing to return the favour. Similarly the centre half needs an understanding with his defensive partner but also with the midfielder playing in front of him. The defensive midfielder with not just the centre halves but also his fellow midfielders and so on throughout the team.

Ronaldo continued his post-match interview by stating, “I like to play with Karim, with Bale, with Marcelo. I’m not saying the others like Lucas Vazquez, Jese and Mateo Kovacic are not good players – they are very good players – but it’s not the same”

Whilst we all know Bale and Benzema’s role within the team, and the interactions they would have with Ronaldo during the course of the game, but in mentioning Marcelo, the fullback upon whose shoulders most of the brilliance Ronaldo produces is built, I believe Ronaldo was explaining where he thought Madrid’s problems lay. The absence of the building blocks upon which great teams are built.

I know there are many of us who, whilst marvelling at Ronaldo’s brilliance footballing prowess, sneer at the man we believe him to be, arrogant, aloof and vain. And he may be such a man but he is also always amongst the last to leave the training ground and, if his quotes at the weekend were a plea for Bale, Marcelo and Benzema to hurry back from injury, then it appears he is also aware of the shoulders upon which his greatness is founded.

So, just this once, let us give Ronaldo the benefit of the doubt and try to believe that the man from Portugal understands the beautiful game is not just about him.