Back in May I wrote about how this summer’s most important area for improvement was defence. It was not a controversial topic; everyone knew it to be true.
Last season we conceded 63 goals, the second most in the league behind last place QPR.
The season before that we conceded 59, the sixth worst defence in the league.
It is clear to say that this has been by far our weak spot for decades though. It’s not surprising with the perennial underinvestment in the backline that we’ve had, recently in particular.
So what have we done this window to improve our back line?
We’ve bought Chancel Mbemba, a 20-year old defender from the Belgian Jupiler League. We’ve also had Jamaal Lascelles return from his loan to Championship club Nottingham Forest, where he struggled to hold down a place in the starting 11.
Mbemba thankfully appears to have been an excellent acquisition, but it leaves us relying on a still unproven centre half and Coloccini, who needs to regain form he has rarely shown in the last two years.
After that we have the perennial radge packet that is Steven Taylor and the ridiculously poor Mike Williamson. At right-back we have a good player in Daryl Janmaat, but no second option. At left back Haidara, who is very suspect defensively and Paul Dummett who is injured for the foreseeable.
There was an obvious need for greater investment in the defence but the opportunity was missed and the NUFC fans get fed lies about there not being a single centre-half as good as Coloccini available. Don’t buy someone, fine, but don’t treat us like idiots.
I am sure some will point out that so far this season our defence hasn’t look awful and they would be right, given we’ve spent half the time with 10 men, 5 goals in 4 games is not too bad.
However, I would counter that by pointing out we’ve spent every game playing two midfielders sitting in front of the back four (Anita & Colback) and a box-to-box midfielder in front of them (Wijnaldum). This is a very defensive set up in midfield and a good part of the reason why we’ve managed just 6 shots on target in the first four league matches.
McClaren is clearly having to make up for our defensive frailty by setting up with an overly defensive line-up.
We should be playing Wijnaldum alongside either Anita or Colback and have someone like de Jong or Perez playing off the striker, but McClaren can’t do that due to the poor state of the back four.
If we just need to survive through to January when we can add some defensive quality, then, with a bit of luck on the injury front, it wouldn’t be too bad.
However, the club has stated on numerous occasions that they don’t like to do business in January due to the ‘lack of value’. So the likelihood is that these are our defensive options for the season.
Can you see a top 8 place with our defence?
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