Juliano Belletti from Barcelona to Chelsea leads a group of attacking defenders
From Noe Pamarot’s 30 yard screamer that initiated the thorough dismantling of Newcastle in the first 15 minutes of their match with Portsmouth to Luke Young’s long range bullet that ripped the net, spoiling Juande Ramos debut for Tottenham, the Premiership is producing spectacular goals from stratospheric distances combining deadly power and a precision that often times has the goalie in the role of a helpless bystander.
There are indications that the quality of goals has much to do with the ball. This is the third season of the Nike Total 90 Aerow Premiership Ball and the manufacturers claim that it is designed to dramatically reduce drag, resulting in better accuracy and increased velocity, thanks to its “exclusive Geo Balanced Technology featuring six double-hex panels… The casing is hand-stitched with high performance PU materials with linear grooves for consistent sustained flight.” In short, this ball flies and swerves if you know how to leash it.
Increasing familiarity with this type of ball has led to the realization that a toe tap could send it to the third row of the Emirates. An inveterate hoofer like John Arne Riise has come closer to the target as seen in the match against Arsenal rather than his usual NASA expedition. Even headers that have everything to do with placement seem to have a bullet like quality. Witness Clint Dempsey in the match against Spurs that sparked the Cottagers stirring comeback.
But a full realization of the capabilities of the ball only tells a partial story behind the spate of spectacular goals. Last years scoring by defenders was led by Matt Taylor and there is little doubt that he must have led the league in scoring long range blasts. He seemed to herald this season’s scoring. Defenders are now scoring highlight goals on a regular basis. Alex opened his scoring for Chelsea against Boro with a booming free kick that swerved past Schwartzer. George McCartney scored his first goal in seven years with a sweetly struck side volley which put West Ham in the drivers seat against Bolton. It is not just that defenders are scoring but they are doing so with elan.
Defenders like Eboue, Arca, Koumas, Kaboul, Bale,and Belletti seem to have shrugged off the traditionally circumscribed roles that defenders play in the English league and are increasingly foraying up front playing an active role in developing and executing attacks. When defenders score, they come from set pieces like corners and Joleon Lescott, Martin Laursen, and Rio Ferdinand have been on target this season. Some of the execution is strategic as in Wenger’s development of Eboue into a wingback following Thierry Henry’s departure.
But goals like the one that Belletti scored against Wigan indicate an assertive group of defenders that seem to enjoy their time up front. Belletti’s exceptional run deep in the midfield, accelerating past the Wigan defense, and then finishing off superbly with a powerful curling kick is similar to Gareth Bale’s forays up front. In the same match in which Dempsey scored his header leading Fulham’s charge, it was the Cottagers rocking back on their heels initially with an outstanding goal by Bale, an outcome of his teamwork with Keane and his desire to score. Glen Johnson at Portsmouth looked like Maradona sashaying his way through defenders on his way to scoring against Wigan. This is not the traditional route of a defender in an English club. He usually hands off the ball a few standard deviations past halfline.
This year’s Premiership is open and exciting because clubs like Blackburn and Portsmouth are benefiting from defenses that provide additional heft to attackers like Roque Santa Cruz and Benjani. On a cautionary note, defenders need to do their job. The Spurs defense seem to have taken their attacking role to heart but have failed to keep the ball out of goal.