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All Things Footie | Tuesday, September 20 | Jordan

Formation, formation, formation

There seems to be a growing trend in the Premiership, and English football in general, to be dull. I love watching Premiership football because it’s exciting, because it’s fast paced, because it’s more often than not a-thrill-a-minute. Well, it used to be.

We’re all used to seeing the smaller teams come to bigger clubs and play defensively, with one big target man up front, packing the midfield and trying to stifle their technically superior opponents. I have no problem with that, it’s the way things are, and you can’t blame the smaller teams from wanting to get something out of the game more than wanting to entertain the crowds. For the truly great teams, it’s even possible to entertain the crowd when the opposition is being that defensive.

My problem right now is that the top sides are beginning to play like this too, and that’s a worry. Chelsea are the prime example, playing most of last and all of this season with one big lump up front, and despite what anyone may say about Duff and Robben being attacking midfielders, the truth is that they’re still midfielders. In all honesty, how enjoyable are Chelsea to watch? Truly? How enjoyable was Arsenal’s 4-5-1 tactic in the FA Cup Final last season?

The common argument to this kind of moan is that who cares about entertaining when you’re winning things, and that may be true to an extent 1  but it’s short sighted to say the least. I’m sure that when Serie A started on this road in the early/mid nineties, most Italian fans didn’t care that their top teams were playing negative, win-at-all-costs football, but in the long run it’s seriously damaged crowds in Italy, as well as the International reputation of their game. Given that Italy is probably the most football mad country on the planet (how many other countries have about five solely football oriented daily newspapers?) it’s no surprise they reached this stage earlier than everyone else, but it’s worrying that, ten years on, they're still a long way from fixing the problem. In England, we’re already starting to see fans ebb away from clubs, with at least three stadiums this weekend not even 3/4 full.

I started writing this piece last week, so I can assure you it’s just coincidence that this morning, Arsène Wenger himself is urging clubs to be entertaining—as he says:

“When somebody buys a ticket and spends £50, £60 or £70 [it cost me the best part of £50 last night], it is not because he wants to be bored, it is because he [or she, Arsène] wants to enjoy a football game. I feel we all have a responsibility to keep that going.”

It’s certainly true that a football team cannot be entertaining all of the time, off-days or specific tactics for certain teams will always be part of football, but the negative tactics employed by Liverpool, Chelsea will inevitably lead to people deserting English football in the same droves that flocked to it ten years ago.

There’s little point in winning things if there’s no one there to cheer you on.

[1] Though personally, I don’t care for that sentiment. I care about enjoying football, I will remember great games for longer than trophy wins. I’ll remember Arsenal’s losing cup final against Liverpool in 2001 far longer than their successful one against Manchester United in 2005.

(29) Comment(s) | Permanent link to this article

# Posted by Anonymous Fulvio at 11:34 AM
Its alright for Wenger to say this but he relied on a big lump to score the goals against Everton
# Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2:43 PM
Fulvios right. If only one side wants to play with out Sol Campbells goals Arsenal would be left with a lot a fancy passing and a nil nil. Isn’t it the Isthmian League that has a motto 'honour sufficit'. Leave the fancy stuff for Corinthian Casuals far better the Arsenal of George Graham and a satisfying one nil and champions.
# Posted by Blogger Jordan at 9:12 PM
short sighted.
# Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 4:24 AM
Three most important things in football:
1) Win
2) Win
3) Win

From, David
# Posted by Blogger Jordan at 8:40 AM
Only in a world of Robots.

Only non spectator sports can be concerned with winning soley. Entertainment factor zero: no one watches: no one cares whether a team's winning or not.

