One of the things I picked up this weekend was the lack of defending on show by any of the teams I watched, notably the Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 derby on Sunday afternoon. My notes from the past weekend can be found below, as I assess what was an amazing couple of days for me personally as I visited Paris and took in PSG vs. Toulouse in Ligue 1 before an overnight coach back to Germany took me straight to Signal Iduna Park for the Revierderby. Making you jealous? Should be. Am I lucky? Yes. Am I sharing my thoughts with you as minor compensation? Also yes.
Defending is Dead
As a once mediocre, now simply ageing, centre-back I have always taken great interest in how team's defend. I believe it is one of the great shames of the game that players like Raphael Varane (22) is not revered half as much as any mediocre striker who tucks in the odd goal. There has, however, been a distinct decline in the quality of defending across the European leagues and arguably around the world in recent years. Gone are the days of Italian supremacy in that department; the best English teams still have major problems in defence; and the Clasico pairing regularly shell out millions on strikers when Barcelona in particular have been crying out for a new centre back for years.
As a result, defending is all but dead. PSG walked over Toulouse in the Parc des Princes, but they were very shaky defensively at times against a very average side. Dortmund could have had the game wrapped up against their local rivals but refused to defend properly against the counter attack (whilst Schalke didn't even bother defending corners). Teams are scared of being branded negative or boring but that has led to a footballing culture of accepting woeful defending; in my opinion, goals should be worked for. Where's Fabio Cannavaro when you need him? (*Spoiler: Being an awful TV pundit*)
Hummels isn't all that any more
It has been a while since Mats Hummels can seriously have been considered one of the best centre backs in the world. His passing and dribbling, once marvelled at, is no longer a threat; his defensive positioning seems to have become somewhat optional; and he often misses out on key challenges. Whilst he is still a key part of the Dortmund team, the idea that he is worth anything like £25 million to Manchester United is a bit out of date. In my opinion he isn't the best or the most promising defender even at Dortmund, let alone in the Bundesliga. Those slots belong to Papa Sokratis, the Greek centre back who (usually, Sunday's failings aside) is one of the most under-rated defenders playing in any major league at the moment, and Matthias Ginter, the central defender-turned-right back who has been a huge plus point for Thomas Tuchel since he took charge. Hummels is unquestionably still a good player, but I would question whether he can be considered Premier League worthy and his place in the Germany starting 11 must be under threat too.
Cavani: Please Cancel The Hype Train
The last thing I remember Edison Cavani doing was missing a one on one. The thing before that was a touch so bad he tackled himself; before that he missed another one on one, and before that he tripped over the ball. Luckily this was all in one game, a game his side won comfortably thanks to his team-mates ability to shoot straight. His numbers at Napoli were amazing, it has to be said, but ever since his big money move to France he has been living off his reputation. Compare his goal ratio in Ligue 1 with that of a truly world class player, Sergio Aguero, in a tougher league and it doesn't come close. Take out his time at Napoli and he really doesn't look much better than good-but-not-great Olivier Giroud. Add to that his regular failings on the Champions League stage and I really think it is time the media got excited about someone else.
Schalke Look Confused
Whilst Schalke were undoubtedly poor defensively I think there has to be a lot of questions asked generally about their play. The inquest has to be started with "Why is Franco di Santo (striker) playing right mid? Why is Sead Kolasinic (left back) playing holding midfield? Why is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (goalscorer) playing behind Leroy Sane (young, energetic star-in-the-making) whilst Max Meyer (playmaker) plays wide left? It all seemed very muddled and whilst they do have a number of injuries, suspensions and losses of form to contend with, the options were available. With Hojberg on the bench Kolasinac could have played left back; with Sane's pace out wide and Meyer's creativity through the middle they could have made the most of the space afforded to them by Ilkay Gundogan getting forward more. Whilst the attacking intent has to be applauded, given that they ended up playing 4-2-4 in the last 10 minutes, I think a clearer strategy will be needed in the coming weeks without midfield linchpin Johannas Geis.
So there you have it. Schalke look lost, Dortmund look impressive, defending is dead and the world needs to realise Cavani has stopped being the big thing in a big way. Hope you managed to catch some of the Revierderby on TV, the atmosphere in Dortmund was incredible. There will be plenty of content going up this week so make sure you keep an eye on editors @AliHaggis and @MilleniumFalk on twitter, as well as our official account @Freshgegenpress. We are also on Facebook!
Ali Haggis, Editor