|When Spurs take to the
field, how do you think they prepare for the match ahead ?? What
is going through their minds as kick-off approaches ?? Have they
taken the words of their manager to heart and intend to follow them word
for word ??
So, when, after the game, George Graham says that the side have not played at the right tempo, where does the message get lost along the way ??
If the match is all about tempo, then why do the side play so differently away than at home ?? Are they deliberately trying to slow things down to kill any head of steam the home side is trying to build up when Spurs are on the road ?? Or are they just trying to cope with the frenetic pace the Premiership requires home sides to start with ?? The match yesterday at Derby was a prime example. Spurs didn't get going at all in the first half, mainly due to the Rams effort in closing them down and movement off the ball. Both aspects of Tottenham's game were notable by their absence. I have often thought that it would be much better and take the opposition by surprise if, when away, you started like a steam train and put them under pressure immediately. This would put them on the back foot straight away and should you profit by grabbing a goal, then at least they have to come out and play, leaving space for you to get at them again. Against Derby County, Spurs were two down before they really got out of first gear and that is a hard mountain to climb.
The pace of Premier League football seems to have increased unabated for a few years now. Looking at old video footage makes you realise that the game in the old days (just going back to the 1980's even), was played at a much more sedate speed. Players had some time on the ball, whereas now, the teams who are not blessed with the most skilled players try to even things up by creating mistakes from 100 mph football. Not that it necessarily takes that to induce errors from some teams !! The technical skills on show will not improve greatly until something is done to slow the game down, but there is the dichotomy. English fans like their football like this; not like the French League or Spain, where it tends to be played in burst of speed not at full pelt constantly. It could be the reason that many foreign imports into English football take some time to settle down, because they are not used to the hurly-burly that is the Premier League. Being accustomed to have time to knock the ball around without someone snapping at your ankles, is not a luxury they will be afforded in the Premiership.
The law-makers have not helped the situation either. The innovations they tend to bring into the game are designed to speed things up under the guise of reducing time wasting. Allowing goalkeepers to run around the box with the ball taking as many steps as they like does not speed up the game by itself. The rush of players to get back into position and be ready for the outlet ball does. The fact that goalkeepers are no longer allowed to use their hands with back-passes merely means that there are a flurry of players running around to try and block the kick and brings little to the game in terms of skill. Asking goalkeepers to play with their feet ?? You might as well get a fish to ride a bicycle !!
So where does that leave managers tactics and their plan for a match ?? Blowing in the wind, that's where. Players appear to be their own masters once they get out on the pitch and while there are still some mavericks in the game, by setting a high level of running and moving off the ball (something that Tottenham patently fail to do on many an occasion), you set the pace at which the game is played. If you watch Manchester United, their speed of play is breath-taking sometimes. They pass and move simply, but at speed. When England did this to Spain in the friendly on Wednesday night, they became difficult to deal with. Clubs from overseas have done this in short bursts and done damage when they have turned it on, but now they might have to deal with it coming back at them.
How would someone like Hoddle cope in today's rush and kick football ?? He would still stand out, but might be a victim of late challenges and burn-out from the searing pace exhibited in the midfields of clubs all over the country. Admittedly, the skill level has to be higher to overcome the speed of play, but are youngsters being coached to take part in something like Rollerball these days ?? What attributes will the players of the future have to be considered good buys ?? We already know that "good athletes" are highly prized by managers these days, so, in the years to come, will Olympic champion type midfielders be the purchase of choice ??
Let us pray that skill does not die out of the English game. However, when tackles fly as well as the time, it can be hard to live and die by the sword.
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