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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The best defensive partnerships win you trophies

The difference in transfer fees and at times wages clearly demonstrate that strikers and playmakers incorrectly enjoy a higher profile than their defensive colleagues. Goals live in the memory longer than a tackle, an assist is deemed higher value than good marking and it is fair to say that most supporters pay to go to matches to see goals. However, the harsh reality reveals that in football there is nothing more important than a clean sheet.

Defence has always been a vital ingredient to successful sides and in particular the gelling of a centre-half pairing. It is the primary building block of assembling a side yet does not receive the comparative credence, especially from supporters, who ought to know better. Combining this unit with a quality keeper gives the team a defensive seal therefore a decent chance to win football matches.

In the English Premiership, great defensive partnerships are a very rare commodity indeed. Proof is evident when trying to recall and name them. The general consensus is that Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore (for the Three Lions), Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson (for Liverpool), Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister ( for Manchester United) were the best going back a fair few years and more recently John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho (for Chelsea).

There are key elements and obvious prerequisites that must be covered, they include strength, bravery, resolution and leadership. Winning the ball in the air, marking, getting the early tackle in before the front man gets set are other component parts but something that is not so apparent is the speed of thought and a good reading of the game. It's no coincidence that the very best defenders anticipate where the ball is going rather than react to where it is.

As is often the case in the best partnerships present in all walks of life, the important is that they each complement each other, bring something different to the table. The classical blending is where one 'footballing' defender plays alongside a more physical player. The latter would almost be prepared to step in and out of the laws of the game to fulfil his role. The relationship is one of understanding, almost telepathy, built on trust and confidence but if just one of these pledges breaks down it seriously undermines the defensive unit..

These attributes look in short supply in our Premier League at the moment. There is an argument that the relaxed approach to the offside law has helped teams score more goals but not since Terry and Carvalho of Chelsea have we had a world class combination in that position. The two truly complemented each other and was the best of recent times. It was hailed as the major factor when Chelsea won two Premier League titles in a row under Jose Mourinho.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are currently the closest to that sort of standard and when they were at their best, United won the Champions League. The former is the best 'ball-playing' central defender in world football but some would like him to impose himself a little more in the important games. It is the Serbian who has that immense presence in the Premier League leaders' back four. Sir Alex Ferguson may have exaggerated their combined value when he compared them with Bruce and Pallister but United have won trophies galore so the duo rightly deserve their share of the credit.

One central defender who is crying out for a quality partner (to realise his full potential) is Michael Dawson of Tottenham. He is rapidly improving and deserves to share bread on the top table. One imagines that if he played alongside the right calibre of defender at club level, a regular place in the England team would be his next goal. For all the talent of the aforementioned Rio Ferdinand and bravery of John Terry, a new face at the heart of England's defence may be just what the team needs.

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