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2019/20 Season Review - The Centre Backs
Thursday, 30th Jul 2020 10:40

Perhaps the most debated area of the Saints team, today we take a look at our central defenders and why we haven't had a settled centre of defence not just this season, but going back several years now.

A good central defensive partnership is based on having players who have contrasting skills, in the 90/00's that meant the silky skills of Claus Lundekvam alongside a stopper like Dean Richards or Michael Svensson, in more recent times Jose Fonte provided the organisation leadership and holding the back line together whilst Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld or Virgil Van Dijk provided a little less subtle skills, although in fairness both Alederweireld and Van Dijk could play a bit as well.

But since the departure of Fonte we have lacked a leader at the back and to be blunt, the central defence has never found a partnership where each player complimented the other.

In Jan Bedarek we had a young player that was looking for guidance, but could attack the ball, that is bore out by the stats that show he has made more clearances, more blocks and more tackles than most in the Premier League let alone just Saints.

It shows that he has what it takes to be the stopper in the partnership, but he needs an organiser and a leader alongside.

Since the restart Jack Stephens has come in and formed a partnership, but it is not one that has contrast with each player contrasting each other.

Stephens has some good characteristics, he can carry a ball from defence and that often blurs the issues in question, we need him to be a leader and an organiser, but he is neither of those, nor can he read a game to the standard that we need.

To coin a phrase he is a reasonable player but he is neither fish nor fowl, he is not big or strong enough to be the stopper, but he can't read the game well enough to be a leader.

I am coming to the conclusion that perhaps Stephens talents do not lie as a central defender but as a holding midfielder.

The other contenders for the central defensive spot Jan Bednarek and Maya Yoshida were both more in the stopper mode, but they too suffered from the lack of a player with composure alongside them.

Until we find another Fonte or Lundekvam, players with composure, with organisational skills and leadership qualities we are going to continue to leave players unmarked, get caught on the break and just conceding goals that we really should not concede.

I have no bias against any of the players in the centre of defence, they are just not up to the standards we have been used to, first question I always ask myself is whether a player would get into any other Premier League team, Bednarek perhaps aside none of the four mentioned would.

It is rumoured that Mohammed Salisu will join the club within the week, but at 21 I am not sure that he is the answer to our problem, at least not yet, he doesn't have the experience that we need and until we get that , neither Bednarek or for that matter Stephens can truly prosper, both need a contrasting player alongside them.

So with the departure of Yoshida we had a gap for a new central defender, that will be filled by Salisu, but if we are to turn our bottom 3 back four into a top 8 one, then we need to replace Vestergaard with experience and leadership.

Some will point to our form since the restart and say that we do not have problem, but truth is those 9 games have still been riddled with defensive errors and lapses in concentration, in the first game against Norwich we could easily have been 2-0 down in the first 10 minutes due to poor marking, Arsenal say no more, Manchester City at home was a glorious rearguard action, but we kept a clean sheet because we threw ourselves in the way of shot after shot, it could have been much different as we still kept failing to clear the ball and leaving people unmarked, the stats for the City game were not much different to that game against Leicester in October, the only difference was spirit.

Both Brighton and Bournemouth could have punished us and Sheffield United could have been 3-0 up at half time but for several good saves from Alex McCarthy.

So let us not let some good results of late gloss over the season as a whole in the back four, I have said all season that each game would always be about whether we would get away with our defensive lapses or be punished, before the break we were punished more often after it we got away with it on far too many occasions for it to be just coincidence.

So we need two new central defenders, if we get them then both Bednarek and Stephens have a future at the club, but I think that for Jack Stephens he may find an opportunity in the midfield or in a back three than in a central duo.

Some say I have something against certain players, that is far from the truth, I want them all to succeed as that will see us move up the table, I just don't close my eyes to where and when we fail to reach the standards required either as a unit or individuals.

I have given my thoughts here in a reasoned way, if you feel I'm wrong then tell me why in the same manner, if you feel I am wrong to say that certain players would not get in any other Premier League team then tell me, I will point out the door at St Mary's that is in perfect condition due to a lack of other club's battering it down to sign our centre backs.

With regard to Leicester City wanting Vestergaard that is baffling, perhaps Brendon Rodgers is feeling guilty for the way he pillaged us back in 2014.

Photo: Action Images

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codge added 12:05 - Jul 30
Nick as for me l don’t think you could of said it better,Stephens would make a much better holding midfielder, he seems to drift in and out of games and when he does we get caught out.

SaintPaulVW added 12:54 - Jul 30
We certainly need one CB and if JV leaves, two.

It would be great to find another VVD or Fonte but most other teams are quite keen to find players of that ability too.

We conceded 8 goals in the last 9 games, some of those goals were goalkeeping errors, not blaming McCarthy because he played well and made far more magnificent saves as well, it happens. Some of them were great goals that deserve to be recognised as great attacking play, rather than written off as defensive errors.

Bednarek and Stephens should be given more credit for their performances. They played really well, have both improved and this should be recognised. Stephens even got a Man of the match award. They both earned their places in the team.

However if we can find better, like any professional sports team, we are going to make changes in this area.

