So, who has stopped smiling since the Villa game? Isn’t this what we’ve been after for years? The flair, the entertainment? Our team providing the ultimate footballing utopia of combining winning and attractive football? We can at least assume there would have been a very contented whistling of the Kalinka emanating from a Belgravia townhouse on Monday morning.
The differences in style and mentality between the Championship winning Mourinho era and Big Phil’s current crop are obvious. In their own rights, they are coaches with differing ideologies and these are certainly engraved on their respective teams. The question is, can Scolari’s entertainers reproduce the glutenous haul of silverware that defined Jose’s reign?
Sundays performance encapsulated all the aspects of the attacking football a team of our calibre can, some may say should, be producing, but to just listen to the media rhetoric about full-backs “bombing on” and themes centred around the “Blue Brazil” would be an injustice to the development and ethos of Scolari’s works.
Whilst the full backs may be allowed to charter beyond the half way line, and individuals allowed to express themselves wholly with the ball at feet, the main area of change is a very basic footballing principle. Keeping hold of the ball. Attack, to a degree, is still very much the best form of defence.
The retention of the ball is paramount to what Scolari is trying to implement an for me, it is this aspect of our game which has improved considerably from previous seasons, and it is this control and poise on the ball which allows the other elements of our play to flourish.
Martin O’Neil is no fool. His slightly optimistic dream of turning us over on Sunday would certainly have been replicated by a few of the Villa faithful travelling down the M40. Buoyed by good form, and dangerous forwards playing well, this game was a real test of our credentials.
So how comforting it was to see the potentially threatening Young and Agbonlahor acting as auxiliary full backs? The sight of john Carew marooned up front as his team mates sought refuge deep in their own half? And, yes, whilst Cole and Bosingwa overlapped relentlessly, it was the use and manipulation of the ball around and between the midfield and defence that makes this possible. Deco’s subtlety is paramount to this regime, but Lampard, Mikel, Ballack et al all possess the touch and slight of foot necessary, allied with the intrusive forays of the wide-men, the options are bountiful.
Forget Brazil. The comparison I draw from this performance is to Spain’s victorious Euro 2008 team. Never too quick or slow to attack, there was a calculated tempo to their play. Move the ball quickly and you move opposition. Move the ball back and space has been created. The ball can move quicker than the man, and the more space good players have, the more damage they will do. These are principles that were often lost under the more rigid discipline of Jose’s teams and it is these principles that allow Cole and Bosingwa to exploit the space left by an energetic ball-chasing winger
The initial fear of such an expansive game is that we’ll be left exposed defensively. The facts don’t seem to give this theory much support. 3 goals in 10 games is all we’ve conceded. Factor in Lampard’s neat through ball to Darren Bent and Robinho’s deflected free-kick and defensively we’ve been sound. The domination of possession has forced teams to defend deeper and leave forward players isolated. The creation of more goal scoring opportunities, if taken, should eradicate the fear of a rogue goal costing us points. Recall Fulham, Reading and Bolton in 06/07 and Everton and of course the ultimately costly equaliser for Wigan last year.
The football we’ve been playing has been very welcome. Much advocated from many quarters, and thoroughbely enjoyable. Let us hope we can look back on this era in years to come as the year the artisans finally expressed themselves as artists. The year the iron fist wore a velvet glove, and the year substance and style finally held hands to glorious consequences.