The signing of Ruiz gives us an extraoardinary array of attacking talent. It means we can field a combination of Zamora, Duff, Dempsey, Dembele and Ruiz, which you’d hope would suffice for our needs. They can’t all play, but even if we see three or four of them, their attacking instincts need to be covered by someone to defend.
This is where we need Chris Baird. Two things: we don’t want to play a ‘broken team’, in which we have five players attacking and five defending. That doesn’t work so well in modern football, and we don’t have the players for it really anyway. Second, John Arne Riise is an attacking full-back, as is Matt Briggs, so there’s no sense in compromising their talents. Steve Sidwell is a box to box midfielder of the kind English fans love, but if he’s in one box he’s not in the other, and this makes him the kind of player who can get cut out when we lose the ball. Danny Murphy is outstanding when we don’t have the ball, but again, to make the most of his talents, you need him a little further up the pitch – sitting in front of the back four is compromising his talents, too.
Baird, then. Barcelona have used Sergio Busquets all over the place, but as these articles on Zonal Marking show, his principle use has been to drop into the back four when his team has possession. *Has* – he drops back when Barcelona are in possession. He does this because the team’s full-backs like to attack, so Dani Alves takes off, Busquets steps in, and Alves knows he can concentrate on attacking without compromise.
We’re almost getting to the same point. Put another way, if we don’t do something like this then our defence is being shielded by whoever’s playing wide (fair, but not great, especially if it’s Dembele and Ruiz (defensive work to be confirmed) and whoever’s shielding the back four (because I firmly believe someone should be doing this). I don’t think it’s enough to let the two central midfielders and the two wide players ‘do their best’ to provide cover. If we’re to get away from Roy’s rigid 4-4-2 without being too open we need more cover, which should also permit greater attacking flexibility (because others are free to attack). It has to be Baird.
Baird is practically perfect for the role. He can play in all four defensive roles, but has shown himself adept in midfield, too. That’s the job description. Busquets is so good because his positional sense and discipline are very strong, his tackling good and his passing good enough (simple usually). Baird is exactly the same (if to a lower level).
Suggested team: Schwarzer – Grygera, Hughes, Hangeland, Briggs/Riise – Baird – Murphy, Sidwell – Two of Duff, Dempsey, Dembele and Ruiz – Zamora (or one of the AMs, depending on opposition)