Number_58 added 13:22 - Jul 30
Nick's had it in for Stephens ever since the League Cup final, but really went into overdrive after Hoedt fell out of favour and got farmed out. Most of us would agree that Stephens is far from perfect, but he had a great second half of the season and deserves a lot of credit, not that he will get any on this website of course. He fits in really well with our style of playing out from the back (we can only imagine what carnage would have ensued if Nick's favourite had been given as much of the ball). I just hope that the new lad won't be given such a hard time by Nick if he makes a couple of mistakes early in his Saints career.

schatfield added 13:42 - Jul 30
I think you may have some rose tinted specs on with Claus and Fonte. Claus was a nightmare of a defender and only had 1 ok-ish season with us. Some folk think he was great cos he stuck around, but more that no one else would never come in for him. Fonte had no pace at all, was often found hacking down an attacker and i forget how many penalties he gave away because of that.

I am pleased you are no longer saying we should have gone in for Cahill though; maybe you see how well the Palace defense has been this year. I think you still don't realise the Soton way though - we will buy Salisu because he is young and has the attributes we look for and can be molded in our way. This is what Southampton do. We do not buy older, experienced, more costly wage players, and I for one am fine with that. Yes, they will make mistakes along the way but we arent a top 6 club that can buy the finished product.

60yearsandcounting added 13:52 - Jul 30
The comments re JanVest are either absent or negative yet his stats are better than JanBad or JS!! He looks ungainly and lacks a yard (or 4!) in pace but he is effective. I saw a comment elsewhere that he can't head but in the last game he had the PL's highest number of headed clearances. Interceptions and tackles were highest of any other Saints defender. Errors are way lower too. (based on time played, not in total)
People just don't seem to like him.

SanMarco added 14:38 - Jul 30
I just watch him play 60yearsandcounting. Stats don't catch the lighning-fast Billy Sharp in a running race do they?

I think Nick is spot-on here. I would have liked to have seen the JS as holding-MF tried towards the end of the season. As always with these discussions it depends where we want to be. JB and JS with nothing much else is not a challenge-for-Europe scenario. Two decent CBs + those two and yes.

claus5 added 16:22 - Jul 30
Could not agree more Nick, not sure any of our cbs are good enough. Stephens and Vestagaard are far too slow and neither is good enough aerially. None of them can read the game, we get caught with the same ball game after game. Not really convinced by Bednerak either, but i think maybe be ok with a leader.

halftimeorange added 19:32 - Jul 30
I base my opinions on my confidence in the player. I have no confidence in Jannik at our level, little confidence in Jack (but, I agree about moving him to midfield) and a little confidence in Jan. Give me anyone of Toby, Jose or Virgil above those three, give me two and I'd be in heaven. In a really good side you need a good 'keeper, a commanding centre back, a playmaker and a goal scorer. Of the players we have, centre back is the one position we cannot begin to fill. Alex, Stuart and Danny are there or thereabouts but they can only paper over the central cracks.

ItchenNorth added 20:36 - Jul 30
As I've said previously; everyone has contrasting views on our centre backs, so that tell me it's a area we need to improve in.

kristianJ added 22:17 - Jul 30
A commendable effort to be a bit more balanced about our CBs. Whilst neither are perfect I would persevere with Jack and Jan B. They have slowly formed a decent partnership. Obviously they are not at the level of VVD or Toby, but those two were clearly two of the best CBs in the EPL. We are not going to buy or develop that sort of talent very often. I think a strategy of buying a talented youngster and seeing if he can break in to the team over the next 18 months seems reasonable to me. At least Jan B and Jack both have a good attitude, seem to want to improve and aren’t threatening to go on strike to force a move away.

St_Kevin added 09:34 - Jul 31
If we are looking for a center half that doesn’t make mistakes we will be looking for a long time, I’ve seen two of the most expensive cb make mistakes recently that led to goal. The experienced defender is not a guarantee look at Watford and Bournemouth both have defenders that are vastly experienced but still went down, our problem in defence is we have two cab with right feet and jan b has no left at all and before KWP came in jack has had 5 other right backs to contend with but since KWP has been in the team after lockdown it looks a lot more solid back there, as other posts have said Ralph is not going to bring in a 30 something and someone with a lot of experience does not come cheap in wages, not saying Salisu is the answer but with him being left footed it will be more balanced and with what I’ve read and watched he looks promising. As for Jack Stephens as a holding midfielder if he as poor at reading the game as you say he will have no chance in the holding roll

felly1 added 10:05 - Jul 31
Take out the Leicester defeat and our goals against is 13th best. Even if we had lost by 3 goals we'd still be 13th. One game has skewed the stats. I certainly don't think either Jan or Jack are world beaters and I'm all for bringing in a new guy to compete with them. I just feel you have unrealistic expectations probably brought about because we had the world's best centre back for a couple of seasons.

zonehead added 13:58 - Jul 31
In the Soccer manager game, I had JS and JB as centre backs and survived relegation by 1point, next season I spent 40 million on a 7 foot German stopper! We finished top half and won the league cup and are in Europe

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