There has been much heated debate around the lack of defensive reinforcements arriving in the summer transfer window just past. There are those who can see what the club is trying to do in regards to not spending “over the odds” on players and those who oppose that view and think that our owners are being too tight fisted and are taking too much of a gamble by not getting the players we need.
Regardless of which camp your opinions fall in I think that it is safe to say that everyone was more than a little disappointed that no defenders arrived apart from a young development player in Curtis Good.
I don’t want to rehash old arguments about the players we should have or could have purchased but I want to look at how our defensive unit effects our style of play and ultimately the goals we concede and score.
Even when we have our strongest back four line up of Simpson – Coloccini – Taylor – Santon, we still have some draw backs that effect our structures and attacking qualities. I believe that Pardew sees our defence as our main area of weakness on the park and as a result his team formations and the players he puts out each week are there to help cover the short comings we have.
To me, our real weakness stems from our right back and left back positions. Santon has improved in leaps and bounds this season and looks to be a great player in the making. He looks strong going forward but still needs to work on the defensive part of his game. Simpson on the other side of the park is the opposite of Santon; he looks more comfortable in his own half and really offers little going forward other than a cross from out wide. I am not implying that either is a bad player but due to the short comings in their games they have a negative effect on our goals scored and goals conceded.
Hatem and Jonas are the players that work in tandem with our wide back men and their own games are adversely affected by these weaknesses. Jonas in particular has almost become a defensive left midfielder since the departure of that player that now graces the bench at Liverpool – no play Jose. It all started last season when Ryan Taylor filled in at left back, he did a sterling job but a large part of the success he had was because Jonas worked his socks off getting back to cover. Santon soon filled the breach at left back and Jonas once again found himself covering the young Italian as he was learning to come to grips with the Premier League. As I noted earlier, Santon has improved going forward and looks the goods but I still think that Jonas sees himself as a defensive aid.
I really believe that this is the reason we have not seen Jonas on the right side of the park too often and why he is not pushing as far up the park as he used to. Simpson on the other hand is a sounder defender and does not rely on Hatem to cover him as much but where we suffer is that he doesn’t naturally push forward and overlap enough with Hatem. This allows opposition midfielders and defenders to push up the park with little fear of counter attacking football. Hatem has taken care of this to some extent with his mazy dribbling and lethal left foot. He has a knack of getting defenders and midfielders to back track at a rate of knots but unfortunately he is left to his own devices on the right side of the park when it comes to attacking. If we had a defender playing behind him that offered some of the same attacking instincts we could have a real threat to opposition team down the right side of the park. Ultimately, I would like to see Santon playing behind Hatem, I think the combination would be unstoppable but at the moment I don’t think Pardew sees Santon as defensively strong enough to cover a sometimes lazy defending Hatem.
When it comes to the middle of our defence, we have Coloccini, Taylor & Williamson who all defend well but none of them have real pace which means we tend to play deep more often than not. This in turn drags our central midfielders back further and negates some of our attacking threat. Tiote is a natural defensive midfielder and covers the back men very well. Cabaye is employed as more of a play making midfielder but often finds him being drawn back deep into his own half to help defend. This ultimately means that our game gets stretched and our strikers are left to their own devices further up the park.
Pardew gets some stick for playing a 442 set up but when you really break down where our weaknesses are, you can see why he opts for so much cover in front of the back four. This means we don’t concede as much but unfortunately we end up with strikers running around trying to get their foot on the ball because they have no support. To be able to strike a balance, we need to strengthen our backline with the right type of players, ones that will make us a more complete attacking and defensive unit. We really need to add some pace to the middle of our defence so we can push further up the park and we need to find a left/right back that can defend as well as they attack.
This article is not about our shortages for each position; we have talked about those shortages to no end. It is about where our weaknesses lay and what our play would be like if we did fix these small flaws. At the moment we have too many like for like players that do not offer something different when called upon. It sounds like I am asking a lot but it is only about getting a couple of the right players through the door and I think we can really compete with the best and hold our own.
What are your thoughts and solutions?
Another great read from Aussie Mag. Keep up the good work mate!