Has football’s latest evolution ended the comfort of home?
15:51 08 October 2015
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There are many flaws in the sport, but nobody could deny its ability to throw up plot lines to make even the most talented scriptwriter envious.
It’s the never-ending drama of sport that keeps me, and I’m sure many more, coming back for more. Its ability to constantly shock and surprise, just when you think you’ve seen it all.
That’s why I was one of the many millions glued to a television screen as Japan secured their shock rugby World Cup win against South Africa last month. It wasn’t because I’m a big fan of the sport.
It’s also why I’ll turn over to the final frame of a big snooker match, the last hole of a golf major or the final lap of a Grand Prix. Not because I’m a big fan of those sports.
What drives many of us to tune in to sports we don’t normally follow is the quest to witness something dramatic, memorable and perhaps even historic unfold.
And, fortunately, football serves up more drama than most other sports, which is of course one of the reasons it’s the sport by which I am most engrossed. There are many flaws in the sport, but nobody could deny its ability to throw up plot lines to make even the most talented scriptwriter envious.
And part of that drama comes from the sport’s ability to constantly evolve. I don’t mean in terms of rules and regulations – but the styles and tactics deployed by those who participate.
Football’s history is littered with eras, teams and individuals who broke the mould and have pioneered new styles of play. Often where those led, many followed.
The best example of this was the Brazilians and their samba-football, with Pele as figurehead. A style which has been adopted for many decades since.
Most recent examples often come in the wake of a World Cup. When Spain had their recent run of success playing so-called ‘tippy-tappy’ football, many domestic clubs tried to mimic their style and formations. To a lesser extent the same thing has happened following Germany’s 2014 World Cup win.
And in the Premier League this season we could be witnessing another sea-change in the sport – the dawn of the era of the away team.
For so long, for so many teams, playing away from home has been little more than a necessary evil.
Yes, there’s the chance of an occasional draw or victory, but primarily many teams bar the bigger clubs would look to build their campaign in front of their fans.
So far this season that hasn’t been the case. A glance at the table shows that only seven teams in the Premier League currently have a better record at home than away. But why is that?
I think part of it comes down to nerves and pressure.
In recent years I’m sure it’s not just at Carrow Road where fans have become more expectant of victory – and less tolerant of defeat. Does that increased pressure rub off on players and impact their performance?
But ultimately, many coaches and managers have devised a style of play away from home which gives them a bigger chance of success.
We saw that against Leicester on Saturday. For the Foxes it was all about getting men behind the ball, restricting the space and then counter-attacking with great pace when the chance arose. It worked a treat.
Of course Alex Neil has so far had great success away from home for Norwich, deploying much the same method as Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri. But his more pressing conundrum to solve will be how to counter the counter-attackers and return some home comforts to Carrow Road.
• TIME TO LISTEN IN ON FOOTBALL REFS?
Having watched a bit of the rugby World Cup, there’s not that much I’d take from the sport to introduce to football. Microphones for referees would be interesting, could stop a lot of the abuse they get and make fans realise they are human too. On the flip side the competition has done a good job of highlighting the folly of too many video replays, which really slows the game.
• MANAGER HAT-TRICK CHANCE FOR CITY
A tip for Premier League managers – don’t get a disappointing result at home to Norwich or it could be the end of you. City demolished Sunderland and a few weeks later the manager, Dick Advocaat, was gone. A draw with Liverpool – a few weeks later the same thing happens. Victory in the next game, away to Newcastle, could very well make it an early-season hat-trick.
• CITY DUO SOLD US SHORT ON CORNERS
I would not have wanted to be either Nathan Redmond or Robbie Brady in the changing room after Saturday’s game. Only a few minutes after Norwich scored from a corner, instead of sticking with the tried and tested they went for a short one and promptly lost the ball. Cue furious remonstrations from the gaffer. Why are some players so keen on short corners, which so rarely seem to lead to a chance or a goal?
• NERVY SEASON IN STORE FOR RIVAL FANS
In spite of some of the shock results so far, the bottom half of the Premier League is starting to pan out generally how I expected, bar Leicester being deservedly in the top half and Chelsea deservedly in the bottom. But none of us would have predicted their respective starts. On the evidence so far I would say fans of Sunderland, Aston Villa and Bournemouth have cause to be the most concerned about their chances of staying up. Supporters of West Brom and Newcastle should be nervous too.