Crowds are already turning away (it will get worse).
# Posted by Anonymous Phil at 8:44 AM
I have always thought that you could make football more entertaining by having temporary subs like in rugby and american football. If you had say 15 subs and divided the pitch into 3 with dotted lines. When a side had a free kick in the opponents third of the pitch then the attacking side could bring on say 3 temporary strikers like Duncan Ferguson or Alan Shearer. The same would apply at corners. The downside would be that these temporary strikers could not be taken off until the ball went out of play. There would be added interest because older players could continue their careers in this less demanding roll.
Alternatively we could do away with the offside rule.
I have always thought that you could make football more entertaining by having temporary subs like in rugby and american football. If you had say 15 subs and divided the pitch into 3 with dotted lines. When a side had a free kick in the opponents third of the pitch then the attacking side could bring on say 3 temporary strikers like Duncan Ferguson or Alan Shearer. The same would apply at corners. The downside would be that these temporary strikers could not be taken off until the ball went out of play. There would be added interest because older players could continue their careers in this less demanding roll.
Alternatively we could do away with the offside rule.
I have always thought that you could make football more entertaining by having temporary subs like in rugby and american football. If you had say 15 subs and divided the pitch into 3 with dotted lines. When a side had a free kick in the opponents third of the pitch then the attacking side could bring on say 3 temporary strikers like Duncan Ferguson or Alan Shearer. The same would apply at corners. The downside would be that these temporary strikers could not be taken off until the ball went out of play. There would be added interest because older players could continue their careers in this less demanding roll.
Alternatively we could do away with the offside rule.
I have always thought that you could make football more entertaining by having temporary subs like in rugby and american football. If you had say 15 subs and divided the pitch into 3 with dotted lines. When a side had a free kick in the opponents third of the pitch then the attacking side could bring on say 3 temporary strikers like Duncan Ferguson or Alan Shearer. The same would apply at corners. The downside would be that these temporary strikers could not be taken off until the ball went out of play. There would be added interest because older players could continue their careers in this less demanding roll.
Alternatively we could do away with the offside rule.
# Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 9:34 AM
Thank you Phil. Nothing like repeating yourself. Some mistake with the copy and paste perhaps. If Chelski had 15 subs they would soon outnumber the supporters and as regard offside they have so many defenders in the penalty box you never get an offside.
# Posted by Anonymous beefy at 10:20 PM
What rugby do you play? Never seen temproary subs in rugby before.
# Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 10:33 PM
If you only care about winning then you're not a true fan of football, your a fan of winning.

How many of "Chelsea's greatest 1-0 victories!" will you see flying off the shelves this year?
Congrats to them for wining the title but I didn't watch.
# Posted by Anonymous Oval balls at 10:58 AM
I think he meams blood substitutes and arnt the props allowed back on if they have been substituted and the substitute is injured? Funny game!
# Posted by Anonymous Pete_AFC at 12:58 PM
funny, i never heard any arsenal fans complaining of this in the george graham era. in fact, we celebrated it.

football should be interesting, but the result for the club is, and always has been, more important.

once a team is steady at the back and playing well, then they can think about upping the flair.

i think a lot of the criticism of football is due to the wonderfully entertaining ashes series of the summer and also the conduct and achievements of our rugby and cricket players.
# Posted by Anonymous furrball at 4:41 PM
i think fans are where most of football's money come from. if you for example win the champions league. yes you get a certain amount of cash. but that doesnt amount to the recognition u get worldwide. it helps sell the merchandise and perhaps earn new footie fans or bring back the old half past 6 not so loyal ones and then merchandise and ticketing prices and tv subscriptions would increase. but the point is. football as a business is nothing without its consumer. why do teams wanna reach the champions league? or not get relegated? it's mostly for the tv rights if im not wrong. and if no one watches football anymore cos it's such a bore, what right do sky or any other provider have to charge exuberant prices? or pay for a huge ticketing fee or buy the merchandise of a club? and when football has failed as a business, clubs like chelsea and manchester united will be in big trouble cos abramovich will discard them and i dare not even think what malcom glazer would do to my beloved manchester united. i cant bear watching this entropy of football and im still only 18 i have 60 years of football left to go spare me the heartbreak please.
# Posted by Blogger Jordan at 8:14 PM
well said furrball.

Pete:

I don't expect Chelsea fans to complain about them being boring, I wouldn't have expected Arsenal fans to complain in the early 90s.

In the late 80s, football very nearly fell off the popular radar, if sky hadn't saved it in 91 it most likely would have gone the way of cricket. People were bored, people weren't interested and were perfectly happy to stay at home on saturday afternoons rather than go to the footie.

Entertaining football saved the game, I'm wary that the rennaissance could hav ebded after just 15 years.
# Posted by Anonymous cisko at 9:19 PM
I think that you will never take away the option to play defensive football. Nor would you want to. Some teams will want or need to play that way. The problem results because lots of teams are playing that way now. So you end up with too many stalemates like Liverpool-Man Utd.

