Our summer recruitment saw an influx of new defensive players with a couple of new centre-backs and a new left-back coming through the door at the London Stadium. With new arrivals bringing fresh selection headaches for David Moyes and his coaching staff, the arrival of Emerson gives the Scotsman the option of playing five at the back, with the former Chelsea man much more comfortable going forward than defending so the wing-back role suits him more than the conventional left back in a defensive four.
It’s clear to me that Moyes intends to rotate his back line last season with the sheer volume of games meaning it was almost impossible to select the same players week in and week out, so further strength in-depth allows the management team to have faith that changes in Europe and the League will no longer have as much of a damaging effect.
Last year in the Europa League the club tended to go with Issa Diop (now at Fulham) and Craig Dawson during the group stages with Zouma coming in for the knockouts in the main. We’ve now got German international Thilo Kehrer who is blessed with the ability to play right across the back line, something that I am sure Moyes was attracted to when signing the PSG man.
His flexibility allows us to line up in many ways, and it is clear to see that we have half an eye on a change in the way they play. Both Kehrer and Aguerd, the other new man through the door, are more ball-playing centre-backs. Both are comfortable spraying passes all over the pitch with a sense of style and flair rather than the old-fashioned centre-backs that perhaps we have had in the past.
I would be tempted to have two backlines in the Europa Conference League and the Premier League, it allows every player game-time which in turn keeps them fit and motivated should an injury occur at any point.
For me, in the Premier League, I would stick to four at the back against the majority of teams in the League as I feel it will allow us to fit as many of our creative players in the first eleven as possible. And if we are trying to play a different style of football, a more flamboyant and entertaining brand, I feel that you need the likes of Lucas PaquetÃ¡, Maxwell Cornet, Pablo Fornals and others in the team.
This season has seen a dip in form for VladimÃr Coufal, so in my opinion, I would start Ben Johnson, when fit, at right back. I feel as though he gives us a better option going forward, and he is better defensively as well, as his quickness means he can get himself out of danger. That doesn’t mean that the Czech international doesn’t get game-time, he would remain as starting right back in the Conference League, with the hope he could find his form again and put pressure on Johnson.
At the heart of the defence, although Zouma hasn’t enjoyed the best of form recently, I still feel as though the former Chelsea man should start. He is a natural leader, which is crucial this season with the number of influential players lost in the summer, and his winning mentality from his France and Chelsea days is vital for the development of this team. He is a brute in the air, which is also important for this team with Kehrer and Aguerd perhaps not as blessed in that area.
Alongside Zouma, is a difficult one, as I have mentioned I have been impressed with the early work of Kehrer, and with the returning Aguerd edging ever closer to fitness, it will be a hard decision to make. For now, though, I would stick with Kehrer. It is his starting position to lose at present, and with the Conference League, FA Cup and potentially the League Cup there to ease Aguerd back into the swing of things, it could work perfectly.
I believe in the long term that Aguerd will become the starting centre-back, with Kehrer potentially moving to the defensive midfield position alongside Declan Rice. I think his play perfectly suits it, he is tenacious in the tackle, and a very solid passer of the ball, all attributes that are important in that role.
At left back, for now, in a back four, I would stick with Aaron Cresswell. I feel as though he offers us more defensive security than Emerson, although I do highly rate the Italian going forward and feel as though as an attacking option, he is miles ahead of the former Ipswich man.
In a back five, Emerson starts every single week for me, and it just depends on whether Cresswell makes it as that left-sided centre half. But in a four, for a defensive assuredness reason, Cresswell sneaks in ahead of the summer signing.
But I feel as though that will be a fascinating battle as the season moves on as to who ends up earning the left-back starting berth. I do not envy David Moyes having to make these tactical decisions and I am sure it will be something that I tinker with every week on Football Manager 2023, as the inner manager in me turns into the tinkerman once more.