Bravery to Receive

In my line of work so much detail and effort goes into ensuring that upon reaching adult level, players I come into contact with have the skills to retain possession and dominate the ball. Last week I witnessed two top-tier teams in different shades of blue play two contrasting games of football. One team playing in a style which coincides with exactly to what my work aspires. Another team playing what Jamie Redknapp described as Anti-football. His description of Chelsea’s methods of play may be somewhat extreme; however it’s difficult to disagree with his viewpoint.

Manchester City, Chelsea’s opponents in this match, are far and away the best team in the Premier League at this moment in time. They’ve shown on numerous occasions that given time and space they are able to produce rapid attacks which can devastate any defence. Arsenal found this out the hard way in two consecutive matches a couple of weeks ago. An argument can definitely be made that in order to combat the possession game of Manchester City, one’s team must deny space by remaining compact before freeing players and stretching the pitch once possession has been regained. But what I saw from Chelsea seemed like a half thought-through game-plan. Almost as though they had worked on compactness in defence and completely disregarded going forward.

The pundits and media I’m sure will comment on the fact that Chelsea played without a recognised striker on the pitch. Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud will surely have had their pride hurt having both spent the majority of the game on the bench; but that is not where I would necessarily aim my disappointment. A similar line-up carried out a strong performance against Barcelona in the Champions League recently and in truth Chelsea were unlucky not to get a win. My disappointment is directed more towards the numerous wasted balls played forward into space which allowed Manchester City to regain possession with ease. Chelsea were being patient in defence and winning the ball but they weren’t brave enough to keep it once they’d won it. City played a good high pressing game but one would expect players of Chelsea’s quality to retain the ball much better under pressure than they did. The likes of Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas are known for showing for the ball and receiving it in difficult situations, yet throughout most of the game they seemed somewhat reluctant to offer for it. This coupled with the panic shown by their backline in possession resulted in their team having only 28.9% possession over the course of the match and consequently 0 shots on goal against a team which man for man isn’t streets ahead of them.

I am not a Chelsea fan, nor am I simply trying criticise them for the sake of being critical. My frustration stems from a desire to see top players with extremely high technical ability, the likes of Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard receiving the ball high up the pitch in dangerous areas. Instead I watched as they became increasingly bemused at seeing the ball go over their heads and back at the feet of their opponents.

What I think I found most interesting watching this game was the realisation that having technical ability on a football pitch is one thing, but having the willingness and courage to use it is another thing entirely. Players should be able to accept the reality that if they keep wanting the ball and passing the ball to the feet of their teammates they may occasionally lose it in dangerous areas. Those who understand the risk but are not cowed by it are able to carry out a hugely important role for their team, be it the role of stabilising them when they’re under pressure, or of starting attacks with measured forward passing.

Regardless of the game-plan, whether you’re the dominant team or the underdogs, every team has players who can receive the ball. The real assets to a side are the ones who are happy to receive it and take responsibility, no matter what.

Antonio Nurse