Nothing wrong with a deep defence

by   |   02/12/2022  18 Comments  [Jump to last]

In the past couple of days, I have very much enjoyed watching Japan and Cameroon play a deep defensive game against the apparent might of Spain and Brazil respectively at the World Cup in Qatar.  In the first half of each game, they both seemed to be completely outclassed despite the close scorelines. Certainly, if commentator hyperbole was to be believed, the floodgates would open at any point.   

However, in each case, the underdogs kept a very disciplined tactical shape, defended deep and bided their time.  The opposition had the ball but failed to use it.  Dominance was superficial. They were not outclassing the opposition, they were just out-passing the opposition in non-threatening areas of the pitch.

Spain passed endlessly but took no shots and never bothered with a set-piece.  They barely had any penetration at all. Brazil, like Everton, used inverted wingers – who constantly turned back onto their stronger foot rather than drive for the by-line. Both want to shoot rather than cross.  Consequently, very few crosses came in and almost none from dangerous angles.   

The thing that turned each game was athleticism, pace, determination and aggression on the counter-attack.  The deep defence lured the opposition in, and nicking the ball becomes the opportunity to break at speed. 

It was a pretty poor Cameroon side too compared with previous tournaments but the youngster Wooh, of Cameroon and Rennes, was excellent and didn’t give Jesus a sniff.  Anguissa, once of Fulham, was very dominant in midfield ahead of him.  But really it was the tactics, discipline and physicality of the Cameroonians that won the match. 

By comparison, I watch Everton with a deep defence and a completely open, undisciplined shape in midfield.  I’m not even sure what our attacking strategy or shape really is.  There is certainly no coordinated break at speed.  It’s all very haphazard.

I know tournament football is different and, over the course of a Premier League season, quality counts.  But it is the same game and similar principles apply.  Brentford got a win at Man City by playing a similar game to the World Cup underdogs. 

It's a good reminder really that the general moans and groans about a deep defence (mine included) can be unfounded.  Although speedier more mobile centre-halves do help, our main problem is the combination of a deep defence with a toothless attack (and a midfield seemingly yet to decide what it's supposed to be doing).  

Hopefully Lampard is taking notes and figuring out an approach that allows a still badly assembled squad to come together as better than the sum of its parts.  Hopefully Thelwell is sorting out one or two reinforcements that will allow us to break at pace and score goals again.  Whatever the case, Coady and Tarkowski can only play deep so we'd better somehow turn that to our advantage.

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Reader Comments (18)

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Danny O’Neill
1 Posted 03/12/2022 at 11:30:35
As a well-documented promoter of playing higher up the pitch and in the opposition half, I don't mind offering opinion on this, Robert.

Deep defending worries me because you are testing the laws of average. I couldn't watch some of those Moyes teams and even Ancelotti, once he realised the tools available, had to revert to it. We are doing it now.

If I take an objective view, this is the problem. Under Ancelotti, I kept banging the "We need better players" drum.

Undoing the mistakes of several years of neglect in terms of squad investment, irrational spending with no plan or strategy, and firing countless managers to try again, has harmed us. Meanwhile, those decision-makers are still in place, looking down from the stands… looking at the next sacrificial lamb.

Back to your point and taking my personal opinion away from it. Defend deep or play a high line?

It wouldn't matter too much as long as the team plays as a unit. Defend as a unit. Move forward and attack as a unit. Don't leave a sole striker isolated with big gaps between defence and midfield or midfield and attack.

Man City are a great example. They are content playing a deep and patient game, stroking it around at the back with the goalkeeper a virtual sweeper. But when they decide to go forward, they do so with intent and meaningful purpose. And as a unit. The entire team pushes up the pitch.

My simple view.

