Centre-backs, like midfield and forward pairings, are partnerships, and good partnership needs to be developed over time to be a success.
Teams in general perform on a more consistent basis if the partnerships running through the spine of their team complement each other and work cohesively as a unit.
This is one of the reasons that over the years successful teams have generally had players settled in these important areas and even in the era of squad rotation, managers often look to stick with a settled pairing when possible.
Of course it’s not as simple or easy as just throwing two good players together as the players have to complement and accommodate each other by having strengths in some areas and being able to compensate for their partners’ weaknesses in others.
From Hansen and Lawrenson at Liverpool through to Bruce and Pallister, Vidic and Ferdinand at Manchester United and Terry and Carvalho at Chelsea, title winning sides have often been built from the back and when fit these players are first on the team sheet and rarely rotated. They are players who know their partners’ game and the team just doesn’t look the same when they are missing one or both of the pairing.
There are also teams who have managed to build excellent working partnerships from players who are not as rated as highly as those mentioned previously. Therefore it is not just a case of splashing out on the best players, or throwing money at a solution as Newcastle did in the case of Boumsong.
Southampton under Pochettino had Fonte and Lovren who looked very impressive as a pairing but when the partnership was broken, neither have seemed as convincing, particularly Lovren who Liverpool splashed out a lot of money on to solve their defensive problems.
Neil Dann and Roger Johnson were another pairing who impressed under Alex McLeish at Birmingham but both are players who struggled to replicate that form without their previous partner alongside them. There are also some managers such as Alex Ferguson and Tony Pulis who know what is required when building a solid partnership at the back and through good organisation, coaching and recruitment, seem to produce solid partnerships time and again in different eras and at different clubs.
I am really struggling to remember the last strong or even decent centre-back pairing Newcastle had. Even when Newcastle were a good side I am not sure we have ever really had a pairing at the back who could be considered a solid reliable pair who would be badly missed when not there.
We have had the occasional decent/good centre-back over the years and in my opinion Jonathan Woodgate was in this category, if he could have stayed fit he would have been elevated to an excellent centre-half but the simple fact is he couldn’t.
Instead of developing strong centre-back partnerships we have consistently paired together the occasional decent/good centre-half with a number of centre-backs who in my opinion fall into the Richard Dunne category.
Let me explain.
They obviously have talent and ability and all the attributes a good centre-half should have.
They are good in the dressing room and they wear their heart on their sleeve, popular among teammates through last ditch tackles and pats on the head after throwing their body on the line.
They also have some excellent games where everybody takes notice of them and praises their efforts and fans start to think we have a player on our hands here. However, sooner or later they make a mistake that costs their team goals and therefore points and as these mistakes become more regular they ultimately end up costing their team their premier league status.
These errors are often through own goals, sending offs, switching off at crucial times, mistimed tackles in the area or failing to pick up their man from a set piece. Many of the last ditch tackles that are applauded are down to poor positioning and an inability to read the game and position themselves correctly in the first place.
I think we all know where I am heading with this. Peacock, Dabizas, Bramble, Boumsong, Steven Taylor, Williamson, for me all fall into this category. As a team, Newcastle has never been able to rely on a solid centre back pairing to get through games when they are up against it.
Unfortunately, our current skipper has now definitely moved from what I would call the decent/good centre-back category to the Richard Dunne category, many would say he switched some time ago and it would be hard to disagree.
I believe after his performances this season that there can be no doubt whatsoever now (Manchester United aside, but what did we say about some excellent games) and a tough decision needs to be made by the manager and his staff. This decision is made harder of course by the club’s ridiculous decision in the summer to renew his contract and name him captain for another season, despite him being woefully short of ability and leadership last season.
The club talk of a long-term view to improving the squad over the next few windows, well surely that means they are going to attempt to bring in some players in January and I would be amazed if high on the agenda is not a top draw centre half.
Steven Taylor is injured again and Mike Williamson has now been allowed to join Wolves on loan, at his age this spells the end of his time at Newcastle. So that leaves Mbemba, Coloccini, Dummett and Lascelles as centre-half options.
I have been impressed with Mbemba and he is a young recent signing and I believe he needs a good run in the team to get to know the league and develop as a centre-half. In January there is no point in going out and finding a centre-half who will be 3rd choice behind Coloccini and Mbemba, as surely alarm bells are ringing about Newcastle’s dreadful defensive record over the past year.
The only option is to find a Coloccini replacement that is a first choice player. The player needs to have the skills and attributes to complement Mbemba in a central defensive partnership that can be built and improved on over the next few seasons.
I know who I would like, one of two British centre halves currently playing in the premier league but unfortunately they are both over 26 years of age and our club has little chance of attracting these players anymore, even if they come from clubs such as Stoke or Swansea.
We therefore need to give either Lascelles or Dummett a chance to partner Mbemba until the January transfer window opens and look to strengthen then. You never know, we may just fortunately stumble across or discover a new central defensive partnership that works but surely it can’t be any worse than the defending and the mistakes we are seeing now.
Coloccini is also the captain and if dropped, then changes will also need to be made in this area, which is shambolic considering our vice-captain (Siem de Jong) is never on the field.
Why not just draw a line under the whole situation now and hand the armband permanently to Wijnaldum instead of waiting until January. The lad captained PSV to the title last year, has shown he is a quality first choice player and has also stepped up this season when we have needed him, sounds like captain material to me.
Make these changes now Steve and the season may just turn around before it’s too late.
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