In my customary online trip to scavenge clips of Monday Night Football in youtube, I noticed an interesting discussion between Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, regarding the style of Chelsea’s David Luiz as a central defender.
In Contrast to the “conventional” way of defending, in which the back four operate primarily as a single-structured unit, the new kind of defenders including David Luiz opt to charge upward and make daring tackles and interceptions. What comes to my mind is how this charging defenders could offer in terms of counter-attacking football. The fact that this type of players is becoming an issue in MNF (particularly with Carragher, who had been playing in the Premier League until recently) implies that a good number of players in the PL are still unfamiliar with the concept of charging defenders, leaving them susceptible to losing possession when they least expect it. Given that the defender has the ability to time, pace, and tackle the ball accurately, the presence of these charging defenders would bring opportunities to catch the opponents off-guard in the middle of their build-ups, while adding numerical advantage to the number of players in the final third.
Watch this conversation between Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher before reading further
However, I do agree with Jamie’s opinion that these charging defenders are difficult to work with as a team, for once they charge forward, they leave a gaping hole in your area that the opponent attackers could take full advantage of. If the opponent has a player with the experience and the ability to see those holes, or if the charging defenders fail to communicate with the players ahead of him (as was the case in the clip), it becomes extremely hard for the remaining defenders to cover up the space exposed. You see how frustrated Jamie seems to be when talking about the bombarding Jose Enrique, or how Andre Santos fell out of Arsene Wenger’s favor after charging forward every so often – if charging full-backs are considered so risky and hard to work with amongst the defenders, think of how much risk the charging central defenders are giving to their mates!
So, how exactly are this type of players utilitzed in the PL? We’ll look at how David Luiz is positioned and played in Jose Mourinho’s regime.
<Heat Map of David Luiz>
Although David Luiz has been deployed on paper as a “Midfielder”, his positions and work range, especially against Manchester United last week, was similar to those when he was played as a central defender. Looking at his heat maps against Liverpool, Hull, and Man Utd., his operating areas are shifting more and more to the back. From this, it could be argued that Mourinho is operating a system similar to a 3-back (or a 5-back), with Luiz given the license to bomb forward in appropriate occasions. By adding another solid, conventional defender Gary Cahill, Mourinho’s aim seems to lower the risk of utilizing a charging defender, while preserving the offensive and counter-attacking opportunities the position may provide. It should be noted that this may be one of the reasons that Mourinho is asking defensive contributions from the attackers, since the Luiz’s position as a defender may place burden on Ramires as well in providing cover in the middle ground. This may also has contributed to Mourinho’s preference towards Oscar over Mata throughout this season, or his signing of a defensive midfielder, Nemanja Matic, this winter transfer market.
<Heat Map of Phil Jones>
In addition to Luiz, let’s observe the recent plays of another defender with tendency to charge up forward, in the name of Phil Jones. Although similar to those of Luiz at the first glance, Jones’ operating area has been shifting more and more to the front through games against Newcastle, West Ham, and Chelsea. Furthermore, he seems to restrain himself from bombing forward when he is deployed in the central defender position. This seems to indicate that Jones is playing a more “conventional” role than Luiz. Whether this stems from the intentions of David Moyes or Jones’ wish to show himself as a “solid” defender is uncertain, for Jones has expressed in interviews his preference to play as a central defender. Nevertheless, this may be another, more applicable way to utilize the charging defenders – as a utility player.
<Heat Map of Gerard Pique>