Chris Baird’s time: why I believe he’s important to the side

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)

6 thoughts on “Chris Baird’s time: why I believe he’s important to the side

  1. Fair points.

    I think long term though Jol prefers a fluid 4-2-3-1, with a lot of movement and interchange between the front four supported by the fullbacks. This means a more defensive role for the center mids. So theoretically, although it helps to have CMs who can pass, you don’t really need a Murphy type player for Jols tactics. I think Jol’s ideal lineup will be Schwarzer, Baird/Grygera-Hughes-Hangeland-Riise, Murphy – Etuhu/Sidwell, Ruiz-Dembele-Dempsey, Zamora. The odd man out in our best lineup seems to be Duff.

  2. I can’t say anyone doubts Baird’s importance, you just have to wonder how he fits into what Jol is trying to do here with what is available.

    Part of the reason Jol messed with our CB pairing (which subsequently freezed out Baird) was because of one JAR (Jar). Hughes moved to RB because whenever Riise would bomb forward, Hughes could easily tuck in with Hangeland and Senderos to comprise a (formidable) make-shift back 3. Jol must’ve figured that with that back 3, why need any midfield cover?

    So, if you’re going to have a back three, would you rather have Hughes or Baird in there? I’m going with AH.

    Well, that didn’t really ever work. And now Riise is injured. So for now, it’s Baird’s “time to shine.” Be interesting to see what happens when Riise returns.

    1. I forgot to emphasize that historically Jol likes to play with an anchor of two defensive mids. Baird could definitely fill one of those spots, but I doubt that is what Martin is thinking. Ideally the position is for younger more mobile players (think of Man U’s Anderson and Cleverly for example). The effort to sign Boateng I think feeds into this.

  3. I think we’ll pretty consistently see Dembele at the tip of a midfield three. Murphy will be the other and will lie deep, orchestrating things from back there. The question is who should partner him. Baird would be my man for the reasons you outline above. Sidwell is too box-to-boxy for my taste, particularly in a team that won’t be lacking in players running into the box from deep (Ruiz and Dempsey appear specialists at this). Etuhu can shield well, but his distribution doesn’t cut it for me. Baird has shown himself to be one of the best passers in the team — both short and long — and with his defensive skills, would be an ideal partner for Murphy. We’d be a bit small in the middle, but tough and talented. So for me (as a lover of the 4-2-3-1 that I believe Jol will play), my team would be as follows:

    Schwarzer — Riise, Hangeland, Hughes, Grygera — Murphy, Baird — Dempsey/Duff/Ruiz, Dembele, Dempsey/Duff/Ruiz — Zamora.

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