A new season is upon us, European football has returned to SJP and everything is rosie again in the land of Black and White. We have stormed up the league leaving "bigger teams" in our wake, beaten our local rivals in their own back yard and ushered in a new style of football to NE1, we haven't had it as good for a long time. However, after the first three home games of the season there is still one sentence being shouted, yelled sometimes screamed from the seats around us.
"GET IT IN THE BOX MAN!"
I've now developed such an aversion to this particular phrase, it's usually followed by shaking sweating and swearing. I'm referring, of course, to the insistence that our wide players deliver crosses into the box at every given opportunity. This has started to get my dander up recently and even though we all love the slick, patient passing styles that are so coveted in the modern game, we're still looking to "Get it in for the big lad" every time we have the ball near the touch/by-line.
Two main ingredients are needed for "The Perfect Cross". A winger who can whip a ball over, and a Striker who is dominant in the air. At the moment our first team has neither of these things....... controversial? Maybe, let's look at it in a bit more detail then.
Our current crop of wide midfielders doesn't actually include what you would class as a traditional, chalk on his boots style winger. For a start we play with inverted wide men. Now not only does that sound like a really niche porn website, it instantly reduces the chances of seeing a delicious whipped ball coming into the box from the by-line. HBA and Jonas are both playing inside out, the wrong side of the pitch for their stronger foot, or so we're always being told. These two lads have been coached and developed in very technical footballing environments and the concept of beating a man and whipping it over (again, quite dirty) is not something they will have been regularly exposed to as young players. Jonas, all swashbuckling hold up play and graft, winning the team throw ins, free kicks and sometimes penalties when the team are pinned back or attacking without purpose. He's the kind of player who can delight fans one minute with a piece of skill then frustrate by not delivering quality end product. Similarly Ben Arfa, all swagger and drive, snaking his way past defenders, dropping his shoulder with Beardsley-esque regularity and genrally being a pain in the arse of every full back he's ever come up against. What does he do once he's left said fullback on the turf trying to figure out what went wrong? Cross it? Not usually, he drifts inside and either hands the ball off to a colleague or winds up an sends a "HATEM BOMB" towards the keeper. He cuts back, he waits then he finds the correct ball rather than hopefully punting it into the box. This attitude of run-cross-header is a very English approach to attacking play and the swung over percentage ball has slowly been removed from the majority of the top Premier League clubs game plans. A drift away from the classic 4-4-2 and the wholesale adoption of an attacking 4-3-3 formation by a number of English clubs, has sounded a death knell for the big man with the power header.
Our second line of wide midfielders includes two Frenchmen, both products of the Clairefontaine Academy and both pacey and tricky players with bags of technique. How many times have you heard people screaming at poor Gabby Obertan for not crossing early? I understand he is a frustrating player sometimes, seemingly caught in an argument with himself over what to do next, as if his massive head has too many thoughts in it for one human to comprehend. Both of these players have been trained to look up and if a dead cert ball isn't on, they start again, playing it back to the full back. At Man Utd, Obertan will have had it drilled into him to play back if an option isn't there, similarly Marveaux in France. We can't expect them to suddenly start whipping in arching, inch perfect crosses like Stanley Matthews.
At NUFC, it could be argued that we haven't had "proper wingers" since the days of Solano and Robert, maybe even earlier with Ginola and Gillespie. We certainly haven't had the right kind of strikers, with the exception of Andy Carroll, who will thrive on such delivery. Alan Shearer made hay from balls into the box but I think even he would struggle to score as many headers in our current team. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse are not "Big man strikers" and our reluctance to play to the strengths of these two superb footballers is often our undoing when attacking. We chip balls up to them at head and neck height, hit long raking diagonal balls when a player loses confidence in his own ability and that of his team mates around him and panics. Anyone who has watched, played or coached youth football in this country will testify that kids are told to "Get it over" whenever they can, as if the element of surprise will be enough to bamboozle the defence into a mistake. This has bred a generation of players who are not confident enough to hold the ball until the right pass becomes available. The Newcastle back four is usually made up of two English lads and two continental players, Willo/Taylor and Simpson and Coloccini and Santon. It's not just chance that the players in that defence who are most comfortable and relaxed in posession are the two players trained and developed outside of the UK. At times Danny Simpson treats the football as if it may explode at any given moment, such is his willingness to get rid of it in haste.
We need to encourage these players if they decide not to toss a hopeful ball into the box, but instead turn back and look for a pass inside to one of our talented midfielders. At present the reaction is usually not so constructive. As it stands the amount of goals scored from crosses in the Premier League last season was the lowest it's ever been and this is indicative of the current trends not just in English football, but European and also worldwide. If we want attractive, attacking football at SJP, we may have to forego the sight of a big striker leaping to hammer home a wide man's end product (stop sniggering at the back).
Comments and thoughts welcome, just don't be nasty or I'll send Besty round to sit on you...
Lots of Love