Given that Wolves have not kept a clean sheet since the third game of the season, and have conceded 43 goals already this season, it seems inconceivable that Mick McCarthy is happy with his defence. Following the disappointing performance in the defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday, a little light was shone over WV1 with the announcement that Cameroonian defender Sébastien Bassong had agreed a loan deal until the end of the season.
The obvious question is, where will he fit in to the team? He has been known to play at left back, but while Stephen Ward has many faults, and just as many detractors pointing them out, he has been reasonably consistent this season, and has played in every match.
Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest that Bassong will slot in to the central defence. But who should he replace? Christophe Berra has arguably been the better of our central defenders this season, and it was Captain Roger Johnson who was dropped for the aging Jody Craddock earlier in the season. But, Johnson’s form has improved since then, and there appears to be a general reluctance to play two left sided players together in defence – I’m not really sure why, some of the best central defensive partnerships I’ve seen have been two right footers. Is there a difference?
Anyway, onto the statistics…
The first thing that strikes me is how similar the statistics are. Does this mean that Berra and Johnson are too similar players to play alongside each other? It was noticeable in the Liverpool defeat how comfortable both were when dealing with crosses into Andy Carroll in the first half, but then both struggled with the intelligent movement of Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy in the second half.
Yet, the statistics do show one difference – Roger Johnson has made 79% more interceptions than Berra, despite playing more minutes. This indicates Johnson’s happiness at striding up the pitch, following a deep lying forward (something that he has been doing all season). I noted at the start of the season that it will be interesting to see how a partnership develops between Johnson and Berra, and as yet, I don’t think it has really clicked.
The stats perhaps favour Johnson in everything except aerial duels, but this is one of Johnson’s strengths. As harsh as it may be to Berra, I think Bassong should be played alongside Johnson, using his pace to cover as Johnson pushes forward more. It will be interesting to see how we manage to accommodate a new defender whose qualities are markedly different to those we have at the moment. I suspect that there will have been a lot of work done on the training ground this week for Bassong to understand how we defend (or how we don’t defend if Tuesday night is anything to go by).
The precedent suggests Johnson will make way, but I suspect Berra will be on the bench for the first time this season.
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