FT SideLine: The timeless foundation behind the DNA of a league champion

Aleksandar Mitrovic of Fulham battles for possession with Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield on November 11, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Nov. 10, 2018 - Source: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Europe)

Aleksandar Mitrovic of Fulham battles for possession with Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield on November 11, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

(Nov. 10, 2018 - Source: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Europe)

Contrary to popular belief, having an edgy and slick attacking frontline is not the main ingredient for any club seeking domestic league dominance. Of course it’s important but today’s trends reveal something to else to be of greater importance.

Looking at most of the table topping teams in all of the leagues we feature here at FirstTouch, one cannot afford to ignore the defensive discipline of these sides. For starters, the Clever Boys of Bidvest Wits are mounting an unlikely title charge in the South African ABSA Premiership without having any of the league’s most prolific forwards in their ranks. It’s only because they have let only nine goals, the second best defensive record in the league after Mamelodi Sundowns who are five points off Wits having played two fewer games. Pirates are not doing bad themselves, second on the table with a devastating attack that combines the likes of Vincent Pule and Justin Shonga but their defensive record will likely be the Achilles heel that will find them wanting when champions are called to the stage. Even one of the league’s top scoring forwards who is arguably Southern Africa’s most important player in Khama Billiat, he is delivering the goods but Kaizer Chiefs are far from the top because they just can’t protect their goal as much as they would love to.

Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Gabriel Jesus during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Manchester City and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Etihad Stadium on December 12, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Dec. 11, 2018 - Source: Gareth Copley/Getty Images Europe)

Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Gabriel Jesus during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Manchester City and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Etihad Stadium on December 12, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

(Dec. 11, 2018 - Source: Gareth Copley/Getty Images Europe)

What about in Europe? Liverpool are now going toe to toe with a dominant Manchester City that was a class above the rest last season, winning the premier league with a record points, bag full of goals and the best defensive record. Its only because Jurgen Klopp and the Merseyside club acquired two more goal minders, namely the world’s second most expensive goalkeeper in Alisson Rameses Becker and the world’s most expensive defender in Virgil Van Dijk. Here is a number for you, in their 3-1 win over Manchester United over the weekend, Liverpool conceded only the second goal of the season at home. Should I go on mentioning the likes of Juventus who have made the Serie A title race not so interesting, 8 points ahead of second placed Napoli, only 16 games into the season. They did sign the “goal scoring machine” in Cristiano Ronaldo, but their numerous 1-0 narrow wins are not as a result of the Portuguese’s cunningness but the impenetrability of the wall guarded by the likes of Bonucci, Chiellini and Morocco’s Mehdi Benatia. Adding some more perspective, statistics tell us that Arsenal is the second best attacking Premier League side after City, having scored more goals than even Liverpool or Tottenham but their defensive ills have them lying fifth on the table.

What shall we say then, getting one of the most wanted defenders such as Senegal’s Kalidou Koulibaly is the free and ultimate wisdom available for any ambitious team out there.   

 

They did sign the “goal scoring machine” in Cristiano Ronaldo, but their numerous 1-0 narrow wins are not as a result of the Portuguese’s cunningness but the impenetrability of the wall guarded by the likes of Bonucci, Chiellini and Morocco’s Mehdi Benatia.
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa