Gary Neville talked about the different cultural beliefs of how a defence should defend on Monday Night Football. It opened my mind to a whole new method of defending. And it's got me wondering, with the current style of centre backs we have at Arsenal, should we adopt this approach?
The subject arose when talking about David Luiz. Luiz often comes hurtling out of defence to intercept a pass or close down a player on the edge of the box with effect. This is compared to the typically British way of defending by holding your line and letting the midfielders close down on the edge of the box while the defence maintain their position and stand strong a bit deeper, arguably a more composed way of defending.
However Luiz is an extreme example because he's too erratic. He takes the method too far in my opinion. He rushes out without methodology to an extent, it's too mad and out of control. Sometimes he'll end up trotting back from the opposition's penalty area and leaves his fellow defenders exposed and outnumbered. Steven Naismith's goal on Saturday was as a result of him trotting back to his position with no real urgency instead of sprinting back there to clear the ball. If he was in the typically British position he "should" be in according to us, Naismith wouldn't have scored. But then again his style of defending left Jelavic as ineffective for most of the game; he often rushed out to intercept from Jelavic with effect.
So it begs the question: which is the better style? The British style is habitual for us so it's more in our comfort zone but how often to England or defences filled with English defenders and/or tactics win World Cups and European cups? There have been a few European cup successes but internationally we haven't had much success throughout history. I think you choose it based on your style of players. If you have a defence like Dixon-Adams-Keown-Winterburn (all English) then you go with the British style because that's what we know and what we're best at. If you have foreign defenders (like Arsenal do nowadays) then you go with the style they've been brought up with.
I can't speak for each country or each culture but I can examine our defenders and come to the conclusion which style they're more suited to. Laurent Koscielny for instance has always looked more vulnerable when defending deeper. He was quite error prone in his first season at Arsenal and perhaps a big reason for his significant improvement is him been given license to defend more in "his way". Sometimes he's done it well but virtually all of his noteworthy errors have occurred when deep in his own box, when consigned to the British style of defending. Whereas one of his strengths has always been his reading of the game and intercepting the ball outside the penalty area; coming from deep to clear the ball from further away from the goal. The rushing out, foreign style being talked about. He likes to confront opposition players with the ball, not stand off them, and he does it to much greater effect than David Luiz. He's not too erratic so he shows that this method can work without it being out of control.
I think it'd work best when only one centre half does it other wise you'll leave too bigger gap in behind the defence. So Mertesacker would perhaps be his best partner as he is more suited to the British, hold your line style. Vermaelen is similar to Koscielny. All 3 are very good centre halves so its just a case of finding the right style for them, making sure they know what to do and how to defend in terms of which style to use.
So in my opinion, the best style to use is the one that suits your style of players more. However, despite my arguments for the style I'd choose to play with the British style when in and around your own box. But when the team is pushed further up the pitch, I'd use the foreign style with one defender (Koscielny) coming out to intercept it and clear the ball from higher up the pitch. What would make this style even better would be having a disciplined (so always stays back to protect the defence), tactically astute defensive midfielder who is very good positionally. That way he'd always be able to cover in for the pushing out centre back if he failed to win the ball and was left exposed. This style would also work very well when you're playing with a back three. It's like one defender often acts as a makeshift defensive midfielder and the other as a sweeper.
I think the British style around your own box is more reliable and has more of a team cohesion and understanding, so less confusion would occur. However it's always good to have a centre half like Koscielny who will not always just get into the back of the striker but will intercept it before he can get the ball. He's more a ball winner than a tackler and it suits us to have one and the other.
(Image source: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/04/12/article-2308222-19435C9C000005DC-663_634x444.jpg Accessed 17/9/13)