The Year of The Defence

Spectators love attacking flair.
A Ronaldo free kick from 30 yards.
 
Cam Newton front flipping into the EndZone.
 
Steph Curry making a three from way downtown.
However, in a culture where winning is everything, a theme throughout 2016 has been how defence – and counter attack – is the most successful formula for winning.
 
In a range of sports – of which I will focus on; Football, American Football, Tennis and Basketball – using opponents attack as the catalyst for your success (classic Bruce Lee stuff) is now a widely used strategy in sport.
 
2016, the Year of the Defence.
Football
 
The bottom half of the Premier League table, has been attempting to do what Leicester City did this season for decades. Defend like Spartans, absorb the opposition’s attack and then break quickly and efficiently. The key to their Premier League success lay in the ‘transition’ between defence and attack.
Leicester City Possession Statistics
2015/6 Premier League Season
More often than not, N’Golo Kante would win the ball, and within two or three passes they would have an attack formed, thus putting the opposition under immediate pressure. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater all fitted this profile with their impeccable pace, skill and concentration.
 
Having a rock solid defence lay the foundation for them to create an environment on the pitch where they could transition often and effectively. Leicester did not have the ball for the majority of the season which was exactly part of their plan.
 
The same principal can be applied to the victors of Euro 2016; Portugal. Germany, Spain and even England were all considered better attacking outfits that had 60% possession or higher. Ronaldo’s team peaked at 52% and were very difficult to beat.
 
Three of their four knockout matches went to extra time because Portugal outlasted their opponents. Pepe and Fonte conceded one goal after the group stages, and that is where Euro 2016 was won. 
 
The foundation which Leicester could play upon was just as strong as the Portuguese.
Tennis
 
Andy Murray’s new style of tennis exists because he is not the best player in the world. 
 
His way of surviving on the tennis court is exhaustingly effective. By counter punching the big server with crafted ground strokes, powerful, attacking players become neutralised. How many players have you seen look in despair at their box after Murray makes them play one more shot?
Murray turning a 147mph (top right)
Raonic Serve into break point
 
Rewind back to 2012 and it was Murray’s anguish when he lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final that has spurred him to take his physicality and mentality to a new level. He wins points either by his opponent losing them, or by exploiting opportunities that he creates by staying in the point and putting the other man under pressure.
 
Novak Djokovic has beaten Andy Murray 8-2 in Grand Slams head-to-heads because his attack is good enough to get through Murray’s defence. It is remarkable that the only two players, despite this year’s Wimbledon, that the Scot has faced in Grand Slam finals are Roger and Novak. 
 
As Murray gets even better at defending, the world number one spot may not be so elusive.
American Football
 
The Denver Broncos proved once more that ‘Defence Wins Championships.’ Von Miller and his D-fence forced three fumbles and an interception from the most exciting quarterback in the 2015/6 season.
The metaphor of Cam Newton’s offense, with all the flair and celebration of a Berlusconi Bunga Bunga party, versus the brutal efficiency of the Denver Broncos’ defence, stampeding the decrepit figure of Peyton Manning to his second Super Bowl sums this up well. 
 
“Our offense will be just good enough to get over the line, if our defence shuts down their capability to score points,” thought Gary Kubiak – Broncos Head Coach.
 
In American Football of course, your defence can literally score you points. The Broncos went 10-0 up in the first quarter thanks to a fumble recovery and it proved an ominous prelude for what was to come.
 
Conclusion
 
The trend of Defence being victorious in 2016 can leave the Spectator slightly confused. Portugal were dull, Leicester were the wonderful underdog, Denver were ruthlessly efficient and Andy Murray’s counter-punch tennis deserves the success it is now bringing.
 
Sport worships attacking play.
 
2016 showed that championships are now won by using this power against them.
 
Just ask Bruce Lee.

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