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“How do you beat a team who are better than you? – a lament to the passing of football.

by Andrew Crawshaw

This weekend I watched a football team who rely on playing football on the ground, with skillful players who know each other well and are normally free scoring be beaten by three goals to one by a team who in general were nowhere near so skillful.

How did this happen?

The less skillful side defended deep in regulation banks of four sucking the heart of the skillful team. No room here for your namby-pamby continental style of football they seemed to say as they set out their stall.

They packed players behind the ball and relied on one or two front players running their socks off.

They also ate up the clock wasting time at every opportunity, the keeper took a drink before collecting the ball and slowly and carefully placed the ball at the opposite side of the six yard box before retreating, looking at it again and deciding that it wasn’t quite in the right place.

When they had a throw in they again took as long as possible and advanced as far up the pitch as was possible before they were instructed to go back wasting more time. Needless to say the referee and his assistants failed to intervene in any meaningful manner leaving the manager fuming on the edge of his technical area at the fourth official.

Every time the skillful team had the ball they were subject to little nudges, pulls and pushes and their forwards were wrapped up by the defenders from the less skillful team. The leaders from the skillful team were subjected to increasingly forceful tackles on a rotational basis culminating in a particularly violent two footed lunge with studs showing and which met every criteria for a red card but which the man in black could only find worthy of a yellow card.

The injured player managed to finish the game but was unable to move freely again. Job done by the less skillful team, key player taken out of the game at the cost of a single yellow card. Value for money they thought.

Needless to say when the skillful team made even the slightest foul it was immediately penalised. As the game progressed the skillful team’s passing became more and more erratic as the constant minor fouling took its toll on their confidence and ability to think clearly.

They were expecting to be jostled or worse and so hurried their passing to the detriment of accuracy or time to allow their intended passes to get to the right place to receive the ball. Eventually it became easy for the less skillful team to pick off and intercept these passes and that enabled them to get the ball to their hard running forwards who could run directly at the skillful team’s goal without fear of being fouled.

The more skillful team were playing at home and had good support and started brightly but failed to make an early breakthrough. As the game progressed the crowd became more and more disheartened in tune with the players. Supporters near me were groaning at every backwards or sideways pass even when that pass was the only option available to the player.

They were also urging the Skillful players to shoot every time they were within 20 or 30 yards of the goal despite the number of defenders between the player and the ball and the fact that a shot from that kind of distance has only a 3% chance of ending up in the net.

In extra time at the end of the game one of the skillful teams forwards was running on to a through ball about 30 yards from goal when he was blatantly pulled back by the last defender. The clearest red card anyone will see this season except the referee who was unable to keep up with play or the linesman and a red card thus avoided.

Mark, my Fulham supporting friend with whom I went to the game – it was Fulham v Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship, said it was the worst he had seen Fulham play all season. That may have been so but their ability to play was inexorably sucked out of them by the tactics adopted by Wolves.

The referee was terrible, allowed all of the minor and rotational fouling, eventually gave one card for delaying the restart from a throw in, issued a yellow card for the two footed studs up challenge on Cairney instead of the straight red it deserved and totally missed the last man red card at the end of the game.

Wolves were delirious at their win which was a triumph of their tactics. I just felt cheated that yet again this season a game of football had all of the enjoyment sucked out of it by a team who used all of the black arts to achieve a win at any cost victory.

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23 comments to “How do you beat a team who are better than you? – a lament to the passing of football.

  • Jojo

    Two things:

    1 – Better teams (especially at the top level -since this analogy/comparison to the Championship doesn’t really fit nor account for so many differring factors) – including AFC – (i.e. those that have more skillful players) win far than they lose against inferior teams in terms of talent and skill..so not quite sure where you are going with this….

    2 – There are many different ways to play the game, and many different things within the game to try to excel at that should be included in the evaluation of how good or rather, better, a team is. Such as, defending set pieces, tackling, defensive awareness and maintaining shape (plus several other non-quantifiable factors and facets of the game) and so on. Facets of the game that equally depend on skill (different skill). Skill isn’t just limited to the style of football you prefer such as playing on the ground and being “continental”, whatever that means….

