Premier League: Defensive stability key to regaining European success
Manchester United & Chelsea have both proved defence is key for success in Europe over years gone by
When Manchester United lost in Rome to a Barcelona side graced with unparalleled talent in the Champions League final of 2009 - it was the beginning of a new era in English football.
It should have been a second consecutive all-English final had Chelsea not failed to see-off Barcelona at Stamford Bridge as well as a few dodgy refereeing decisions not going their way.
What followed United's loss was a desire amongst English football fans to see our teams emulate the Catalan side by playing what many would perceive to be 'beautiful football'.
Why did we want this? After all there is no second Messi, Xavi or Iniesta in the Barclays Premier League to create a side in the image of Barcelona. We should have accepted they were, along with the Spanish national side, a one-off team that could not be matched for midfield and attacking talent and therefore appreciated the style of football that has this year seen Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund dominate Europe.
In their prime there were no better defenders in European football than the likes of Nemanja Vidic, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Sami Hypia. Today the Bundesliga sides are thriving on possessing a great defensive line.
This trend can be seen beyond the finalists of this years top European competition. Juventus have proved in recent seasons that regardless of the class they possess in midfield, their side is built on passionate and competitive defending from the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnuci, who achieved a league-best of 18 clean sheets in Serie A this season.
Currently, Europe's top sides are notable in their ability to transition quickly between defence and attack. Ex Bayern Munich and Chelsea star Michael Ballack mentioned this in Sky's coverage of the semi-final between his old side and Barcelona saying that Bayern, in the first leg, were transitioning more quickly than the side we associate with playing the best football.
After all, these teams still have the ability to score goals. Bayern notably putting seven past Barcelona without reply and Dortmund comfortably winning their tie with Real Madrid by scoring four goals in the first leg. If this doesn't prove that defending is just as important as attacking prowess then what does? Yes. The great Barcelona conceded seven goals in two games. It's not astounding it's just the result of having a weak defence.
Great teams have always been built from the back and it's no surprise to see Barcelona fall so short of the sides dominating Europe this season.
Javier Mascherano, a midfielder turned centre-back after leaving Liverpool is the epitome of this disregard for the importance of defending. 'Real' tough-tackling giants like Mats Hummels and Daniel Van Buyten have turned their respective teams defences into impenetrable forces through solidarity and organisation.
Now the dominance of Barcelona in Europe has faltered after emphatic losses on the Champions League stage to teams who take pride in defending; it's time English football fans realised this era is over and that the path back to European success for our top sides starts at the back.
Only then will our dominant forces be able to compete with the likes of Bayern and Dortmund who are proving that great goals can be scored and possession can be retained through battling and good movement but more importantly beautiful football is pointless if you can't make it a struggle for your opponent to break through a solid back-line.
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