Arsenal amongst Europe’s best defences last season
This is a controversial one. One you wouldn’t expect to see on this list but Arsenal’s defense has improved a huge amount last season. It wasn’t easy to see their improvement in their back four mainly due to all the focus being on the front men of the Gunner’s squad. Their inclusion in this list is justified as Arsenal had the second best defensive record in the Premier League this season (compared to the eighth in 2011/12), and conceded just 14 on the road – the best in the division, and Arsenal’s best away defensive record since 2003/04.
The Gunners kept 14 clean sheets throughout the Premier League campaign – nine of which came away from home. In fact the only goal Arsenal conceded on their travels since the middle of March was a penalty at West Brom, and they kept a clean sheet at Bayern Munich during that run.
The presence of Steve Bould, who was promoted to the role of assistant manager over the summer, has had a remarkable effect on Arsenal’s approach to defending. They once again, finished in the top 4. A lot of that due to their defense.
4. Real Madrid
Real Madrid have conceded 44 goals in La Liga. It has been arguably their worst season for a long time, however some things never change- their defense. A wealth of defensive experience brought out the best of the Galacticos on many occasions such as the famous victory against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The sublime 1-2 win stunned the Catalans, with their impressive defense taking much of the credit.
Raphael Varane especially stood out, as he ambitiously tackled and blocked Lionel Messi all night long. The 17-year-old has been doing that for much of the season, and the French man linked in with his fellow defenders superbly. This saw Real Madrid reach the semi-final of an exhausting Champions League campaign. They have kept 11 clean sheets this season, some of which included an inspiring 5-0 win against a good looking Valencia side.
Sergio Ramos plays next to Varane, and although he has endured a tough season, the Spaniard looked very bright and reliable playing alongside his team mate on occasions. One thing people forget about Ramos is that he has an excellent aerial ability and Real Madrid, at times, look weak in the air without him. He provides a aspect of the game most people do not see – 92% of his one to one challenges were successful.
The full backs, Marcelo and Raul Albiol are generally attacking minded players meaning there may be gaps left in wide areas. Sergio Ramos’ versatility plays a key part in filling these temporary gaps in defense.
3. Paris Saint-Germain
With money bags PSG spending big lately, they have established themselves as a deadly force in Europe, their defense being one of the most underrated in Europe.
Thiago Silva’s purchase has injected the french outfit’s defense with a much needed boost of strength and with Alex as the second CB, their defense has turned out to be an excellent mix of experience and youth. Especially with Mamadou Sakho providing reliable cover for the starting two CB’s.
Paris St Germain qualified in first place in Champions League Group A and it’s easy to see where their strength lies. Ancelotti’s men conceded just three goals in six games against Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb – the lowest of any of the teams at the group stage.
Their league form demonstrates much the same ability to keep things tight. Having conceded only 22 goals in the 2012-13 season in Ligue 1.
There is no straw big enough to break this camel’s back, and throughout the 2012-13 season they’ve shown incredible resilience and discipline to lock teams out. The comparisons to “typical Italian defending” are all too easy to make, but this is not Catenaccio, this is Antonio Conte.
When in possession, they expand to cover the width of the pitch. This gives the ballplayer options to pass to, but it also (and critically) forces the wing-backs higher up the pitch to find room. They take a marker each with them, and all of a sudden, there’s a midfield channel to pass through.
Leonardo Bonucci has emerged as the ballplayer, and his skill set in this area improves by the game. Either he or Giorgio Chiellini can elect to run into the channels and force matters further.
1. Bayern Munich
What is there not to say about Bayern Munich’s defense? They broke several records and rocked Europe with their utter dominance. They have broken astonishing records for conceding fewest goals in a season, conceding only 18.
This is purely down to their balance and co-ordination in their back four. A mix of pace and power resulted in the Bavarians becoming the hardest team to break down, as seen in all competitions. Including a historic win against Hamburg- 9-1 which broke a string of records on its own. But one performance stood out from all the rest. That performance was the famous 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Champions League.
Every aspect of Bayern’s defense was inch perfect those nights. They continuously blocked the ball from getting to danger men Iniesta and Xavi, whilst cleverly man marking Lionel Messi with his every move. Jerome Boateng was the key man in marking Lionel Messi. Messi’s quick movement was no problem for the German international as he stuck with him all night, preventing him from attacking with fluidity.
Javi Martinez pressured Andres Iniesta, while Bastian Schweinsteiger – despite being outfoxed by Xavi Hernandez a couple of times in the opening minutes – continued to shut down energetically. Barcelona’s midfielders all played deeper than they would have liked – Busquets dropped into the back to get space, Xavi roamed around in front of his own defence rather than getting involved in a proper midfield battle, while Iniesta spent too much time doing the job of Xavi, and not enough time linking midfield with attack.
If Bayern owe their astounding defensive record for this year to someone, it arguably has to be the 29-year old Brazilian Dante. Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach for a cut price in the summer of 2012, he has provided a semblance of calm and experience to the young backline that crumbled on more than one occasion last season. His most telling contribution came in the defeat of Barcelona in Munich where his reading of the game was exemplary.