EVEN despite the breaking news that Juve, Milan and Fiorentina have all had offers accepted for Aquilani, the consequence of the summer window will leave us with arguably the strongest midfield depth in the country and that’s what all the talk should be about. Instead, we’re having to make a case for the defence…
It’s a strange one; how much should we look into pre-season results?
Things have certainly come in threes in recent weeks; those ‘things’ being balls in the back of our net. But in what is essentially a glorified kick-about with variable line-ups and fitness far more essential than balance, it would be churlish to issue a backline backlash.
But here’s the real ‘thing’. He may not have been an extravagant footballer, he doesn’t have a sexy, continental name and I doubt his image rights were excessive but when it comes to backroom staff, we could not be in safer hands than with Steve Clarke.
It seems in some circles he loses popularity points for being hard-faced and deriving from the home of plastic flags, yet this is a man whose groundbreaking techniques and attitude towards defensive coaching has earned more plaudits than anyone else from the game’s management elite.
Kenny quite rightly took the bulk of the praise last season for turning the club around but it was built on the defensive stability that allowed us to suddenly play without fear; without the apprehension that becomes contagious through a confidence-hit defence that ultimately affects the rest of the team.
Before their arrival in January, we were shipping goals at an alarming rate with the Hodgson horror show yielding 34 in 30 games.
With Kenny and Clarke on board, we conceded 17 in the remaining 22 games with a quarter of those before the latter had been with us a week. That’s 0.77 a game – the best defences in the league, Man City and Chelsea, conceded 0.87 per game in their 38 matches.
Yes – it’s clear that any statistics in the Hodgson era can be used as a yardstick for how rosy things have become but it’s even more impressive when you consider how free-flowing and offensive we were going forward too.
Two attacking full-backs and a defensive midfielder dropping deep to form almost a three at the back when in possession was a Clarke hallmark at Chelsea and with Lucas maturing into the anchorman role, it worked excellently from the turn of the year and will only get better.
And yet even with that heightened sense of adventure, we still showed how well we can defend as a team against the top sides – even in the face of adversity – such as Arsenal (league), Chelsea (league) and the Mancs (cup) last season.
That’s the defence we know we have; a blend of youth and experience who are committed to the core. And with Clarke around, we won’t be shipping three goals a game often this coming season – you can quote me on that…
Twitter: @ianmaloneyLFC @lovefollowconqr