    Lastly, literally every single team wastes time when they need to.

  • Matthew

    “The less skillful side defended deep in regulation banks of four sucking the heart of the skillful team. No room here for your namby-pamby continental style of football they seemed to say as they set out their stall.

    They packed players behind the ball and relied on one or two front players running their socks off.”

    Are you talking about when we beat Parma in the CWC final? Maybe we should hand that trophy back because we won it the “wrong” way.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Matthew, no I was calling the one game I watched as I saw it. I have another piece to do later this week looking at three young left sided players I have watched in the last couple of weeks. One of those was Helder Costa who was excellent in the game against Fulham and really impressed me as an individual.

  • Tom

    Andrew
    I can’t say I disagree with your take expressed above but here’s the thing,
    Arsenal have played against many ” skillful teams” that don’t defend deep with banks of fours this season domestically and in Europe, and the results have been very poor.

    What’s your excuse for that?

  • Leon

    It’s standard defensive tactics by less skilful teams. Wolves were just above the relegation zone and desparately needed the points and fellow relegation candidates Bristol City pulled off a shock 4-1 against promotion chasing Huddersfield despite only having hardly any of the possession.

  • Jojo, I am sorry that you can’t see where Andrew is going with this. It seems clear to me – he is disappointed to see this being allowed by referees. How can that not be clear?

  • Equalizer

    I watched Stoke try to do the same thing to Chelsea on Saturday. Chelsea stood up to them and stuck at it doggedly until they scored their 88th minute winner. That’s what winners do. That’s why they’ll be champions. They won’t accept being bullied.

  • Steve Vallins

    We can’t do bullying we are not allowed to we’d end up with no players on the pitch
    Kos got sent off for a push against Bayern how come Cahill stayed on against Stoke Saturday

  • Mike T

    Steve

    The penalty was debatable but hey it was given but how was the foul a clear goal scoring opportunity ?

  • Pat

    Good article, Andrew. Very thought provoking. I’ve been saying it for some years – English football fans are deprived of skilful football, and the way football is refereed in England has a lot to do with it.

  • Peter Kay

    If Equalizer is not aware that any attempt at bullying by an Arsenal player would be severely dealt with and that the Laws applied to Arsenal state that a fair tackle can be penalized, a foul is a yellow card offence, a yellow card offence is worthy of a sending off and a red card offence may result in “exemplary” punishment, then he cannot have been watching Arsenal this past decade or more. So why is he reading and commenting on this site?

  • Seydlitz

    It’s beyond me that some writers on this site cannot come to the conclusion that blatant bias officiating of the refs in arsenal games has no effect on the way the players perform. They must be perplexed in what is right and what is wrong when going for tackle, xhaha gets two reds when for tackle other players get no card or at worst a yellow for a similar offence.Arsene has had to suffer this for years to my mind unless legal action taken by the club, which would a mine field in court of law we have just suck up.

  • Equalizer

    Well Mr Comedian. You don’t stand up to a bully by being a bully. You use your superior ability and intellect to outsmart the bully. You don’t just whinge that life is so unfair- it is and always has been. You find a way, because that’s life. And that’s what separates the men from the boys

  • Jojo

    Tony I’ll rephrase..

