Season 2018/19 Review The Central Defence !
Tuesday, 28th May 2019 15:35
Perhaps the most controversial department of the team, it has a few challengers for the spots, but with the exception of Jan Bednarek all had their critics.
Some would say that I have something against both Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens after my comments on them over the past couple of years or so, that is far from the truth, I judge them only on their ability to play football for Southampton Football Club or more to the point to be able to play it well.
The stark truth is that Saints have not had a truly quality central defence since the departures of both Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk, it has lacked not only quality but leadership.
Back when we had those two playing Jack Stephens had one solitary appearance to his name, that in an FA Cup tie against Coventry in 2012 and Yoshida at one point had dropped behind even Coco Martina in the pecking order under Ronald Koeman.
Yet within six months of Koeman leaving this was our central defensive pairing, the 4th and at best 5th choice central defenders under Koeman.
This is the only thing I have against either of them, I'm sure they are nice people and loyal club servants, but the fact is they, like some of the other applicants for the central defensive positions would not get into the team of any other Premier league club and that highlighted one of the things that needed to be changed at the club.
Yoshida is a wholehearted player, but he is not a leader of men, when he is alongside an organiser who can talk him through games and tell him who and where to mark, he can do a job, but two often he is caught out of position and fails to read the game and keep his concentration.
For most of his Saints career he has been a back up player hence 129(19) Premier League appearances out of a total of around 266 he could have made.
Last season he played only 17 times, he missed a few games because of International duty but his 31 appearances in his first season at the club in 2012/13 remains his best total and since then e has played as little as 7 (1) times and never more than the 23(1) of 2017/18, it has to be said that he has not been a true first team regular and that even without anyone really pushing for a starting place he has not been any better than the rest and that is a damning statement given that our problems stem from our inefficiencies in this position.
Likewise Jack Stephens, he needs a leader alongside him but has never had one, he can carry a ball forward well but lacks any real passing ability to make those runs tell, defending he like Yoshida lacks the ability to read games and keep concentration.
Neither seem to be able to go to ground and block shots and crosses and this has cost us dearly.
I would say that we would likely take a reasonable offer for any of them this summer, but it will depend on who we can sign as to whether one or both go.
Jannik Vestergaard arrived with the hope that he could be the missing link, for the first half of the season he was awful indeed for two months he had no Premier League action at all, but under Ralph Hasenhuttl he has started to find his feet and adjust to the pace of English football, not just in terms of the speed of the action, but the speed of thinking needed, too often in the early part of the season the ball was past him before he could kick it, that has improved.
I would expect him to stay and hopefully build on his improvement in the second half of the season.
Jan Bednarek came in at the end of 2017/18 and did well so it was strange that last season under Hughes he only played twice totalling 80 minutes of football.
The arrival of Ralph saw him straight into the team and he never looked back, he is still raw and has a lot to learn, but the foundations are there and in the coming season could well blossom with a quality defender brought in.
Wesley Hoedt has been the crowds whipping boy for some time, but I still maintain he was not as bad as some of those that stayed and played after he went out on loan, in the first half of the season Hoedt had some solid performances and even a couple of man of the match awards and starred in the victory at Crystal Palace and the draw at Bournemouth, but when things turned sour he was the first that the crowd would turn on.
Given Vestergaard's improvement and indeed others in the squad it would have been interesting to see what Ralph Hasenhuttl could have done for Hoedt, but there was something there, I think Ralph would have given him the chance that he promised everyone as he had said the sheet is wiped clean, but I think Hoedt had had enough and declined.
A year ago Hoedt was the only constant in the centre of defence as we battles to get the points to stay up, certainly as we faltered a little in February there were many who would have preferred to see Hoedt that Jack Stephens, but that was not an option.
Personally I would not be unhappy for him to return to the squad, but I don' think that will happen and Saints will cash in.
Overall the centre of our defence was the problem throughout the season, it is almost easier to point out the good goals scored against us than the soft goals that should have been prevented.
Run through those goals conceded again and there is barely one where someone is not at fault, some more blatantly obvious than others, maybe it is watching the standards that Van Dijk, Fonte, Alderweireld and Lovren set over the past years, but too often goals go in because we fail to get a foot in when it matters, fail to go to ground and slide in to put the ball out for a corner and let it be crossed, fail to mark people in the penalty area, fail to be able to deal with fast counter attacks, lose concentration, give the ball away the list of indiscretions from members of our back four is endless.
But as I say sometimes the blame is pointed at the popular scapegoat rather than those truly at fault, remember in the 13 games that Wesley Hoedt played up to being dropped we conceded 23 goals an average of 1.76 per game, in the remaining 25 we conceded 42 at 1.68 per game.
That is not a lot difference and if you take the 6-1 debacle at Manchester City out of the equation then our overall defensive play pre December is a lot tighter than n the second half of the season.
The perception is that we were much better in the second half of the season, but that is in spite of our defence not because of it and in the final part of the season the soft late goals conceded actually got worse rather than better, in our final 14 fixtures we conceded goals in the 86th minute or after in 7 of them costing us 8 points in total, meaning we would have finished 13th in the League on 47 points.
I am sure that Ralph Hasenhuttl and his team will be looking at these statistics and coming to the conclusion that although his gamble in January in letting Hoedt go and not signing a replacement ultimately paid off, that he has to get in new faces in the centre of defence.
Being harsh Yoshida and Stephens are good club men for a reason and that is no one else has made them a decent offer, they would not get into any other Premier League team, therefore they are part of the solution and not the problem.
Bednarek and Vestergaard are part of the solution, Ralph knows he needs to get at least one new centre half in, preferably two if he is intending to play three at the back more often, if he only gets one then one of either Yoshida or Stephens will stay as cover, if he gets two then with Christoph Klarer highly rated then four quality central defenders will leave both Yoshida and Stephens way down the pecking order.
The defence was the real problem last season apart from the relegated teams only two others conceded more than us that being the two teams directly above us.
Since January 2017 our defence has been poor and has been at the bottom of all our issues, sort it out this summer and the season will be one of challenging for the top 10 and not looking over our shoulder.
Photo: Action Images
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