Last Monday I moaned about England’s continued use of international failures, and this week I look at the difference between Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen, praise the actions of fans over the weekend, and call for the pre-match handshake to stay.
Gerrard praise sums up English mentality
Regular readers will know I do not think much about the punditry on Match of the Day, in particular the musings of Alan Shearer.
On Saturday, however, he actually stood up off the fence to make an interesting point regarding the different passing styles of Liverpool midfielders Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard.
The former, who cost the Reds £15million in the summer, has benefited from a change in style in the Premier League. More and more teams are now playing slow, patient football that depends on keeping hold of the ball, and that has led to two of the game’s most pointless statistics being given prominence: possession and pass completion percentages.
I have moaned about this previously – if Stoke or West Ham wanted to, they could pass the ball around the back and in their own half for 90 minutes to dominate possession, with every player walking off the pitch with the magic 90% pass completion ratio.
But it would count for absolutely nothing. If a player constantly makes the easy pass during games then his statistics will look great come the end of the match, but it has to be questioned how much he has offered his team. Literally any player in the Premier League could sit at the base of midfield making five-yard passes back to his defence.
That was what Shearer accused Allen of doing in Liverpool’s draw at Sunderland on Saturday evening. To be fair he has a point – Allen successfully completed 93% of his passes, but over a quarter of them went backwards, while Gerrard completed only 85% of his passes, but played just 12% of them backwards.
Compare the two players over the four games so far, and Shearer’s argument looks a reasonable one. Overall Allen has completed 93% of his 301 passes, playing 29% forward, 11% backwards and the rest to the left or the right. Gerrard has completed 82% of his 272 passes, but played 37% forward, albeit he has actually played more backwards passes, 14%, than Allen.
The key statistic to back up Shearer’s argument, though, is that Allen has created just two chances in open play in Liverpool’s four games, whereas Gerrard has created seven. Yet it is the latter that has come in for criticism so far this season.
However, what Shearer failed to mention is the very different roles played by the two midfielders. Allen is playing at the base of the midfield in the absence of Lucas in an area where he cannot afford to lose the ball. Keeping it moving and passing to other players to start attacks is exactly what Allen is told to do. Gerrard on the other hand plays in a more advanced role where he is expected to make probing passes through to the forwards.
Furthermore, the fact that Gerrard constantly looks for the forward pass is not necessarily a positive thing, as Shearer claimed.
Watch Barcelona or Spain and you will see that, no matter where they are on the pitch, their players will usually make the simple pass rather than the difficult one. It can be quite boring, but it allows them to attack in numbers until a hole in the opposition’s defence eventually appears.
Gerrard on the other hand tries to force things, and that often leads to his passes going astray. I once described him as a Hollywood player – the passes you see on Match of the Day are the superb ones he completes, but you don’t see the 70-yard attempts that fly into touch or straight to the opposition. However, fans of English football have always preferred players like Gerrard over the likes of Michael Carrick, for example, who I have long felt should be a mainstay in the national side.
Shearer’s argument about Allen definitely holds some weight , and hopefully it’ll stop people using pass completion stats alone to highlight how well a midfielder has played. However, everyone associated with English football needs to realise that the best pass is always the one which finds a team-mate.
Focus on the good in football
On a weekend in which I hoped all of English football would stand as one, it was disappointing to hear a section of Manchester United fans had sung anti-Liverpool songs at their game against Wigan on Saturday.
However, as I have said previously, you cannot account for a minority of football fans behaving like idiots, and they simply don’t deserve the air time or press coverage they get.
Instead of focusing on what a minority of morons did, we should talk about the vast majority that did English football proud over the weekend. I was one of the thousands applauding and singing along to You’ll Never Walk Alone before Stoke’s game against Manchester City, and I watched the same thing happen before the Reading versus Tottenham game the next day. Sunderland’s fans put on an equally good show of solidarity with Liverpool up on Wearside, and I’m sure there were countless other examples of fans doing something similar.
English football has its problems, but there is far more good than bad to talk about, and it’s about time we started doing that.
Premier League should retain handshake
I expect this to be an unpopular view, but I hope the Premier League does not bow to the pressure to scrap the pre-match handshake between teams.
It has been a ritual since the 2004-05 season and, until Wayne Bridge refused to shake the hand of John Terry, I can honestly say I had never heard anyone complain about it.
Since then, Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of Patrice Evra, while on Saturday Anton Ferdinand did not shake the hands of Terry or Ashley Cole.
Three incidents in eight and a bit seasons, and a lot of people are claiming the handshake should be scrapped.
I like the handshake – I think it builds the atmosphere before kick-off, and I like the fact that players can show respect before and after a game. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if it was scrapped and I doubt that anybody would, but if we scrapped every tradition that wasn’t perfectly carried out, there’d be no tradition left at all.
Let me know what has annoyed you over the past seven days, and remember you can follow me on Twitter @Homzy.