Before Steve Bruce, we were known to be team who could defend. You could see the merits of all our centre-backs. We had a good mix of who would complement each other and ultimately lead to us being a solid unit.
We now find ourselves in a position where centre-back, whilst still technically well-stocked, is a problem area due to a combination of lack of coaching, lack of quality and lack of freshness.
Our defence has aged dramatically and whilst there’s not necessarily a terrible thing with defenders, it has meant that we have lost pace along with the tactical nous they were originally used to when the arrived.
When Benitez left, so did the organisation that covered up a majority of the flaws in our defenders’ games.
Take Ciaran Clark, for example, when he first joined the club, he was seen as fairly error prone but he went on to prove himself as a solid player under Benitez. During perhaps the best years of a defender’s career, Clark proved that he was a valuable asset. He wasn’t a world-beater but he was someone you could rely on.
Since then, Clark has grown older, suffered injuries and has lost a forensic analysis of how his game works.
By no means is Clark an awful player but he is a diminished force and example of how our strength has crumpled into a weakness.
Currently, our two youngest ‘centre-backs’ are 27 in Jamaal Lascelles and Emil Krafth, after which we have youth players who haven’t had a sniff at breaking into the team.
27, for a centre-back, is generally the time that they mature into their best selves. We saw this with Ciaran Clark but I really can’t see this happening with Lascelles and Krafth.
Emil Krafth is fundamentally a right-back (and not necessarily a Premier League standard one) so the idea that a managerial flop could coach him into a solid centre-back of Clark’s ilk is laughable.
Under Benitez, there were once calls for Lascelles to gain England caps but his game has since diminished and injuries have increased. I can only ever see Lascelles becoming a worse defender now.
We are crying out now for a defender with youth and pace. We also need someone who can carry out the ball from defence (currently we only have out-of-favour Schär) and help start an attack.
There has to be an acceptance that our solid Benitez defence is no more. There now needs to be more reliance on individual skill and talent because there won’t be a tactical plan that can stop the likes of West Ham happening again.