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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Comment by Annie Eaves on November 8, 2011 at 9:28

I'd say more converted from wingers than strikers but that's not really the point, the issue is that defending isn't seen as quite as important. The best footballers and those showing remarkable speed are pushed upfront.


Preventing a goal has the exact same worth to a team as scoring a goal. It's not a dirty art.





Comment by WorldClass on November 8, 2011 at 9:22

Annie, think you'll find many of the best Fullbacks are converted strikers from youth lvl. Cole, Baines, Johnson all strikers at an early age... think Arsene gets a kick out of it, Gibbs was a striker too... I'm surprised when Henry went there Wenger didn't pick him at RB... lol 


Seriously though we've had a 12 year old striker get signed up for Swindon Town last season and so far this season he has played at Fullback...  it happens a lot. In the in junior game as the best players are often put further up the field rather than their best position... we're all guilty of it. 


Goals are good for the game... as long as those goal come with quality...

Comment by Annie Eaves on November 8, 2011 at 9:11

I think worldwide there seem to be legendary defenders than there once were. The speed of the game has made it harder to be such a player and when a player shows blistering speed at a young age they are invariably encouraged to become a forward rather than a defender.


Hence you have a situation where generally forwards are much faster than defenders, more so than in the past.

Comment by WorldClass on November 8, 2011 at 8:46

Erm no... there seems to have been a tip of the hat to Blackpool in my opinion. Teams are committing more player forward in attacks, and managers like Mancini, Pulis and even McLeish are setting up there teams in far more positive ways...


The three promoted teams are all playing attacking football... even Warnocks QPR are playing the ball around on the floor. There are just less negative team and negative tactics in the Premier League.


City last season closed teams out, this season they're smashing them.

United have always been Attacking.

Chelsea (who will come good) now set up very open which is exposing Terry for what he is.

Arsenal always attacking

Spurs = kitchen sink

Liverpool with Kenny are attacking rather than Rafa's or Woys defence first.


It difficult to find a negative team... go through the league and tell me who is playing with a negative park the bus attitude.... Fulham? Everton? Blackburn? No, no, no... maybe managers are thinking the best form or defence is attack... which is wrong but it certainly makes for entertaining games and far from your seeming prediction of a loss of competitive edge will actually make the defenders better players as they learn to read games and not depend on defensive systems, player actually have to become intelligent to see where the ball is going, where players are running, how to cover gaps, rather than knowing if they stand in a line and keep tight they should be ok... it will help improve young defenders... this is what we found teaching kids, the tougher you make it for defenders the quicker they develop and gain experience... defending has become too much of an system and not a skill, but with more team willing to commit more player forward these systems are being over ran this is where special defenders like McGrath and Stam used to stand out above the rest... there ability to know where the ball with be played and the awareness of players around you...


I disagree the quality of Defending is dipped, I think defending has become far harder as teams are attacking in numbers with pace and varying styles.... 


also might I add, a 7-4 score line does not denote a lack of competitive edge... I watched Barca the other day stroking the ball around for fun without trying to anything really accept keep the ball... that is a loss of competitive edge they where just killing time like they where bored of this game already... When was the last time to saw a Premier League team think sod this and just waste time nowing the game is won after 60 minutes... its doesn't happen, partly because of the strength of the league, partly because of the fans and partly because its a tradition that teams fight to the final whistle... after all football is a funny old game... You telling me Arsenal 5 - 3 Chelsea wasn't a "competitive game" you telling me because it looked like a local U12 score that standard of the game was similar? concentrate on the football and the score lines look after them selves, that was a stunning game and one of the most competitive i've seen better two big teams in a long while... or would we prefer 10 men behind the ball and negative tactics?





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