Sam Byram (vs Manchester City 23/01/16)
For those who haven’t come across one of these before, this is a kind of scouting report, looking at one player in one match. I normally focus on centre-backs, but it’s always good to branch out. The categories are what I think you should look at for defenders, though there is of course crossover between them.
There was a sense that some of Byram’s team-mates preferred not to pass the ball to him, which is perfectly understandable given that it was his debut against Manchester City, and isn’t the same type of low-level criticism of him as it is when it happens with other players. He was, in fact, largely calm on the ball, including a lovely long pass which would have been called a hoof had it not been so graceful which got onto Match of the Day.
There were a few iffy moments, a couple of slightly poor passes including a bad bouncing backpass. A couple may have been the nerves, the backpass seemed a little lazy – when passing back to the keeper you want to leave as small a margin for error as possible and give them plenty of time to clear, which bouncers don’t allow them. There was a moment towards the end of the first half where he moved into a good position during West Ham build-up play, but then, once he’d done that good work, he failed to control it as De Bruyne came to close him down and the ball ran away from him.
Going back to the good, he was remarkably solid on the ball considering the magnitude of the occasion, showing the type of calm that might not be present in players who’ve been in the league for a few seasons. He can also actually cross the ball too. Full-backs who can get forward but offer no end product in the opposition half drive me to despair (looking at you Glen Johnson), and his cross in the 40th minute reminded me of the few games I had watched him in for Leeds, even though no-one managed to get on the end of it.
For a full-back, positioning when their team is on the ball is difficult, because there’s an extent to which it will depend on what they’re instructed to do: go forward or stay back, hold position or offer themselves for a pass. Despite his team-mates occasionally shaping to pass to him then thinking again, he still offered himself for passes well when West Ham were going forward.
In defence, he was generally pretty good. This is clear once you consider what he was tasked with. It seemed fairly clear that he was told to stick with De Bruyne, and later Sterling, that they were not to get anything from him – and they didn’t. There were times when De Bruyne would get the ball wide, and look to do something to drive inside, but could do nothing but wait for reinforcements.
If there was a criticism, it would be that there were times when he stayed too wide. Early on, Delph, but for a poor touch, could have got between him and James Collins, but after that he seemed to learn, such as here, staying narrower and forcing City to pass the ball to a less threatening wide area.
For City’s second, this fault was present again though, just a little too slow to come inside (though the space was there because of the centre-backs).
His positioning also seemed a little off against Sterling, again shaping his body a little too wide, allowing the winger to nearly cut inside on a couple of occasions.
However, this is drawing out most of the bad points, and he was overall impressive considering it was his first match in the Premier League, showing quality such as in the example below.
Awareness is generally a category that is more important for centre-backs (at least, the way I class it, as being aware of things outside of your direct line of sight and adjusting yourself to them). It was generally pretty good though, checking where the winger on his side was when he would tuck inside to help the centre-backs.
This category generally solely draws attention to errors, as good decisions tend to get picked up on in other categories. His clattering of Delph, rushing in to try and nick a ball that, in reality, was always outside of his reach, seemed out of his usually calmed and measured character.
De Bruyne, in one of the few times he came off better in a battle against Byram, nicked a cross-field ball off his toe in the second half, when he should have seen the City player coming and adjusted accordingly.
However, for a change I’m going to stick a positive in here. Below he stuck tight to De Bruyne (who switched to the opposite flank when Sterling was brought on), not allowing the City player to turn, letting his own team-mates get back into positon.
Strength/speed (/how to overcome these)
Byram’s fairly quick, which is always helpful, but unlike other players it’s not something that he relies on to get him out of trouble. These are skills more crucial to centre-backs – if you struggle to cope with pace as a centre-back then, as we saw in the Arsenal-Chelsea match, the results can be vicious, whereas as for a full-back it’s more likely that the opponent will just get a cross in.
There was one time early in the second half when he was wrestling with Aguero at a City free-kick (I always like a defender who can scrap), although he was getting pushed around a little.
Having said this, he also later blocked off Sterling from pressuring a team-mate, which I like because some defenders try and block embarrassingly badly.
Overall, he was solid. You could tell that he was young, but it’s an impressive foundation to build a Premier League career on. The team-defending of West Ham helped him of course, but the fact that neither Kevin de Bruyne nor Raheem Sterling got anything out of that side of the pitch speaks volumes.