Defensive cohesiveness key to taking the title

Published Jan. 17, 2011 9:53 a.m. ET

It’s a long held belief that defense wins titles, while attacking teams win nothing but admirers.

That being the case, might it not be time to call in the engraver and have him begin carving on the Barclay’s Premier League trophy, the name Manchester...?

The three London clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham might have an argument with me but from where I’m sitting right now, the central defensive units of United and City will ultimately decide where the title will eventually reside in May.

At the Emirates, Arsene Wenger, has all but staked his managerial career on Laurent Koscielny and Sebastian Squillaci. Why the Professor would risk it all on this pair boggles my mind, when I consider his intelligence and experience in football. Inconsistency and confidence seemingly plague this duo, which explains why they can look the part one week while resembling clowns the following Saturday. With Thomas Vermaelen constantly injured, Wenger must part with some hard earned cash and buy quality. He knows that we know that he knows.

Chelsea can boast John Terry but I think we all realize that he’s probably seen his best days. With Alex injured for the past two months, Terry has had to rely on assorted full-backs to come and do a man’s job. Look, I like Branislav Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira but they are not going to win you titles. They might grab you some points at home to the likes of Blackburn but that is as far as they’ll take you. Carlo Ancelotti is in the same position as Wenger, in that he needs money to reinforce the most crucial area of the team. He’ll be going cap-in-hand to Roman Abramovich and hoping for one last spending spree.

There is no doubt that William Gallas and Michael Dawson have improved as a pair despite the fact that Dawson missed three months through injury. If you were gambling on winning the title though, would you back them? Hmmm, the silence is deafening. I just have a feeling that ultimately they’re just short of what is required. Gallas is a little long in the tooth, while Dawson is a step short of the required pace. Harry Redknapp does have the luxury of cover which only City can boast but for my money the Spurs get found wanting too many times.

So what of United and City? What have they got down the middle?


Statistically speaking, they’re both as good as each other, having conceded a league low of just nineteen goals each (City have played two more matches though). In terms of experience though, they are further apart than the short distance that separates Old Trafford and the City of Manchester Stadium (3.99 miles if you’re wondering).

When Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are 100% fit, they are the best central partnership I’ve seen in English football and I’ve seen them all. Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson for Liverpool, Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd for Nottingham Forest, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister for United and more recently Terry and Ricardo Carvalho with Chelsea all dominated but they weren’t as good as these two.

At 29, Vidic is in his prime for this position. Blessed with aggression, bravery and the qualities of leadership, he is the perfect foil for Ferdinand whose artistry on the ball gives the required balance to this partnership. They’ve been paired together 14 times in the league this season and United have lost none, giving up a paltry nine goals.

I think all Red Devils' fans, and maybe even Sir Alex Ferguson, will agree that the team does not look as solid when Johnny Evans, John O’Shea, Wes Brown or Chris Smalling are forced to deputize.

At least Ferguson knows his top pairing though, because for Roberto Mancini it is still a work in progress.

Vincent Kompany is clearly his number one choice and to be fair he’d be mine as well. The 24-year-old Belgian has adapted superbly to Premiership football after signing for Mark Hughes, but whom will he build up the rapport that is the cornerstone of every great team.

Kolo Toure won trophies with Arsenal but Wenger rarely makes selling mistakes (just buying). In a way, the Ivory Coast defender reminds me of a slightly younger Gallas. Good, not exceptional. The other established center back, Joleon Lescott has been pretty much a bust and has struggled to recapture the form that made him indispensable for Everton. Maybe the price tag has weighed him down but he is unrecognizable from the beast that owned Goodison Park. Ultimately though, Mancini knows that this is the area that has to gel if he is to reach the Promised Land.

As we enter the stretch run of the season, look out for all these pairings because they will tell the tale of your team. Strikers may get the goals, the glory and the birds but at the end of the day the managers and fans know where the game is really won. In defense.