Duncan McDine
2 Posted 03/12/2022 at 16:04:11
It won’t please the US based ToffeeWeb regulars, but Netherlands are playing this tactic beautifully (when did we stop calling them Holland btw?). I know it won’t catch they eye of Danny, our resident low-block-phobic, but I personally love to see well executed counter attacking football. It’s only possible with blistering pace and quality up top…. When Leicester won the league, they absolutely mastered it.
Robert Tressell
3 Posted 03/12/2022 at 16:21:18
It's an interesting game Netherlands v USA, Duncan. But yes, the Dutch are controlling the game from their deep defensive position. It's nullifying the USA's high energy runners, because there's no space to run into.
Duncan McDine
4 Posted 03/12/2022 at 16:28:59
Oddly enough, Netherlands have pushed higher up the pitch this 2nd half and it seemed to benefit USA.
Dupont Koo
5 Posted 05/12/2022 at 00:46:29
Thank you Robert. Your piece led me to recall the Centre Back pairings that Moyes had to rely on almost 20 years ago: Stubbs & Weir. While they were ripped to parts in some unfavoured match-ups (I remembered one game at White Hart Lane where they were toyed and shredded to pieces by Jermaine Defoe's pace), they were solid in the air and helped organise the defence (with Nigel Martyn).

Moyes had to play really deep with them due to their lack of pace, and not until he had Yobo & Lescott as well as Jags & Distin that he could afford to start pressing teams at the front, play a higher line and a more adventurous style.

Joe McMahon
6 Posted 05/12/2022 at 08:56:08

Jermaine Defoe was very underated though. Something like 160 Premier League goals.

John Raftery
7 Posted 05/12/2022 at 09:41:20
Successful managers set their team up according to the talent they have available and taking account of opposition strengths and weaknesses. Deep defence is sometimes viewed as cowardice, a notion which makes me laugh.

I think Danny is right that whatever a team is trying to do it must do it as a unit; stay compact and when the opportunity arises be ready to exploit gaps left by opponents.

One of our problems in recent weeks has been the retention of a 4-3-3 with two wide forwards either side of a central attacker. This set-up in a team lacking pace at the back and control in midfield is in my view the worst of all worlds. We are too predictable with the ball and thus easy to defend against and too open without the ball and thus easy to counterattack.

I also thought in the two games at Bournemouth the players themselves no longer believed the set-up could be made to work.

Danny O’Neill
8 Posted 05/12/2022 at 10:09:22
Thanks for the Bournemouth reminders John.

Two very long, sad and painful trips.

But your point about us being wide open was made all too obvious. Yet we went and done the same thing against the same team in the space of 4 days and practically ended up with the same result on both occasions.

It goes back to the point. What is available? Then what is the best system to make those available most effective.

Until we can get the players to make it more palatable and easy on the eye and exciting to watch.

Robert Tressell
9 Posted 05/12/2022 at 12:30:15
I don't see the formation as being too much of an issue. More the type of players we have available.

We seem to need a midfielder who sits and conducts the side from a deep position. Needs to be good technically, intelligent and a good long and short passer.

Unfortunately we just seem to have runners rather than passers – unless you count Iwobi but he seems poorly suited to a deep midfield role. Allan wasn't great but he did this much better than Gueye. Garner may become this player so it's a shame he's injured.

We also need fast mobile versatile forwards like Gakpo and Depay for the deep-defending Dutch, who are not really strikers. But both have the right physical attributes for counter-attacking and excellent technique too. Maupay can't do this on his own.

It comes down to finding a first XI of players who complement each other – and then to play as a unit.

Tony Abrahams
10 Posted 05/12/2022 at 13:56:41
Lampard has got to simplify us Robert, otherwise he simply won’t stay in his job. Look at England last night, the class was provided by Bellingham, Foden and Kane, but the glue was provided by Henderson and Rice, imo.

Watching Everton’s midfield this season, there is no glue, but three players, who all seem to have different roles, and are often miles away from each other, and this has become a massive problem recently?

How does Lampard change this. 4-4-2, with two very disciplined central midfield players who mainly sit? 3-5-2, if he can find a left sided wingback? or 4-5-1, in a system, that closes all the gaps, and makes us very hard to play against?

I’d go with hard to play against, because recently we have been the complete opposite, and look to be a team, without any real thought.

Robert Tressell
11 Posted 05/12/2022 at 18:34:08
Tony, my concern with Lampard is that he had a good group of players at Chelsea but they looked hopeless as a defensive unit. Even with the experience of Tiago Silva they were wide open.

