CHELSEA TV'S ICONS ON THE DEFENSIVE
Chelsea TV's special festive show Icons is enjoying its third incarnation this Christmas, with former star players Charlie Cooke, Gustavo Poyet and Eddie Niedzwiecki providing the debate.
Part Two of the programme will be aired for the first time on New Year's Day at 6.30pm. Part One, which is being repeated regularly and was chaired by Neil Barnett, covered many current football topics including club structure and how signings are chosen, with defending also falling under the microscope.
What made Chelsea's most secure defences so successful was analysed before the discussion widened.
'Invariably if you look at all the leagues throughout Europe, I would say that in 90 per cent of them the team at the top has conceded the fewest goals,' said Niedzwiecki, our former goalkeeper who also worked in coaching roles at Chelsea.
'Manchester United are top in England at the moment and they have let a lot of goals in this year, but normally it is the case.'
'The teams that win tournaments and win World Cups and Champions Leagues are the teams that defend the best,' agreed Poyet, now Brighton manager but a goal-scoring midfielder of note in his Chelsea days.
'People only look who scores the goals and how they are scored but if you don't defend you don't win football games.
'If you are going to defend a little bit higher up the pitch like people like then you need to have defenders with speed, who can read the game, have intelligence and people who can deal with the one against the one. If you are going to play back like the Italians or with a Makelele-type player in front then it is going to be a totally different situation.
'Before the foreigners came here the game was about 50-50s, one-against ones and 4-4-2 against 4-4-2 all over the park,' the Uruguayan continued.
'Then foreign players and managers came and they changed the system and the tackling becomes more difficult, because now you don't get so close because before you get there they have already passed, and when you get there the tackle looks so bad you probably get a yellow card.'
Charlie Cooke, the dribbling star of the Chelsea teams of the late 1960s and 1970s regrets a lack of tactical flexibility when he watches current games in England.
'I see the same thing happen every week, there are four guys at the back, four guys in front of them and two guys in front of these guys making a nuisance of themselves. I see the same thing from the same teams every week and my only conclusion can be the best teams have the better athletes and better players.'
Cooke believes many teams are unwise to play only one striker up front when they are concerned with the opposition attacking threat.
'There is no way you can play against some of the top-class teams without keeping three men up front and keeping a press on all over the field. If you are going to step back and give good teams half the field then you are in trouble. But parking the bus is standard procedure these days.'
In Part Two of Icons on New Year's Day, the former players will be recalling Chelsea during their eras at the club.