Sometimes you have to change the rules to overcome this sort of thing. That's why the offsides rule was changed, why teams now get 3 points for a win, and other changes. But these kinds of changes are usually a big deal, and you don't want to make them on a whim.

I don't think it will come down to that. The 4-5-1 is a fashion, because Mourinho uses it and it's working. But it's working because Chelsea have bought so much talent, not because of the formation. Eventually teams will realize this and move on.
# Posted by Blogger Scherzbit at 2:42 AM
If CHelsea have so much 'talent', it must all be in defense, or that 1 up front must make Marco Van Basten look like a total piker.
Tis true results are the focus of pro sports, but unless the plan is to move the EPL entire to Asia (a plum marketing move, to be sure), there better be some entertainment on offer.
Sure those creaking along in Chelsea's overburdened bandwagon maybe happy, but soon they will be the only ones left watching, and wouldn't that just frost the Glazers' noogies? If I wanted to a physical activity reduced to perfection, I'd spend my Saturdays at the cannery.
More generally, some one the underwater hockey championship every year, but who the hell cares?
Pro sports are entertainment,and results, any result, are only tomorrow's trivia.
# Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 10:44 PM
Aside from the style of play, how much does the cost of a ticket and the predictability of where teams finish a factor in the declining attendance?
# Posted by Anonymous kitch at 7:26 AM
For the sake of entertainment lets hope the trend does move on.

It's like watching gazetta on channel 4 in the old days at the moment.

My anti Arsenal stance runs deep but I had more respect for the way they won the league.

Of course it's about winning but there's a reason I don't watch chess every week.
# Posted by Blogger andyrupe at 12:58 PM
DONT PANIC! DONT PANIC!

Y has everyone gone mad, are the germans coming again???

Haha, no, seriously people, this kind of thing happens all the time, i really dont understand why managers get so carried away with a suddenly 'new formation'! Its no different to the 3/5/2 - 5/3/2 craze that went around. And if you ask me, its entirely irrelevant. Its more to do with the mentality of the players on the pitch and their particular style of play that. That is what should be determining what formation suits. U play your best team in its most balanced formation - simple.

The phase will pass, and so will everyone calling chelsea boring. Give them a few weeks and a few 6 goal thumpings and people can carry on and watch the new Man Utd dominate! About time if you assk me, its so refreshing to see Arsenal and Utd have a crap start its almost worth the bookies paying out on this 1 horse race already!

I think much of the reason for declining attendences is partly as said above - predictability of finishing positions / each games scoreline, ridiculously over-priced tickets, and also has a lot to do with football fans being jerked about with kick off times. U used to know u kept ur saturdays free, now to be a commited fan you need a free diary and a penchant for leavng home to watch a footy match in the wee small hours! Just cus it means sky can get ever closer to a 24hour premiership chanel with games played back to back only stopping for a short break to fit another skybet advert in!


Oh and the reason u dont watch chess is cus you dont understand it kitch!
# Posted by Blogger Football Commentator at 9:21 PM
What is getting on my nerves more than anything is all the tactical fouling and referee's tolerating it. The defense in today's game is given way too much leeway. Ref's know that a single goal often decides a game and err too often on the side of caution.
# Posted by Anonymous kitch at 6:15 PM
The point is too many teams are playing the same formation after Chelsea's success with it.

As for 3-5-2 still a very good case for England to play it.

And to this andyrupe guy, if you take offence at chess jokes I am awfully sorry.
# Posted by Blogger andyrupe at 12:26 AM
Yes 'Kitch' thats my point, it works for chelsea because Mourinho has effectively hand picked his players to fit his style. This is quite a rare position for a manager to find themselves in.

What i dont get is why other managers seem to think that approaching games the same will help them equally - i'm a firm believer in teams playing there best side and leaving the formation to choose itself.

