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Durante relishing new-look defence

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 27/09/2016 Cathy Walshe

Last season's endless run of injuries and constantly rejigged back line are gone but not forgotten for Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante.

The Phoenix, who leaked 54 goals in finishing a disappointing ninth last season, have bolstered their strike force in the off-season, most notably with Melbourne Victory pair Gui Finkler and Kosta Barbarouses.

But coach Ernie Merrick has also recruited wisely at the back, and - less than two weeks out from Wellington's A-League season opener - Durante is relishing leading the new combination.

Italian central defender Marco Rossi has slotted in smoothly, and young Australian Jacob Tratt has brought height and pace at right back.

All White Tom Doyle continues to develop on the left, while Dylan Fox and Louis Fenton offer plenty of options for Merrick, despite the absence of defensive stalwarts Ben Sigmund (retired) and Manny Muscat (Melbourne City).

"There's a lot of reasons why last year was the way it was," Durante said.

"This year we're focused on having a strong defence, starting from the front, but the backline's also worked a hell of a lot in the pre-season."

Durante, 34, says the focus has been on trying to keep a high line without giving away a lot of space in behind.

It's still a work in progress, and Durante expects the structure to evolve as the season wears on.

"It's recognising when to drop as a unit that's the hardest thing - getting everyone in that backline, all four people, understanding when to drop and when to move forward," he told NZ Newswire.

"It will change week to week, but we've got a set foundation of how we want to approach games and it's been very good."

A big part of that has been new signing Rossi, but versatile 22-year-old Tratt has also made a difference.

"The addition of Marco is fantastic - he's a great leader, he's a very accomplished player with a great background," Durante said.

"And Jacob's a big, tall, strong boy. He's fast, and he can play centreback and right back - this year I think we've got the best depth and competition throughout the whole squad."

Merrick says that organisation at the back will provide the base from which the Phoenix can launch an attractive, possession-based game.

"I think we can play much more our style of attacking game and score goals knowing that we've got a solid defence behind us."

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