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Are there still quality defenders in football?

AC Milan pair Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi were two of the best defenders ever to grace the game

The start of the Premier League has saw lots of thrills and spills.

More importantly the games so far this season have produced more goals than ever.

Is it the attackers getting better or the defenders getting worse?

Entertainment

At the end of the day football is entertainment. As spectators we go to watch goals and pieces of skill.

We don’t go to football to watch goal keepers keep clean sheets or defences staying tight.

Great

During my time as a football fan I have had the privileges of watching some truly great defenders. Watching Italian football in my youth I had the chance to observe the brilliant defensive displays of the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and more recently Alessandro Nesta.

In the English top flight the likes of Tony Adams, Paul McGrath and even the underrated United pair of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were great defenders. They may all have had different styles, but all very effective defenders in their own way.

Dying

I think the art of defending is a dying out. Ball-playing centre-backs like Rio Ferdinand and Ricardo Carvalho are coming to the end of their careers. These two were the new breed of ball playing centre-backs.

One of the few centre-backs in world football at the moment that could be considered in their mould is Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. The Spanish international has developed into a silky defender, but I don’t think he could be described as a great just yet.

Pique has had problems with injury and those problems could prevent him becoming a great defender. Pique is very much a ball-playing centre-back and partner at club and international level Carlos Puyol is the brawn, a perfect combination.

Problems

Even the current great Barcelona has had problems finding defenders good enough to go with the rest of their world-class team. The centre-back pairing of Pique and Puyol is arguably the best in European football, but both have endured injury problems in recent years.

Barcelona have tried to solve the problem of lack of defensive options by converting defensive midfielders Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano into centre-backs. This moved has produced mixed results.

The introduction of youngster of La Masia graduate Marc Bartra into the first team squad shows the dearth of quality centre-backs available.

The young defender has looked out of his depth and Barcelona have started to concede some sloppy goals without the axis of Pique and Puyol at the heart defence. Not the youngster fault maybe, but he doesn’t currently look good enough to play for the Spanish giants.

Clean

Teams in the Premier League have struggled to keep clean sheets this season. Champions Manchester City looked really solid last season, but this season have conceded goals at an alarming rate at home and abroad.

Arsenal and Chelsea have the most clean sheets this season in British top flight this season. Neither side is blessed with an abundance of world-class defenders. Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole has a good case for being the best left-back in the world.

Centre-back John Terry had previously been one of the most highly-rated defenders in European football. However, his form has dipped in recent seasons and controversy has blighted his form.

Brazilian ace David Luiz is a superb footballer, but anybody calling him a centre-back should be done under the trades description act. He just wanders where he likes, to call him a free spirit is an understatement.

The Arsenal backline is marshalled by Belgium centre-back Thomas Vermaelen, who has endured a nightmare week. However he is just about the most solid defender the Gunners have.

If he stays injury-free he could be a key to Arsenal keeping more clean sheets this season, if he can cut-out those errors from his game.

Youngsters

Manchester United have spent big attempting to find replacements for the aging Rio Ferdinand and backup for injury-prone Serbian Nemanja Vidic. United have brought in highly-rated youngsters Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in recent seasons.

Both have shown in flashes what they can do, but they both offer just promise. There is no guarantee that they will develop into world-class defenders.

Goals

The lack of defensive quality in the game has led to more exciting score lines and more goals. I would never complain about, but I am just left wondering if the art of defending is truly dead.

Are there still great defenders in football?

Fri 9 November, 2012
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