Video Analysis: The case for a leftie in Town’s defence
With Rafa Branco injured and Swindon’s defence looking thin, Lee Power needs to find a new centre back but it can’t just be any old stopper, writes Alex Cooke
Swindon rely on their central defenders, not just to stop goals, but also to create them. They have to, so often do they face a packed defence.
Within Luke Williams’ 3-5-2, they are frequently the ‘spare men’, the men who have the time and space to make the first forward pass – the crucial forward pass that breaks the opponent’s line.
It isn’t a complicated pass in itself – straight, hard and into a wide midfielder’s feet – but it is vital and frequent. The important element is that after the ball has been moved across the back-line, and so one of Town’s centre backs will have the ball without having anyone closing them down.
If positioned correctly, they will also have in it a very useful area – not quite in the centre, not so wide that the touchline becomes a limitation. Then, if the right runs are made ahead of them, they are free to pass either to a midfielder, a retreating forward ‘rotating’ into the space or the advancing wing-back. It is a widely used method of creating chances by ‘overloading’ one side of the pitch, the ‘strong side’ before switching the play.
The problem is that an old-school defender; a giant who heads or kicks away anything that comes into the box, can struggle to make this first pass. Without the ability to control the ball quickly, or move and pass under pressure, they also heap the pressure on the other defenders.
So they become a risk defensively, making the team easy to press, and stop Swindon being able to create through others. Much like Adam El-Abd did when he was asked to play the ball with his wrong foot.
To improve the chance of creating a really good chance, it helps if Town have completed a period of passing across the back before the defender has the ball. If they have moved the ball around at the back then the opponent will have shuffled across the pitch to cover the flank. They might have even pulled a midfielder forward to press.
This can leave Town’s wing-back with a huge space to move into. This can be seen very clearly in the second part of the video when Branco’s simple cross-field pass gives Jordan Turnbull as pass straight through the opposition’s midfield and create a great chance.
As the ball is moved across the pitch, the opposition also shuffle across, in particular their full-back and wider midfielder. As a result gaps start to appear just inside this covering pair. This allows for a simple pass to Town’s attacking midfielder on the ‘weak side’ of the opposition.
To help to play these passes quickly the defender should have their strongest foot nearest the touchline. To have them the other way around not only forces them to play in-field passes, it also makes them easier to press.
This is because any forward running from the middle of the pitch to close the wrong-footed defender down does so right where they would be looking to pass the ball. Whereas a left-footed defender on the left (or right footed on the right) can naturally take the ball across their body and be able to play away on their stronger foot.
A left-footed ball-passing defender, who is happy to move into wide spaces to play and defend there isn’t easy to get. And so far, Town seem to have struggled to find one who isn’t Jordan Turnbull, even on trial. However, not having one will hamper their ability to create as well as defend.