[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the dust settles on the first leg games in the League Cup, I bet Liverpool are looking forward to their second leg at Stamford Bridge a lot more than Spurs are relishing their visit to Bramall Lane. From a purely neutral perspective I spotted a continuation of a trend that will hopefully catch on like wildfire and spread to teams throughout the land. A trend that was highlighted by an individual player in each match but was sadly lacking from a team more blessed than any of the four teams left in the competition.
The players concerned are Raheem Sterling- I know, I can hear the moans from here, ‘not him again’ – and Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Each of them came to the fore in cracking games which finished with the ties themselves being far from over.
The titanic clash between Liverpool and Chelsea was, in the early stages, a game of possession, most of it by Liverpool. But it was mostly what is comically referred to as ‘crab football’, sideways passing, totting up the pass rate but not hurting the opposition. The Chelsea ‘bus’ was more of a blue wall and I found myself thinking of red heads banging against said wall. I then began to wonder when Liverpool would change their approach and go straight down the middle.
Lo and behold young Sterling did just that, took a decision, dropped his shoulder, and went straight through the Chelsea ranks to score. I thought Niall Quinn summed it up perfectly in match commentary when he said that Sterling, ‘ broke the line of back four and protective screen’.
The following night, and at the other career extreme, 31 year old Jamal Campbell-Ryce, was threatening to beat Spurs single handed. Every time he had the ball he would run at the left back, the highly rated Ben Davies, and run him ragged. As one newspaper headline put it the next day, ‘Ben Davies had a night to forget’.
I have watched Campbell-Ryce down the years at all 13 of the clubs who have hired him – two spells at Southend- and always wondered why the abundantly talented winger cum striker never made it at the top flight. I think the answer is while he puts in great performances, he lacked consistency, but his talent was there to see at White Hart Lane, in abundance.
The Blades were very much the equal of Spurs on the night and most of that was down to Jamal. Against a tight, organised and disciplined opposing team the individual who can carry the ball at pace whilst retaining possession, as he did, was always going to tilt the balance in favour of United.
In these modern times where football is more of a results game than it has ever been and time is what no one has or will give managers, players etc, the player who can turn defence into attack by racing forward with the ball- note that word forward- has become as valued as the one who can stick the ball in the net.
Chelsea have more than most, even in defence, which made it even more of a surprise they did not win at Anfield. Manchester City are collecting such players at a rate of knots, Toure, Silva, Milner, Navas to name but four. Arsenal have a few, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, when fit, Ramsey, Wilshere, when fit, and Sánchez. Spurs have Lennon, Townsend and Eriksen. You can go through a list of Premier League teams and most have someone who can be a ball-carrying threat at pace.
It has become apparent over recent years as very little separates teams on the field, tactically, the individual ball player who can run through a defence or around it and create goals is a pretty sound alternative to when similar team formations and game plans nullify each other and the watching millions are left with deadlock.
It’s now down to managers to recognise this and seek it as a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to ‘crab football’.
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