This topic looks at some of the world’s most in-form and out-of-form defenders in their respective roles. Also covers the importance of Gary Cahill to club and country, points to missing-man Thomas Vermaelen and asks whether Evans can cut it at Utd

There are three general categories that central defenders fall into. Sweepers clear the dirt from the doorstep; Stoppers wash your driveway too; Marauders go and invite the neighbours to tea. The residential analogy is better explained by putting a face to the names –


Football is being coached to exploit every blade of grass on the pitch. In order to be successful in scoring goals, and ultimately winning games, teams must have a plan a, plan b and even plan c. This means every team should be able to attack in three different ways; angular passes, dissecting passes and individual ability. The challenge set for the sweeper is to be the last man standing to clear the lines of these multiple forms of attack – a get out of jail free card. Gary Cahill epitomises the all round skills to be a great sweeper – speed in recovery, safe in possession, top concentration and a crunching tackle/head. It may sound elementary, but he has shown time and time again the ability to clear the ball with all parts of his body and using left and right feet equally well. Steven Taylor is a good defender, albeit a error-prone sweeper. Whilst sweepers come with extra occupational hazards with expected last-ditch attempts to prevent goals, the Geordie lad unfortunately seems to find himself on the wrong side of a striker and uses forces outside the law of tackling – earning red cards and giving away costly penalties.

gary cahillsteven_taylor

Other good examples throughout history are Pepe, Phil Thompson (yes that one!), Ciro Ferrara, Fernando Hierro, Ronald Koeman, Alessandro Nesta

England have emerged from a sticky World Cup Qualifying group with credibility. Roy Hodgson has a 58% win record to his name and one major tactical change we have witnessed is a deeper defensive line against possession-based opposition, that has harnessed the strength of Gary Cahill in the last fifth (forget “the last third”). According to Opta Stats last season, even when Cahill was playing less club games than David Luiz, he was winning more 50/50 tackles, more aerial battles and misplaced a remarkable 23 fewer passes. As Gary looks set to win his 21st full international cap against Chile on Friday, it is an outstanding achievement that he has played the most outfield minutes in the whole England camp since the 1-1 draw in Montenegro last March, followed closely by his defensive partner Jagielka. Make no mistake, the two of them form a proper partnership that has conceded only 1 goal conceded in the last 4 games, and could be an understated weapon in Brazil next Summer if they continue to develop an understanding:

“I feel that having played in some big games for Chelsea, two major European finals, it really helps me when I face the same situation with England and I can bring that experience to the team.”

Cahill tempts destiny to go onto say:

“Not playing at a major tournament is something missing from my career.”

Football is now more than ever about 11-players working together and so defensive changes have repercussions with other parts of the team. Dropping deeper has meant changes in England’s midfield, as these heat maps of Wilshere, Gerrard and Lampard reflect England’s abundance of ‘box to box’ midfielders receiving the ball deeper, turning and playing forwards. It might just be the way to get the best out of an ageing ‘Golden Generation’.




This season, Yaya Toure has created a Greatest Hits album to show how deadly giving cheap freekicks can be. This means that defending teams have to be careful in not giving away “stupid fouls.” Stoppers are tasked with challenging play in the spaces between their penalty box to an area just-shy of the half way line, which seems fatalistic given the need to sometimes stand-off, let play develop, defend in lower risk areas and not give away such freekicks. But this is a crucial job – whether defenders should be doing that at all is an entirely different matter. Either the midfielders have to work in tandem to close down and stop good-dribblers from facing their goal (look no further than Yacob and Mulumbu) or defenders like Atletico Madrid ‘s Diego Godin must display excellent judgement, patience and positioning.


Other good examples throughout history are Thiago Silva, Vincent Kompany, Varane, Tony Adams, Marcel Desailly, Fabio Cannavaro, Jaap Stam

diego-godin Jonny Evans

Atletico Madrid are enjoying 2nd place in La Liga for as long as they can, boasting the second best defense in the league with Diego Godín performing heroics with 3.5 interceptions per game as WhoScored? examines.


Jonny Evans is no stranger to being written off and I hope he can silence critics like me. The problem is that he can no longer be considered a promising youth prospect taking over from the likes of Ferdinand and Vidic, with over 160 appearances in a Manchester United shirt now. His performances have to improve to justify holding off the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones (and a possible new arrival in January). He is naturally a stopper wanting to snuff danger out early and impose himself on the game. How many times, though, have I heard groans of despair as Jonny commits a foul via a precipitated header that clamoured over the attacker in an over-zealous attempt to restore possession. A foolhardy attempt to wrest the gun from the mugger, and he seems to make a lot of them.



Most arsenal fans were initially mystified when Koscielny and Mertesacker were Wenger’s starting duo last season, leaving fit-again captain Vermaelen third in the pecking order at Emirates. And this season, some arsenal fans are asking why Vermaelen cannot be coached into the DM role that Flamini has brought back to the team. My view is that he has not miraculously lost his ability that coined phrases such as “The Mailman always Delivers”, but instead, Arsenal is a far more balanced side without a stopper, and further that Vermaelen is not yet tactically aware enough to be capable of playing as a Marauder.


The extra midfielder is a vital part in today’s game. Instead of sacrificing a forward role, there is a solution to be found in allowing a technical, adventurous but still defensively strong defender the freedom to burst through lines and cause havoc where he pops up. Range of passing was never talked about when it came to defenders before, whereas Vlad Chriches is currently 4th highest in Tottenham squad for average passes per game and 4th highest when it comes to passing accuracy. He also carries the ball effectively (more dribbles than playmaker Christian Eriksen). Current sample size is admittedly quite small for this report, Luiz being the only other real EPL marauder. That’s certainly not to say he has been terrible: 7 goals and 5 assists in 45 games in Chelsea’s last campaign but struggling to find rhythm under Mourinho.



Chelsea's David Luiz celebrates his goal against Aston Villa

Other good examples throughout history are Bobby Moore, Gheorge Popescu, Roberto Ayala, Rio Ferdinand

Sweeper-keeper is getting a lot of the media interest this side of English Channel at the moment with praise for Hugo Lloris. Funny how different it would have been if he actually got the two red cards he deserved in August for handling the ball quite clearly outside the box in his typical flying tackles on an onrushing striker. Also amusing how little attention Pepe Reina for the exact same role during his Liverpool hay-days.

Chiriches is quietly establishing himself as a key part of Villas-Boas’s squad in a modern role that will certainly be talked about more in the coming months. Vlad will make his fifth consecutive league start if he lines up at Man City on Sunday 24th November afternoon.

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