THE BLOG

Defence? Never Heard of It

31/03/2014 17:04 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

It's an old sporting cliche that the defence wins championships and it might explain why no team has taken command of this season's Premier League race as of yet.

Chelsea currently have their noses in front, which makes sense given that they've leaked the least goals so far this term. Their centre back partnership of Gary Cahill and a rejuvenated John Terry has dealt pretty well with most things that Premier League clubs can throw at it and this relative solidity at the back has made them favourites in the eyes of many.

However, the fact that the best centre back pairing in the league consists of a player who has always been solid without being spectacular (Cahill) and a man who, at 33, has already begun to lose pace (Terry) is a sign of a lack of defensive talent in England.

Gone are the days of Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher forming a near-unbreakable wall at Anfield. Gone are Terry's glory days when, nearly 10 years ago, he and Ricardo Carvalho conceded just 15 goals in an entire league season. Instead, a player like Martin Demichelis, whose slow, lumbering running and error-prone play have become a running joke among fans, is a regular part of the league's second best defence.

Vincent Kompany is widely accepted to be the single best defender in the league, but it's hard to pick another exceptional player to pair him with as the chasing pack are all too old, slow or mistake-prone. The lack of defensive depth in the league is one of the main reasons that English teams are having such a hard time in Europe lately. Again, it's no coincidence that Chelsea were the only English team with a smooth ride into the last eight of the Champions League, while Arsenal and Manchester City found themselves badly exposed, and Manchester United struggled.

It's not just the centre backs at fault either as an odd cult seems to have formed around left and right backs whose primary skill is speeding forward and crossing. Many defenders, such as Leighton Baines and Kyle Walker, are lauded more for their attacking threat than their dependability at the back, which seems like seriously muddled thinking.

It seems obvious, but a defender's first job should be to stop the other team scoring and if he helps out in attack then it's a bonus. Instead, we're treated to the sight of players sprinting back after having been caught miles out of position because they'd bombed forward without thinking. Liverpool's Glen Johnson used to be one of the worst culprits of this, although he seems to have tightened his game up somewhat.

This attacking mindset may also be to blame for the number of massive blowout wins in certain matches between the top clubs this season.

It used to be that these matches would be tight, cagey affairs, with neither side willing to risk losing. However, this season, both North London sides have lost six- 0 and there have been other similarly outlandish results. Why? It's partly the lack of talent at the back paired with an influx of top-class attacking players and partly the full backs adjusting poorly to a situation in which they're required to put their defensive duties above all else for once.

It might be that teams need to go back to basics over the next couple of years. Chelsea have one of their weakest attacking lines in years, yet they may well pip Manchester City and Liverpool's devastating attacks to the title by the virtue of their defensive organisation. It remains to be seen, however, whether any lessons will be learned and it could be that teams continue to invest in their attacking ranks and neglect their backs. In which case, it looks likely to be a very lean period in Europe for England's best, as teams like Bayern Munich and Barcelona rip them apart.

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