BY JAKE LEWIS – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
For followers of English football, it has not gone unnoticed that England’s best teams are not setting a very high standard in this year’s Champions League competition. Manchester United have qualified easily from an incredibly weak group, but in doing so have set an interesting record for the number times they fall behind in games, before coming back to win. Meanwhile, star laded Manchester City have been made to look very ordinary for the second year running. Last year’s champions, Chelsea, are on the precipice of exiting and Arsenal has looked very frail though they will scrape through.
One of the glaring problems I have seen is the total failure for all the English teams to establish strength in defence, which has been the cornerstone of successful teams for years. Man City are switching back and forth between three in defence and four, depending on how far behind they are, while United’s best form of defence is attack. Chelsea have been over committed to attack and left glaring openings that quality opposition have exploited.
So why the sudden defensive frailty?
Two things. First there is little doubt that the quality of the players on defence for most of these teams is not what it was, even where the personnel hasn’t changed. Terry and Ferdinand are now in the twilight of their careers and are simply not as good as they once were. The second thing, for me, is the change in midfield and attacking set-up being employed by English teams.
The most common set-up this year has been a single striker, with usually, three attacking midfielders supporting. Typically this leaves one holding midfielder. Where this gets problematic is when full backs start marauding forward to offer overlap on the flanks. None of the top team I’ve mentioned play with out and out wingers, and you often see players like Hazard, Rooney and Silva, coming inside and then looking for reverse balls into attacking full backs, like Rafael, Ivanovic and Richards.
Whether coaches will figure this out and find a way of getting the right balance or not, I don’t know, but they are definitely presented with a challenge of their own making.
Of course the other option is simply to ignore your defensive frailties and outscore your opponents. Let’s see how that works against Barcelona, Madrid and Bayern!
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