    I’m not sure where he’s going with this example (per him he’s only talking about this one game) as evidence for a) the only (inferred) way to beat a team better than you; and, b) to prove something as extraordinary as “the passing of football”

    Which I should read literally like that right? Since your response to my words were framed by interpreting my comments in the most literal of forms.. when anyone applying everyday conversation knowledge could see my stance on where he was going with his analogy…

    But anyway…skillful teams like us (which is what this is ultimately about even if it may not had been literally stated) beat the majority of teams we are better than, the overwhelming majority of times (no matter the tactics)…so football which is far less agricultural and brutal than it has been is not passing away based on this physical style of play towards better teams…if unfair physicality is the measure..then that makes completely no sense as any casual observer can see the physical element in that sense has steadily been removed from the game over recent decades…hence…this “evidence” and my rephrasing above to hopefully clarify things for you…

    Also his disdain wasn’t just about what he sees as illegal/unfair play but also purely tactical (and purely legal) elements that he doesn’t appreciate, as is his right. And actually with regards to skill, some like myself can appreciate a multitude of skill in football..including the just as important, but comparatively unsexier skill of, organized defending…

  • finsbury

    Andrew, thanks.

    It appears as if some of the experts above have managed to airbrush the 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich last season out from their exceedingly tiny and exceptionally disingenious little minds.

    There’s a surprise I can tell you.

  • Pat

    Arsene Wenger has managed to outsmart the bullies time and time again in the past twenty years. Otherwise he would not have the record he has, in respect of still keeping us constantly in the Champions League, runner up last season, and two FA Cups the two seasons before. Not to mention 49 games unbeaten etc. etc.

    This does not mean that the unfair behaviour of the referees and of the players and managers who have taken advantage of it – the 50th game is the perfect example of all three – has not affected our achievements over the years. It obviously has. It is such a shame to think of what we might have achieved given a level playing field.

    In fact it is a disgrace.

  • Gord

    It’s been many hours since I wrote this, as it has substantial OT content I didn’t want to get in the way.

    I would say the story is all about the officials doing their jobs. Or rather, not doing their jobs.

    It is not illegal to play 10 men back.

    Time wasting is illegal. As written, the goalkeeper was the first person to start this. It doesn’t matter. On the first time any given player reaches 4 occurrences, issue a yellow. This kind of rule, could allow for 33 instances of time wasting before the first card comes out. If the team decides to rotation-ally waste time, when the number of total time wasting occurrences reaches 10, call the captain over and tell him the yellow cards start flying on the next occurrence. The charge is unsporting conduct. On the next occurrence, I believe 2 cards could be issued: to the person did the next time wasting and to the captain.

    Rotational fouling doesn’t seem to be allowed for (at least not specifically) in the laws. But, there is lots of leeway in unsporting conduct. If the referee sees 4 or 5 instances of rotational fouling of a player, call over the captain and talk to him. With the next rotational foul, the cards start flying.

    Of Untold, and Sequels

    Or in this instance, SQLs. Untold would like people to do research. There may be data easily available, usually you need to work for it. Which is fine, but after a while this need to look up and enter data (and how do you verify it) gets to drag enough, that people quit.

    I needed to get data for 1994/95 of the EPL. Two years before Wenger. Some of it, is different from what people can usually find. And at some point, I need to augment what I already have, with this new data. And really, it should go in a proper database instead of being scattered across a zillion Perl source files.

    It’s easy enough to edit these source files, and write a new program to dump the data into a SQL (Structured Query Language) dbase, but you need some kind of structure to do so.

    And so, in preparation for using DBIx::Class (I believe) to work with my 1994/95 data, I started writing the schema for a database which should be useful for this, and most other football needs.

    There are existing data sets and schema, why not use them? Well, for one thing, there is no way to incorporate Untold Arsenal referee reviews. This at least gives a place to store it, but doesn’t really do anything with it. But maybe what I am doing, needs a tweak here and there, to be of more use?

    But, Tony talks about grassroots. There are 2 groups with overlap with games (and they are the same entities in many circumstances); the owners of competitions and the regulators of competitions. In the current scheme of things, FIFA is the ultimate regulator (it has a disciplinary body) and is an owner (it owns the World Cup competitions). And there is CAF, AFC, UEFA, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL and Oceania which are regional and finally every “country” which has football.

    There is the odd country which lacks the facilities to even have their nation’s football on a website. And it seems most of those have something as part of FIFA.