If we are to simplify it and even go 4-4-2 as you suggest, then it strongly suggests that we should have hired Dyche instead of Lampard.

The optimist in me says Lampard can do it, especially with a couple of forwards in Jan, but he's learning on the job and making plenty of mistakes along the way.

Tony Abrahams
12 Posted 07/12/2022 at 12:47:57
He’s got to start learning quicker, Robert, otherwise he’s not going to make the grade.

I haven’t outright suggested 4-4-2, Robert, but definitely believe he’s got to simplify it though. Our midfielders are just not complimenting each other, and this is why a lot of gaps have suddenly started appearing all over the park, imo, mate.

I’d go for a formation that I don’t really know that much about, if I’m being honest, Robert, but only if we can go and find a good left-wingback.

Mykolenko and Godfrey can both play full-back but are better defensively than going forward (there is actually a question mark if this is true in Godfrey’s case?), so I’d play them either side of Coady or Tarkowski.

Patterson looks like he’s a natural athlete, which is very important if you’re going to have to play wingback, but we would still need one on the left, although I’m certain this would give us a good defensive balance if we could find someone.

I choose this formation, even though it’s frowned upon by many, just so we could get three players playing together across the midfield, and also because I believe both Gordon and Gray might be better floating and playing off a centre-forward rather than being stuck out wide.

Again, it’s all about the midfield because I personally sit there totally bemused when Iwobi goes pressing like a lunatic and nobody else follows him, and suddenly the gaps start appearing everywhere!

Danny O’Neill
13 Posted 07/12/2022 at 13:06:13
I'm not going to over-analyse your post, Tony, because your last paragraph makes total sense.

Move up the pitch together as a unit. Drop back as a unit. Mind the gaps.

Tony Abrahams
14 Posted 07/12/2022 at 13:28:22
It's badly wrong if you've got one of your midfielders pressing so high, higher than both Gordon and Gray on a regular basis, Danny.

Although he gets a lot of praise for his massively improved performances, I often think Iwobi is breaking rank and this is leaving us very exposed.

Tony Everan
15 Posted 07/12/2022 at 23:17:44
I would say definitely the 451 /433 combo, the problem is that for 90% of the time we haven’t got the “1” in the 451. If we can sign a goal scorer player who can hold the ball up and distribute it back to midfield or wide we will give ourselves the best chance. With DCLs continuing fragility we just have to sign this player, the best we can get.

I don’t want to mention Lukaku after his bovine banjo performance. But still , after he came on Belgium had a presence up front, the defenders bounced off him and he could just about shield the ball and get it to a Belgian midfielder. The team is then in possession and in the ascendancy.

This one player in this crucial position will change the dynamics of a team. Playing Maupay there is madness, nothing sticks and there is no respite for the midfield as the ball never stops coming back.

If we’ve got any money this is where it needs spending and if we’re skint, go and beg, borrow or steal. I’m expecting Thelwell to be all over it.

Don Alexander
16 Posted 07/12/2022 at 23:35:08
Question - in which of the past three decades was this insightful thread published?
Jim Wilson
17 Posted 11/12/2022 at 00:21:44
I think Allan and Gueye together would have been a good partnership. Allan should not have been sold.
Jerome Shields
18 Posted 20/12/2022 at 01:22:23
I don't think the deep defence in Everton's case is manager- or coach-led. The objective is to play higher up the pitch but, with the players and the attitude of the team, the default position results in a deep defence.

If defenders prefer to sit deep for fear of getting caught for pace, if supporting wing attacking defenders are able to be pressed into a back five, if midfielders are pushed deeper and pressured into loss of possession, if forwards are not effective running into position, holding the ball up, or interplay is non existent, if there is no attacking threat, then you will have a deeper defence, as space is surrendered to the opposition.

Errors just compound the situation. But the main ingredient is being a yard short due to poor application at training and preparation.

All-in-all, it just perpetuates defeat.
Everton are deservedly hammered, and will be in the Premier League, as a result.

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