Has defending become a failing art in the Premier League?

This season has been characterised by unpredictable results, increased competitiveness and it remains one of the most keenly fought league’s in several respects since the leagues inception in 1992, but the quality of defending on show has seriously decreased in the last year or so in our top flight.

Cast your eyes across the top sides in the league and they’ve all struggled somewhat for consistency this term, not only in terms of performances but also, particularly in the cases of Spurs, Arsenal and Man Utd, in getting the same players out week in week out on the pitch in the first place, which does make it harder to form any sort of organised, cohesive unit as a result.

I think a large contributing factor to this season’s competitiveness in terms of results has been a lot to do with the so called bigger side’s failures at the back. Goals haven’t been a problem for Utd and they’ve already scored ten more than last season with 3 games yet to play.

Chelsea are top scorers in the league with 86 goals at present, 18 more than last season. Arsenal too have scored ten more than last season, despite their relative injury problems to players such as Van Persie, Fabregas and Arshavin for spells and Spurs have bagged 22 more goals. Granted, goals do not always equate to success but they obviously help, so I think it definitely shows a shift not towards sharper attacking outfits but a decreased state of defending in the league.

Barring perhaps, Michael Dawson, Richard Dunne and Richard Johnson there haven’t been anywhere near as many outstanding seasons from the premierships centre halves like in seasons gone by. No right back of note has emerged and Evra, Cole and Baines aside no left back has been excellent over a consistent enough period.

For once, picking the best eleven players for the team of the season at the PFA awards at the end of the season will actually provide food for thought and a challenge, rather than just naming the entire title winning back four, which is almost always the case and almost certainly always wrong based on performances.

Most of this year’s striker’s seem to have flourished; Rooney has 26 in the league, Drogba 25, Bent with 23 and Tevez 22. Even Fernando Torres, injured on and off for most of the campaign, hasn’t had to build up much of a rhythm to score his 18 goals in 22 league games. It’s been a season for the strikers for a reason.

This isn’t to say that the goalkeeper have been outstanding though. The back five, more so than anywhere else on the pitch, need to work as a unit to achieve success, and that starts from the goalkeeper outwards. Gomes has proved his doubters wrong, Reina has been the player of the year up at Liverpool, Joe Hart has been a success and Shay Given has been as good as ever, but look around the rest of the league and its slim pickings in terms of good performances.

Anyone who watched the Liverpool v West Ham game will have seen how shocking the hammers were at the back, they were all over the place, poor at marking off set pieces, easily caught out of position and weak in the tackle. Whilst this may have been an off day for the likes of Matthew Upson et al, sadly it was just a snapshot of how the majority of the league’s backlines have performed all season. The quality simply isn’t there anymore.

It may just be an off season, but the sheer amount of elementary errors, poor marking and terrible positioning on show up and down the top flight must be a cause for concern. Clean sheets have proved somewhat harder to come by and the pool of defensive talent is so small that even Champions Utd were forced to splash out £7m on an untested talent such as Chris Smalling despite his lack of first team action.

Is defending a dying art for the high octane action of the Premiership? It may be too early to tell, and like any good Panorama special, I shall leave you in suspense without actually coming to a conclusion, but this season has been especially poor, it makes you look back on the days of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon, with much fonder memories than ever before. ‘Boring Boring Arsenal’ indeed, perhaps some sides could do with a dose of that at the back these days.

Written By James McManus

 


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