We have now been without Fabián Balbuena for 4 matches now since his injury against Watford on 22nd December.
Have we missed him?
I think so, and more importantly with some of the more difficult fixtures coming up and hopefully a Cup run then we need our main defender back.
His long term centre back partner this season, Diop has not looked the same player with his partner missing. To be fair to him he has also had to change from the Left to the Right side of the centre backs.
Does Balbuena make Diop look good? or does Ogbonna make Diop look bad?
For me, it’s a bit of both.
Centre backs are partnerships, they need to complement each other. Balbuena and Diop seem to be well suited together,
The younger Diop with the older Balbuena.
The more energetic Diop with the steady Balbuena.
Ogbonna and Diop together do not give the save feeling although Ogbonna is an experienced defender, their positioning just looks erratic and neither one of them takes the lead.
Balbuena has gone about his business in a no nonsense way this season, he did not get the early plaudits that Diop received but continued to rack up the stats.
Before his injury he played in 16 games from the first 17.
From the 16 games, he achieved
33 Tackles won
On average per game:-
But it is the Clearances that we miss, Diop and Ogbonna do not command the box in the same way as Balbuena.
And that is not just in the air with around 50% of clearances being aerial.
During the 16 games that Balbuena played, our opposition put in 328 crosses and had 80 corners.
So roughly Balbuena makes 1 clearance for every 3.4 Crosses/Corners the opposition put in.
Balbuena is currently 6th in the Premier League list of Clearances and would be close if not top if he hadn’t missed the last 3 league games.
In the last 3 league games without Balbuena,
Diop and Ogbonna have averaged around 4 clearances each.
Hopefully Balbuena is not that far away from a return and again hopefully we can go through the season without any further injuries to our first choice centre backs. Ogbonna is our only real backup to Diop & Balbuena with Rice now cemented into the holding midfielder role.
Should we bring in another Centre Back as cover?
Should Ogbonna be moved on?
Should Rice be the Centre Back cover? But if so, who covers Rice?
I’m sure Pellegrini has studied the position and has a plan but will he wait to the summer?