Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Is the era of the seven-goal thriller over?

I cannot think of the last time I saw a team win 4-3 in a high profile match and perhaps it is a dying scoreline. But why is this?

In the 1990s, there were some thrilling 4-3 encounters, most notably Liverpool's sensational 4-3 win over Newcastle, a match that showed the top quality strike partnerships of Newcastle's Peter Beardsley and Les Ferdinand and Liverpool's prolific Robbie Fowler and a Stan Collymore on top of his game compete arguably the most exciting match the Premiership has seen.

Four Four Two magazine editor Hugh Sleight wrote in the March 2008 issue about the decline in the number of strike partnerships in the Premiership, which is undoubtedly a factor behind less high-scoring matches in today's top flight. In the 1990s, the partnerships of Manchester United's Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, Blackburn's Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer and Liverpool's Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen were just a few thriving partnerships.

But since the beginning of the 2000s, exciting strike partnerships have been in decline as a new era has been entered, of the lone striker and the preferred 4-5-1 formation over the traditional 4-4-2.

This formation allows players like Arsenal's Spanish midfield maestro Cesc Fabregas to shine as he did in last night's famous first victory for an English side in AC Milan's San Siro stadium; it has been a breeding ground for the holding midfield position which in recent season's has been tagged by pundits as the 'Makalele role'; it allows wingers like Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Tottenham Hotspur's Aaron Lennon to burst forward more without the need to retreat back and defend.

Has it made Premiership football more exciting, though? The answer is no. It is a formation used to try and win, not to entertain. We have, as Starting Eleven blogs, "entered a period when neither team wants to make a horrible mistake". Therefore, teams are playing more defensively.
Kevin Keegan's attacking nineties 4-4-2 formation has been thrown out in favour of the more defensive 4-5-1, imported from Europe by foreign coaches.

This is a formation that has not particularly suited the England national team very well as Wayne Rooney was left isolated in attack during the team's World Cup 2006 match against Portugal, which was later lost on penalties. The clean sheet, though, did show that the defensive purpose of the formation did work that day.

On reflection, Manchester United did not win the title for two seasons while there was a transition period towards the 4-5-1. Instead, Mourinho's use of less conventional formations helped towards Chelsea's title wins, while Sir Alex Ferguson, so successful in using 4-4-2 in the nineties, recouperated his squad, acquiring the likes of Carlos Tevez, Anderson, Nani and Ronaldo and the side have come back stronger since. And why? Because he used 4-5-1.

The end of decade 2000 is into the latter stages now and it seems unlikely that it will produce many matchs that will equal the excitement and drama of the previous decade. But something else has become apparent. This season, Liverpool have blitzed Derby County and Besiktas 6-0 and 8-0 respectively and Arsenal have thrashed Slavia Prague 7-0. In League Two, Peterborough United have swept aside Accrington Stanley 8-2 and Brentford 7-0, while the week before, Stockport County beat Wycombe Wanderers 6-0.

Could it be that, in an era when attacking formations, prolific strike partnerships and 4-3 scorelines are becoming extinct, that we are more likely to see seven goals when a team hammers another than when it is a closely-fought thriller?

1 comment:

Starting11 said...

Interesting post; it could be a simple question of there being too much at stake money-wise for teams not to play aggressively.