Anyone who follows American Sports will know that defence wins championships.
That’s been the thinking across the Atlantic for an eternity, and one which rings true in pretty much every team sport you could imagine.
In the NFL, it’s the quarterback that gets the big bucks, the offensive playmakers who get paid to put points on the board. However, any general manager worth his salt will tell you that games are won and lost in defence, and your ability to stop the best opposition players.
Whilst the game is different, the same philosophy is easily applied to football.
A look at the five top European leagues shows that two of the four winners conceded the least goals. Montpellier, who need a point on the final day of their season in France, are also likely to have the least goals against in the campaign when their campaign concludes over the weekend.
Manchester City let in just 29 all season, with a core at the back built through stability in the shape of Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart. The fact the league was won on goal difference shows how tight things were at the top, and letting in the least goals more than helped Roberto Mancini’s men to the title.
In Italy, Juventus built their phenomenal season on defensive values, conceding just 20 goals in total over a 38 game season. No team managed less than 20 away from home, let alone in the whole campaign.
And then there is Montpellier, the surprise package in France who have also got a defence to thank for their incredible run to the top of Ligue 1. Whilst Olivier Giroud steals the headlines, it’s only 33 goals conceded which is the telling stat.
Spain’s winners, Real Madrid, and Germany’s title-holders, Borussia Dortmund, both came second in the goals against charts in their respective leagues.
The point is simple: get the defensive side of the game right before adding to the attack.
That’s something Manchester United appear to have right, and club captain Nemanja Vidic is well aware that competition is going to be fierce next season.
“Jonny [Evans] has had a great year. I think Chris [Smalling] as well, before he got injured, is looking for that position as central defender. Rio [Ferdinand] is fit after a long time and was fit for so many games so we now have really big competition next year,” the Serbian defender told the official Manchester United site.
The Red Devils have the weapons in attack to make their mark on any team, with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia all capable of making an impact at any given moment.
Vulnerability at the back was an Achilles heel, particularly in the early part of the season as David De Gea, Phil Jones and Smalling got used to life at Old Trafford and expectation that comes with playing for United.
But, after a season learning the ropes in the thick of the action, United’s defensive youngsters are well placed to make an even bigger impact next season.
"I don't mind that. I don't think any player minds that,” replied the skipper when asked about having to fight for his place in the side.
“It makes you train harder, play better and obviously we have so many games during the season that we need good players."
It can only be a good thing when the club captain is forced to fight for his place in the starting line-up. That said, stability can often be the key to a good defence, and is an issue that United struggled with last season through injury.
When fully fit, the club’s back four could consist of Jones, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra, with Smalling, the Da Silva brothers and Jonny Evans also fighting for places in the starting line-up.
That’s certainly a platform that any side could build upon in their quest for silverware, and Sir Alex Ferguson will be particularly hungry after the way it was snatched away from the red half of Mancheter last weekend.
Whilst the headlines might belong to Rooney & Co, it’s Vidic and his band of defensive brothers who will win or lose the title for United next season.
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