There is a lot more to the art of defending in the modern game with centre-backs expected to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, willing to build attacks as well as having the responsibility to maintain high lines to help the rest of the team press.
Manchester United conceded 18 goals from set-pieces last season and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to address his side’s problems at the back this summer.
Nobody expected Raphael Varane, but he was the man to come in and partner Harry Maguire for the coming campaign. An almighty surprise!
However, we have yet to see United’s new defensive pairing in action, with Victor Lindelof starting the first two games of the season alongside Maguire, making it difficult to say whether we are better defensively than we were last season.
Betway Insider sat down with the former United star Gary Pallister, who won four league titles during his time at Old Trafford, to discuss the art of defending in the modern game. This is a centre-half who was comfortable with the ball at his feet, but he felt hampered by poor playing conditions.
“A lot of the issues were to do with the pitches,” he said.
“If you look at the pitches I played on in the early part of my career, they looked like rugby pitches. Nowadays they’re like bowling greens and you can take more risks if you trust the pitch.”
Of course, in the 90s, most teams would line up with two strikers. These days you see teams playing with a false nine or a trio of interchanging attackers – like what Solskjaer is trying to build with his current United side.
Defenders had to prepare for more physical battles back when referees were less lenient towards attacking players.
“In the early part of my career you’d get a lot of centre forwards who were pretty robust,” Pallister continued.
“You think about some of them – Mick Harford and John Fashanu, for example. It was the job of these guys to mess with the centre half and intimidate them.
“Physically, you’d have to be up to that kind of challenge, and it was something that I found hard when I first started in football because I was very slight.
“You got pushed around by some of these bigger guys and it’s something that I had to try and learn to deal with. That included weights and maybe a few glasses of Guinness to try and beef myself up.”
Also interviewed by Betway was fellow former United defender, Mikel Silvestre, who also won four league titles during his time at United – between 2000 and 2007. Although he believes playing today “wouldn’t be a problem” for him, he thinks it’s become harder for defenders to flourish.
“The game is not in their favour,” Silvestre said. “Some people would go as far as saying the art of defending is gone.”