    There are a lot of countries which are associated with France, probably because they used to be French colonies. Some of the descriptions on Wikipedia point out that they are still actively involved with something at the FFF.

    Well, England had lots of colonies too. But, the only places it still has some involvement in seem to be England, Wales, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

    A big problem (IMHO) with England in terms of international football, is that its players do not have enough experience at playing a game where attempting to injure opponents, or bore them to death is not the modus opperandi. England could easily have many more National teams, which could go out and play games against former colonies.

    Maybe this idea can be formalised in another way. If a country has a “Soccer” body; it should be able to call upon the USA, Canada and Australia for a visit from one or more “national” teams. If a country has a “Football Association”, it should be able to call upon England, Scotland or Wales for a visit. If a country has Portuguese as the official language, it should be able to call upon Portugal (or Brazil?) for a visit. Large trading partners and financial or cultural dominance should also be paths to naming countries to name for visits.

    As part of this, FIFA should form one or more teams. If players of international calibre find themselves never invited to try out for a national team (or very few invitations), they should be eligible for a FIFA team.

    A country such as England, instead of having “just” A, B and C teams, could have A-N teams (in some age groups/genders). This “list” should include English nationals who happen to be on a FIFA team, instead of an England team. When England has a training camp for gender/age_group, ALL of those players _need_ to be invited to the camp.

    OT: Bob Dylan

    I see in my local news, Bob Dylan is coming to town. Too much money for me. Tickets are $X plus fees. Printing on paper, is a fee. Using ink to print, is a fee. Wind blowing from the west, is a fee. Daylight coming in the window, is a fee. Oh, imagine that. The price of the ticket has doubled or more. Just the $X is more than I can justify.

    Sorry Tony, no report on Bob Dylan from me. 🙂

  • para

    I think we(me included) are all a little deluded that Arsenal still plays good skillful football.

    I do not know where all our skill has gone, but we tend to look more feeble than skillful in the last year(s).

    Time to realise that Arsenal are not playing the football they are used to playing anymore.

    What they produce on the field is something else.

    I personally think the academy training (in the Arsenal way) needs to be overhauled, it seems to have got lost somehow.

  • para

    Gord
    I think that every foul should always be a yellow card, no if no buts. You foul, then a yellow. A second and you are out. A bad foul gets the red at once.

    These are the laws, why is there room for ref to make a decision? This causes all sorts of problems that we have today.

    If players know that there is no more ambiguity, they will play a better game, and the players will in time adapt and create new (hopefully skillful) ways of gaining advantages.

    The players just need to know they will not get away with anything. I hope that vid reffing could solve this problem(not holding my breath though). Players who do things off the main cameras should be picked up and relayed to the ref, and punished.

    Every misconduct should be addressed in game. After a few weeks we will have good football from most teams, and the stragglers will soon have to change their ways or fall out the bottom of the league as per usual.

  • MickHazel

    Para
    The only problem with always giving a yellow for every foul committed is the licence it would give to the cheats such as Hazard, Vardy etc to get opposition players sent off by way of simulation. Hazard for example is a master at drawing a foul by dangling his leg into the stride of an opponent and then going down. Great for Hazard, he gets his foul in a dangerous position and the opponent booked as well but not so great for his victim, especially when he does it again and gets the poor sod sent off.

  • Pat

    Yes, it’s a pity a skilful player like Hazard is also a cheat. Very rarely mentioned by the pundits when they drool over him.

  • Peter Kay

    Equalizer
    You’re supposed to say “I like your TV show” – most people do. (If I were a comedian I would have to bow to your superiority and find another job). I think a number of contributors to this site have explained that “ways round” opponents tactics are not an option because their tactics are intrinsically linked to those of the PGMO. Please, run along and find yourself a club that condones and practises violent assaults on their fellow professionals.

  • Menace

    Equalizer – I’m glad that you separate men from boys by being a bully. Someday someone will teach you how sport differs from life & why Laws are made for sport separately.

    Till your lesson stay tough & plugged in.