This week’s Manchester derby was given the usual overblown build up by the media, and created a sense of excitement which I became inevitably caught up in. This excitement lasted right up until I heard how the two teams were going to line up. Both employed the same formation to mirror the other side, with one recognised striker a piece – in other words to cancel each other out so that no excitement, chances or entertaining football was possible. It was going to end nil-nil unless someone on the pitch produced one piece of unbelievable quality, or a poor defensive error. In reality this didn’t happen and the game ended scoreless, but even if it hadn’t you still couldn’t have called it entertaining. Sitting through 90 minutes of watching centre backs pass to each other, with the potential for one moment of incident, isn’t overly enthralling.
The problem was most clearly highlighted in the City vs. United game, but arguably plagues the whole of the league. Out of the 20 Premier League teams to play in the latest round of fixtures, only 5 started with two recognised strikers. Many would argue that the fashionable 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation employed by many sides in the division does deliver entertaining football, but I would argue that far too often the emphasis is more on packing the midfield rather than releasing wingers to be all-out attackers. The fear of losing is too great, and the huge number of average players in the Premier League can be used effectively to disrupt the few truly quality players and destroy attacking play.
There are exceptions, most notably Blackpool manager Ian Holloway, whose teams do go out to win games. His was one of the sides that played two strikers this week – and his positivity was rewarded by his side scoring two goals. Unfortunately for him (and football purists), this approach did lead to Blackpool conceding three goals and losing the match. A similar thing happened earlier in the season when Blackpool went all out for a victory in the closing minutes against Blackburn only to be hit on the break and come away with nothing. That appears to be the problem; the negative tactic (as employed by Blackburn) is far too effective.
The inspiration behind this blog is a quote from former Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower – “Football is about glory. Going out there and beating the other team, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” Unfortunately the current footballing climate appears to favour waiting for the other team to die of boredom, or failing that at least ensuring that any spectator does. The question is, if it continues like this will there be anyone left watching?