Davide Santon was once very highly rated by some of the biggest names in world football, with the likes of Jose Mourinho exalting his abilities when the two of them were together at Inter Milan, while Marcelo Lippi compared him to a “young Paolo Maldini” – high praise indeed. So needless to say that when Newcastle United snapped up this seemingly prodigious talent, it represented something of a coup for our club, especially as the reported outlay was reported to be in the region of £6 million.

In his first season at Newcastle United Santon had to wait for his chance to break into the first team, as Pardew led Newcastle to an impressive 13 game unbeaten run in which our defence played magnificently. So when Santon got his chance, he was slotting into what was an already well gelled unit and for the most part, his performances on the left side of defence earned him rave reviews from the Geordie faithful with his marauding runs down the flank and his solid defensive contributions and it seemed like Santon could only get better.

The start to the 2012/13 Premier League season was, for want of a better word, sluggish at best, and frailties were being exposed all over the side due to injuries, suspension and many of our key players from the previous season underperforming, and I am afraid this is the category that a certain Davide Santon falls into.

It was clear that the team was struggling defensively as we only kept 3 clean sheets from the start of the season to the turn of the year, conceding 37 goals in that time. I do concede that the blame for this does not fall squarely on Santon’s shoulders, but he is at least in part responsible, which is something that a vast number of deluded Newcastle fans don’t want to entertain, simply because he is nifty with the ball at his feet, while in comparison, players like Mike Williamson and Danny Simpson have come in for serious abuse from some quarters of the fan base and they are arguably better defenders albeit not better footballers.

The way I see it, Pardew needs to get back to basics with Santon, and for a full back this means only 2 things;

1) Defensive positioning

2) Getting tighter to the crosser.

Simply put, Santon’s defensive positioning is shocking, he ambles up the field with the ball, plays a nice one-two, or shows a decent piece of trickery but due to being a right-footed full back he is incapable of whipping in a dangerous cross, nor is he truly effective at cutting in and posing a genuine threat on the inside, such as Gareth Bale was in his days as a full back, so more often than not he simply loses the ball. While I don’t have much of an issue with a player getting caught in possession in trying to pose an attacking threat, what I do have issue with is a full-back who doesn’t get back into position ASAP when he loses possession and as such leave the left side of defence dreadfully exposed.

One could even make the suggestion that the only reason Pardew picks Gutierrez to play left wing is down to the fact that he often has to cover Santon’s position when he loses possession – so for all you Gutierrez critics, of which I am one, perhaps Pardew wouldn’t be picking Jonas in the team as much if Santon defended a bit better.

Newcastle fans are usually an astute bunch, so I would think that whenever they watch Chelsea or Everton play, they see how classy full-backs in the ilk of Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines can combine both attacking runs with solid defending surely they must be asking, how is it that Santon can make these runs forward but is practically non-existent in defence?

One thing that should help keep Santon on his toes is the added competition we currently have for the left-back position. The January signing of the impressive young Massadio Haidara, and the ability of Mapou Yanga M’biwa to cover left back has now provided Alan Pardew with some genuine options to replace Santon with, should the young Italian fail to make the requisite improvements.

There is no doubt that we have a talented player in the form of Davide Santon, but if we are to improve upon last season’s horror show, then we simply cannot afford any passengers in our first team. If he ever wants to live up the tag of “young Maldini” and become a world class defender, then he simply needs to improve upon one facet of his game – defending!

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