It seems, reading what various people are saying, that central defenders may be one of the harder positions to assess. Certainly for the average football watcher, it’s probably nigh on impossible, as one tends to only notice them when they make huge tackles or huge mistakes. I’m inclined to believe that it’s possible, purely because I refuse to believe that it’s IMpossible if nothing else.
This links quite nicely to a slight interest I’ve had in Jason Denayer, prompted by some worry about Manchester City’s youth system and having been unimpressed by him when I watched their pre-season friendly against Real Madrid.
Having watched him in that match, an SPL game against Dundee United, and for Belgium against France. He looks classy… when not under pressure. He’s good on the ball and fast, which is helpful, but it’s possible that that will make him look impressive while really only masking his own mistakes. Positionally, he is also pretty good, and the amount of times he looks around him to gain an awareness of what’s around him is good too.
However, when he’s under pressure he gets ball-watchy. To an extent, this happens to all defenders. When danger is immediately present, it can be unwise to take one’s attention away to look for other players, who may not be relevant at that time. It can also be unwise, though, to become too focused on the perceived danger, which leads to danger building up in one’s blind spots. This is what happens with Denayer.
1) [Ball and Denayer circled in white; Denayer’s movement with the white line; United movement with the orange line] A break for Dundee United, a ball played over the top of the defensive line. Denayer is in the best place to chase the striker/ball.
3) Denayer is in a reasonable position, judging from what we can see on the TV pictures, though there is something about his body language that I feel suggests he is overly focused on the ball. This is why it’s better to scout players in the flesh than on TV pictures of sometimes dodgy quality: 1) TV often does not show the whole picture of the pitch 2) Bad quality affects how well one can tell where a player is looking and what their body positioning is.
4) 09:32, it has been at least 3 seconds since Denayer could have looked around him. I suspect that a lot of players use their peripheral vision, some more (and better) than others, but in those 3 seconds Denayer has been purely focused (disclaimer: from what I can tell from this video) on the ball. Anything could be happening in the orange zone behind the Belgian – his full back may be marking two players; a central midfielder could be entering the box – and he would be none the wiser.
5) The ball has gone back on the wing, and will go out for a Celtic throw-in in a few seconds. 09:35, and the first time Denayer has looked around (the opaque white line) in 6 whole seconds. The situation did not require that much of his attention and, no offence to Scottish fans intended, it was in a league where the quality of play is not that high (compared to what he would face playing for Manchester City).
I think it’s hard to distill an opinion of a player into examples like this, which have to be dissected to make sense of, and where the key points are often subtle. You also have to take my word that this is a type of sequence that crops up enough in Denayer’s game to be a feature of it. He is still only 20, so has plenty of time to learn and improve, and regular game time at Celtic or this year, hopefully, at Galatasary may be more useful to him than sitting on the bench at City.
Regarding Denayer specifically, it’s worth City holding onto him for a couple more years at least, and if improvements haven’t happened in the meantime then perhaps they should look to move him on. Regarding City’s youth system, 16 year-old Cameron Humphreys looked about as at ease as Denayer in the friendly against Real Madrid, which is promising.
Regarding central defenders, this is the kind of thing that I, at least, look for in centre-backs. I’m fairly, tentatively, quietly confident in my thoughts, though I haven’t been doing it long enough or across a large enough range of players to know whether it all holds up. Feel free to trust me, feel free to be skeptical.
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