Modern football idolises attacking midfielders and affords teams creative players maximum time on the ball. The style was introduced by Guardiola’s Barcelona and has been capitalised on by many a manager looking to bring that same dynamic to their side.
Whilst attacking players such as Eden Hazard and David Silva are allowed to thrive in the Premier League, all too many managers have seen their defenders bamboozled and caught out when trying to deal with this type of player.
They are not midfielders, because they’re too attacking to be defined as such. You can’t say they’re wingers either, because they play far narrower than the likes of Ashley Young and Nani.
You cannot define their role – the way in which teams employ these types of players gets them in-between defensive lines and allows them to have the ball in the most dangerous positions on the pitch.
This new positioning of players is directly challenging the fundamental principles of defending.
Which brings me on to the defenders themselves – do they stay or do they go?
The likes of David Luiz and Kyle Walker have been berated in recent times for not doing what most perceive as ‘doing their job’ as a defender.
|Catch me if you can: Walker is known for his surging attacking runs|
All great teams are built off a solid base. In days gone by, a tough tackling, ball winning defender could be a game winner. But nowadays for a defender to be viewed as complete there are other aspects they must add to their game.
Central defenders are now commonly asked to mark more zonally in open play. They must be able to take along, and then pass on attacking threats to their team mates.
But as well as this, they must be able to keep track of the game as well as keeping an eye on their man at the same time.
Tottenham winger Andros Townsend burst onto the international scene last month for England, and Walker admitted that “he’s just always on the move.”
“It’s a dreadful thing, I train with him and he’s just a nightmare.”
|For club and country: Townsend and Walker train with England|
The likes of Townsend, Hazard and Silva cause defenders all sorts of problems, and it’s the free role that they’re afforded in their teams that makes them such a handful to deal with.
David Luiz is seen by many as a liability. His main problem is his eagerness. All too often Luiz gets too tight to his opponents and gives away needless free-kicks in dangerous areas. This is not a liability, but more of an immaturity in his approach to the game.
The facts show he made just two defensive errors last season, and neither of them led to goals. The numbers game puts him level with Ferdinand and Cahill, and actually ahead of regularly praised defenders Ashley Williams and Laurent Koscielny.
In areas where he is often criticised, he performed well.
|Sky is the limit: Luiz can only improve as a defender|
But that’s the sort of defender a team needs nowadays. Someone who is able to play the ball on the floor and not launch the ball 40 yards back into the opposition half, an individual who can read the game before an attacker has the chance to drop into the pockets of space mentioned at the beginning.
Adaptability is key, and with Luiz able to play in both defence and midfield it is an attribute that the Brazilian can boast.
The conclusion is that modern day football is just as much about what you do off the ball as it is on it.
For attackers it’s all about finding those few extra yards that will allow them an opportunity to create something. For defenders it’s more a case of being one step ahead and being able to anticipate and react before your opponent.
It was always said in warfare that innovations in attack were soon countered by developments in defensive tactics.
It may be appropriate that as we approach the centenary of the appalling conflict that was the First World War it could be time to look for a form of trench warfare to counter the attacking flair of today’s modern football formations.
By Alex Stedman