One of the positions that we couldn’t get a settled pairing in, was the Centre-Back role. We had 4 players who mainly featured there, and it appears that these 4 will be the main ones will be responsible for keeping the Saddlers tight at the back.
First up, we have captain James Clarke. I really like Clarke, I feel he offers a strong leadership, and sets a good example. His effort and work rate is always there, and he has a desire to win. However, many were slightly let down by his defensive skills, especially given that league 1 teams were in for him before he signed for us. For me, he offers us a more defensive option at Right-back. He has played more games at RB over his EFL career than any other position, and I think you could tell he was more used to being a RB than a CB in the games he played. He also covered over on the left side, and didn’t look out of place. Next season, I would like to see him play more as a full back.
He has a lot to offer this team, and I feel his confidence took a knock early to mid-season. Looking at his and the clubs form, we only lost 3 of 12 since he was reintroduced into the team, after that dreadful October spell, and that was in some big matches, such as beating Vale, Salford and Scunny away, and our last game against Exeter. He has shown his talents, but he did show he can be shaky. I think it was a big learning curve for Clarke this season, and I look forward to more of his solid performances, and more wonder goals.
Dan Scarr is the only CB remaining from our relegation season, and I feel it was a season of growth for him. Scarr played 33 league games for us last season, and that is a personal best in the EFL for him. He has certainly found his feet at this level, and for me, has to be our first CB on the team-sheet each week. He looked more capable at dealing with different types of players, and this was optimised in games against Port Vale, Exeter and FGR, where we looked defensively sound. He is still inconsistent at times, but that is League Two football. He has certainly started to iron out the rough edges, as I felt some of his displays this season were excellent.
One thing I would like to see more of from him is set-pieces. We leaked a few goals from set-pieces, and obviously it is not just him, but with his build and stature, I would like to see a bit more from him taking the lead when defending dead-ball situations. I know we would rather see our defenders defend, but he is such a physical presence, similar to Andy Butler, that I feel he could chip in with a goal or two from set-pieces too, and make us more threatening from corners, something I feel we lacked as a team.
He showed a growing leadership within the team too, and this is something I want to see continue. I feel he will be holding down one of the CB slots next season, and I want to see him really own it, and show how good he is.
At 35, Mat Sadler is the elder statesman of the defence. I am glad to see him moving into the backroom team too, as I think his experience, and influence can only be a good thing going forward. Despite his age, he still chalked up 32 appearances in all competitions last season, which is no mean feat. Towards the end of the season, Sadler and Scarr seemed to be enjoying a growing relationship. Scarr has spoken of how he turns to Sadler post game to analyse his performances, and I feel you could see this positive work ethic between the two on the pitch. We all know that the team looked a lot better in the 2nd half of the season, and it is worth noting, that Sadler featured in all but 2 league games since the start of November.
He adds a certain calmness and experience to the defence, and I can honestly see him playing 25+ games next season, if he can avoid injury. Taking out his shocker against Oldham, he didn’t really let the side down. He doesn’t let the fact he is shorter than usual for a CB stop him from winning headers and being a physical presence, and I hope he continues his end of season form going come the start of the 20/21 season.
Finally, we have the 4th and final member of the CB squad, Zak Jules. I an still very undecided on Jules. He has shown glimpses of the player he can be, but I am unsure whether or not I can see him hitting the heights week in week out, as I’m yet to see a full, well rounded performance from him. I have seen moments of Zak being a strong CB, or even a LB that can both defend, and link up well going forward, but never consistently. He has struggled to feature, and I reckon we would have seen a bit more of Jules if the season had have carried on.
We all know the well quoted ‘bottom of the training stats’ and I for one, like to see a manager who won’t play players who aren’t pulling their weight in training too, because it sets an example to all, work hard in training, or else you wont play. In January, at the fans forum, DC spoke about how him and Jules had spoken, and Jules work-rate has improved. Since that revelation, Jules has played twice, and was hauled off after 50 minutes against Northampton. Something just isn’t working with Jules and Walsall. I hope I am wrong. He is, after all, one of our players, and I would never want to see a player struggling, but he does appear to be. I hope this break has allowed him to relax, reflect and refocus ahead of the 20/21 campaign.
So what do I think should happen in the transfer market? Up until now, I have been quite vocal that I think the only defender we need is a flexible full back. But after looking into our CB’s with a bit more depth, I think we need a new CB. I think Clarke has played his best games as a full-back, and I would like to see him play there, rather than in the middle. If that is the case, then I feel we need someone else in, as Jules does not appear to be the most in-favour player.
What do you think? Is Clarke better out wide? Should we be looking for a new CB? Let me know!