And as for England 3-5-2, i agree, b/c i think we can accomodate ur best side that way.
# Posted by Anonymous furrball at 4:42 AM
who will be England's wing backs? and Beckham wont be in the centre will he? i dont see him anywhere in a 3-5-2. which also sorta means sven will never play 3-5-2 =)
# Posted by Anonymous Pete_AFC at 2:14 PM
3-5-2 could be good.

campbell, terry and ferdinand at the back, with ashley cole and gary neville as wing backs.

beckham gerrard and lampard in midfield? or will that lead to the same problem as before?
# Posted by Anonymous Jason at 7:57 PM
taking a vacation in apil to London - first time in England. want to catch a premiership match and need some advice.

1. We have to go on Sat. April 1, since we will be there from 4/1 to 4/8 and there are no games in between

2. Would like to go to a match in London, as we will not have a car and are staying in London

3. No idea what the best stadiums are or the best place to see a game

4. Do not have to see the best game, as being at a premiership game will be cool enough

5. Should I get tix before we go? If so, what are the best resources via the web? If not, how easy is it to get tix day of game (scalpers, etc).

6. We live in Chicago, so we are used to a large metro area (trains, etc)

Please email me some suggestions or post here. I have found myself giving directions, etc to many brits, etc in chicago, here is hoping that the good karma comes back.

Also, I have no fave football team, any suggestions?

Thanks.
jason.spock (at) gmail.com
# Posted by Anonymous furrball at 8:35 PM
hm. i think beckham should just stay wide right and deliver those crosses of his to owen and rooney. ashley cole and gary neville could get the job done though. they're both famous for their overlapping runs so i dont think running up and down the pitch would be any problem. what about the tried and tested 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 to allow rooney a free role? we would have beckham crossing the ball from wide right, gerrard and lampard commanding the middle of the park and joe cole running at defenders on the left. im not really sure about joe cole though, considering the amount of times he's started for chelsea so far.
# Posted by Anonymous kitch at 7:48 AM
Totally agree that the players fit the formation. That's why everyone doing a Chelsea is so frustrating.

We have an abundance of quality centre halfs, that should be utilised. Yes Beckham had an awesome day midweek but you don't pick a formation to suit him.

Andy to argue one point Spurs had some awesome players at the start of the prem but picking the famous five didn't keep Ozzie a job at Tottingham too long!
# Posted by Blogger andyrupe at 10:37 AM
Well yes, kitch, 5 isnt just a magic number, it is kinda important who u play, and what their mentality is. 5 wannabe striker is not gonna work so well, nor would 5 makalele's. Back to the old word, balance.

And re: Beckham, i'm a big fan, always have been, but if his performances dont merit a game then he shouldnt get 1. Would a spell on the subs bench do him that much harm? Having said that i would give him, gerrard and lampard another crack at a central 3.

And yeah i take your point about Sven is never gonna do it if it means dropping Becks. But i thought the idea was to imagine just for a second we didnt have the most uninspired man in football in charge of our national team... its so depressing that he is the ideal FA man - i think that highlights much of where our problem is. Our left sided problams pail in comparison!
# Posted by Anonymous furrball at 5:17 AM
Sven looks the same when he's in the stands at white hart lane and when he's on the bench for England. he sits there passively,stares and bites his fingernails. To me his insistence in playing Beckham, his inability to inspire and command respect from his players together with his over reliance on his players for his tactics has convinced me he isnt the right man for the job.

English football without passion just isnt English football at all. Same goes with the England national team who's without a passionate manager.

It's really easy to tell if Sven's being influenced by his players. Beckham in the centre? no disrespect andy, perhaps he might get the job done but never as a holding midfielder. at a few whims by captain marvel he's being dispatched into the centre just because he wants to be in the centre of things and dictate play. it's really selfish of him and yes he looked good against northen ireland, but at what cost? he practically took Lampard,Gerrard and Rooney out of the game with his long punts to Shaun Wright Philips. against any stronger side, Beckham would be made to look a fool as a holding midfielder. He just wont be able to break the other team's attack down properly cos he's not a great tackler. He's a magnificent crosser of the ball and should stay outwide and provide great service for owen and rooney.

but with all that's said and not done. who are some candidates after Sven?

big sam,mclaren,psycho,steve bruce,alan curbishley? or perhaps the special one jose mourinho but you dont wanna see England dive and roll around ala drogba would you.

if psycho had a lot more experience in managing he would be my first choice.
# Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 9:19 AM
its not the negative play that is driving the crowds away . it the cost of entering the grounds . with the players demanding such a high wage

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