I wonder how many neutrals, like me, were disappointed with the overall quality of the Premier League ‘title showdown’ between Chelsea and Manchester City. When that happens, and it has nothing to do with the hype and expectation leading up to Saturday’s game, I take it down a notch or two and look for something on a different level. Thankfully I found it, twice. Then the following day I spotted something similar and scratched a few notes to underline what Eden Hazard and Sergio Agüero got up to in their respective blue shirts.
I wrote recently about what seems to be a Premier League obsession with passing for the sake of passing. ‘Keep ball’ across midfield and in front of the opposing defensive line. It annoys me almost as much as the dearth of players capable of running at opponents with the ball at pace.
I do bemoan the apparent lack of tactical acumen on show in too many Premier League games, both from players and the men who supposedly guide them. We used to call them managers, but now they are coaches.
When a team attacks down the flank it seems those attacks are generally quite narrow and so when a ball comes in, for example a hard, low cross, that escapes any kind of touch in front of the goal, the ball fizzes through the ruck and runs out of play for a throw in. Rarely do players adopt what, many years ago was referred to as the ‘Martin Peters’ position, i.e. coming in from the opposing flank having had a broader view of what unfolds and therefore making an informed decision as to how to respond to that unfolding situation.
And so to last weekend. Eden Hazard is by far the best exponent of running with the ball at pace. In fact not just pace but faster than that whilst still maintaining control of the ball. The fact that he can do so for longer and better than most Premier League players makes him the world class player he is. Against City he took the scenic route, wide of the far post, with the ball and gave himself the time to set up Loïc Rémy for a tap in.
City equalised with another example of a player running wide of the far post, Sergio Agüero. In doing so he was able to unleash his shot into a dangerous area. Yes, it was going wide but because he had given himself a wider view of the area he wished to fire in to, David Silva was able to divert the ball on target to equalise.
Then on Sunday, Theo Walcott combined running with the ball, at speed, with an angled approach, again from wide of the far post, and turned the Villa defence, not difficult these days, to mark his return to the Gunners’ line up with a typical Walcott goal.
Hazard, Agüero and Walcott, top players with top clubs. I think there may be a clue in there somewhere. Maybe other teams, players and coaches will take note. All I want now is to see more players, who do come in via the scenic route, getting headers back across goal, from whence crosses come, to wrongfoot defenders and goalkeepers alike, and for said headers dropping unopposed inside the far post.
It is a simple game you know!