Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are widely regarded as one of the top 6 sides in the land, albeit Manchester United considerably more so.
Manchester City have visited both sides this season and scored 11 goals in all.
Arsenal are also within that top 6 and came away from Old Trafford having conceded 8 goals. In turn they score 5 away to another one of the big boys, Chelsea.
Whilst there is a school of thought that believes the attacking prowess of our top sides has reached such a level, that goals are flowing, I take a different view.
Imagine, you’re playing in your local derby, you slide into a tackle, win the ball fairly and partially due to the strikers over the top histrionics, you receive a red card from the referee who is in close attendance. What was an evenly contested opening 20 minutes, soon turns to one way traffic and you lose 2-0.
Fast forward 4 months to the return match and the same centre forward is running towards you with the ball, do you a) throw a tackle in and run the risk of a repeat of the last match or do you b) hold back and try and jockey a lightning quick centre forward, who only needs half a yard to fire a shot on goal?
A mix of poor refereeing decisions, the laws of the game and players diving and feigning injury, mean that many players – including Jack Rodwell - will subconsciously go for option “B”.
Make no mistake, players are scared to tackle.
There has probably never been a better time to play as a centre forward.
Former Everton great, Graeme Sharp, in his autobiography “Sharpie”, explains that in his day, it was common place to get a tidy whack from the centre half in the opening 10 minutes, to “let you know he was there”. This macho confrontation was designed to show who was in charge.
Nowadays, the centre-forward would hit the floor, as if a mystery gunman from a grassy knoll had opened fire.
Back in the day, Sharp advises that unless you were seriously hurt, you got up. To do anything other than that would be an admission to your opponent that they had the upper hand.
How many centre-forwards would think the same in modern day football?
And the rules back them up. Gone are the days of allowances for your first tackle, the weather, the occasion etc. You go to ground or tug at a shirt – regardless of where you are on the pitch, how many tackles you’ve made so far or how many minutes you’ve been on the pitch – you face a booking.
I’m by no means advocating a return to the old days where players have nicknames such as “chopper” and a two-footed tackle from behind should be applauded as a show of strength but really, do we want the game we love to become a non-contact sport? I don’t.
Nobody wants to see an impish genius like David Silva, up-ended each time he gets on the ball but we need to be careful that tackling doesn’t become a forgotten art.
Players should earn their goals through skill, strength and sheer determination – not because their opponent is too scared to make a tackle.
Perhaps the quality of the Defenders in top flight football has lessened. There does certainly seem to be a void of top class defenders in the league, with stalwarts like Carragher, Terry and Ferdinand approaching their autumn years, newcomers like Jones and Smalling still learning their trade and not an awful lot in-between. But is this the only reason?
In my opinion, not and the very nature of the game and the direction it is going in, may very well be the reason. Goals generally equal entertainment and I defy anyone to say they didn’t enjoy the recent Chelsea v Arsenal match. But proceed carefully – do we really want our results and league table to resemble the local under 11’s league?
Lose that competitive edge and we lose the very heartbeat of our national game. It hasn’t produced success at international level – quite the opposite – but domestically, the competitive nature of our game is the very lifeblood of what we love and follow.
A full blooded 50/50 tackle between two players, brimming with commitment, can get a ground up off their seats, just as much as a Cruyff turn on the edge of the box.
Goals should be a privilege for those blessed with ability to score them, not a right for anyone with half a yard of pace and a centre half scared to go near him.
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