Mar 282014

Only Manchester City and Chelsea have conceded less than the Blues this season

Defenders who can put their foot on the ball and pick a pretty pass are all the rage in the game at the moment – but for me you can’t forget what must be a centre-back’s priority.

 First and foremost they are there to defend.

If you lose sight of that fundamental truth, then you will soon begin to ship goals.

Roberto Martinez knows that. He is probably one of the biggest advocates of the passing game in the Premier League at the moment, but the Blues boss still believes in the traditional qualities of defenders.

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Everton FC v Newcastle United at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Pictures Andy Teebay, Peter Byrne/PA, AP Photo/Jon Super

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 In Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin we have two of the most natural defenders in the top flight, and it’s no coincidence that Everton also have the third best defence in the league at the moment.

Only Chelsea (23) and Manchester City (27) have conceded less goals than the Toffees (30).

I make the point because this season the league has been a feast of goals, and I’d venture that a high portion of them have come very late in games. It’s almost as if sides are getting to the 90 minutes mark and, if they’re ahead, thinking they have the points sewn up.

Yet at the same time, some of the sides fighting for survival are starting games in ultra-defensive mode and only starting to play when they go behind. Take Swansea for example. They are a decent side yet they started out very negatively at Goodison last Saturday, and only had a go when they had fallen behind. The teams who are going to prosper, or as you look lower down the table, survive, are the ones who are going to have a go from the start.

Swansea are likely to be okay, but it surprises me why a player with the natural ability of Jonjo Shelvey can’t get into their team. I rate the lad, and if he is available at a decent price in the summer, Everton could do a lot worse.

Ross Barkley 8.7/10 Ross Barkley 8.7/10  

* ROSS BARKLEY delivered a contender for Goal of the Season at St James’ Park on Tuesday night.

There may have been more spectacular strikes in this goal-fest of a campaign – Wayne Rooney’s long range effort springs to mind for starters.

But Barkley’s astonishing solo run and finish deserves to be right up there. It was a fantastic display from the whole team, but that goal was incredible. Ross showed his power, pace and poise in one moment.

Most players would be looking to pass by the time they reached the penalty area because their legs would be going, but not him.

He kept his composure, cut inside and produced a smashing finish. Let’s hope he can maintain that barnstorming form now until the end of the season.

* I HAD a wry smile when I read that Arsene Wenger decided to ‘run’ his players in the first training session following their 6-0 hiding by Chelsea.

 The practise of forcing the players through a gruelling hour of non-stop sprints and running to punish them after a bad result is as old as the hills.

I’ve been in that situation as a player and in the early days as a manager too – but in the end I learned it was a total waste of time.

It may satisfy your wounded pride to a degree as a manager because you’ve been disappointed and you want to take it out on someone, but in the long term it can be damaging.

I’m not saying that’s why Arsenal dropped points on Tuesday, but I know running never helps.

No player sets out to lose a game 6-0.  Yes, the Gunners were far from their best, and it will have frustrated Wenger and got him wondering how to get them playing at full pelt again.

He will know that Everton have some momentum now and never mind a title bid, his priority will be making sure they maintain their remarkable record of Champions League qualification.

But he’s wise enough to know that you do that with a sit down and a chat, going through what went wrong, rather than Army-style physical punishment.

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 Posted by at 1:05 pm

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