In football you have two types of full-backs; the cultured, self-assured ball player who will have originally started his career as a winger or striker yet has been pushed backwards over the years, I’m looking at you Stephen Ward.
The other is your quintessential trier, the brick wall runner, full of enthusiasm but invariably looks like a centre half playing at full-back. No one wants to grow up to be a Gary Neville – for what he lacks in technical ability he will make up for in tenacity and endeavour, Ben Mee please stand up.
I was at the New York Stadium on Friday and kept a close eye on both full-backs – down the right Matt Lowton looks as though he will be kicking his heels on the bench for a while as Tendayi Darikwa was, to quote Brendan Rodgers, “outstanding”. The former Chesterfield man bombed forward with regularity, made good decisions with the ball and, most importantly, attacked the open space in front of him.
Now glancing over at the left-back berth, Ben Mee had a wrestling match with the ball each time he received it, invariably passing it back inside to Michael Keane or pumping it long. The space in front of him was there to attack yet the former Manchester City man didn’t want to know.
I like Ben Mee, I’d have him centrally next to Michael Keane long term and believe Sean Dyche feels the same way. He is one of those players you don’t need to worry about – a defender’s defender who will always hit a solid rating every week, but as we dominate the ball more, somebody like Stephen Ward would be licking his lips at the amount of space and possession of the ball our full-backs have.
This is compounded by the fact the Clarets now have Joey Barton in the team, who took up a sort of deep-lying ‘quarterback’ role at the New York stadium, allowing the full-backs to push on further with the insurance of Barton behind them.
This has enabled Scott Arfield to move back out to wide left, where he invariably cuts inside on to his favoured right foot – he needs a full-back that goes outside of him, akin to Darikwa on the opposite flank, and Ward will provide this. Ben Mee is a solid Burnley player but the club has a squad for a reason and so let’s see what Ward can do.
The obvious progression for Mee is to move inside as Mike Duff will surely be phased out of the side in the coming months. However, yet again against Rotherham, Duff didn’t put a foot wrong and is developing a strong relationship with Keane, who looks like he has been on the weights over the summer – he has had a rise in stature both physically and mentally on the pitch.
The risk with Ward is that with the European Championships on the horizon he needs game time to be in with a shot of heading to France, if the Republic of Ireland qualifies of course. I think what works against him in Dyche’s mind that he is almost too attacking; at Championship level he is an accomplished footballer giving Burnley the axis and balance to attack the opposition from each flank.
If the gaffer won’t move Mee inside then it could be a case of short term pain for long term gain for the former England Under-21 man, a short spell out of the side to give Ward a run. It shouldn’t take a defeat to change the Clarets’ side; the team can be pushed to a higher level without having to hit the panic button after a loss.