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The Art of Keeping the Football

By Matthew Lovekin :  28/04/2008 :  Comments (10) :
The first half of yesterday's game against Villa was the same as the last couple of months, the defence getting the football and playing it long aimlessly forward which goes straight to the opposition which invites another attack onto us. There I was screaming at the TV to at least just keep the football! Half-time and Moyes must have given them a rollocking to keep the football! Second-half, although not perfect, I thought it was much better and probably the best we have played this year.

The difference was that we got the ball and rather than hit it aimlessly, someone looked for the ball and it was passed on the floor. It's quite simple, keep the ball, pass it around until a chance arrives. Forget systems and formations, it's all about ball possession.

The middle part of the season, we played some excellent football, possibly the best football played in the last 20 years. We had 4 midfielders who were all comfortable on the ball and could pass it around (Arteta, Osman, Cahill & Pienaar).

The reason, we've struggled since the turn of the year is injuries to these midfielders and that we haven't been able to play these 4 players in the same team again. Pienaar was away at the AFCON and struggled with a couple of minor injuries since, as with Osman, whilst Arteta has had a constant injury since and Cahill just hasn't played. Fernandes has come in and can play as well but again struggled with injuries.

We had three of these players on the pitch at one time yesterday and the play was better. A key to this is the defence, before Jagielka, Yobo and Neville/Hibbert can hoof the ball forward, a midfielder needs to come and collect the ball, take it off the defence and start an attack gradually by keeping it on the floor.

Arteta, Cahill and Pienaar are more forward players and less likely to fetch the ball off the defence. Fernandes and Osman can do this but need to be played in the middle of the park. Therefore, no more Neville and Carsley in the center, we need a bit more creativity in there. Fernandes is quality and we need to sign him in the summer and play him in the middle. Can you imagine a midfield of Arteta, Osman, Fernandes, Cahill and Pienaar. Absolute quality! Then we just need more of it. If a player gets injured we need to bring in a similar quality and type of player

No more hoofball please, keep the ball, pass it around, a chance will arrive. The midfield need to take charge. I believe Moyes is trying to do this, he is getting there, we just need to be a bit more patient, a bit like our football!

Reader Comments

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Helen Pull
1   Posted 29/04/2008 at 06:57:35

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Is the football that funny, round thing with lots of different colours on it? You are actually supposed to pass it to a fellow wearing the same kit as yourself? I thought it was one of those things in a pin-ball machine that you tried your best to flick up to the other end of the table and maybe get some points!!

I realised along time ago the players are afraid of the football - must have been something that happened in training - maybe it?s what causes all the injuries?? "Watch out the football monster is about!!!!"
Jason Lam
2   Posted 29/04/2008 at 07:15:34

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It’s actually a game called, "last one holding the timebomb explodes!"

I like your description of Art of Keeping the Football. But I don’t see any Van Goghs or Picassos in the team.
Gareth Humphreys
3   Posted 29/04/2008 at 09:43:30

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Matthew I think the best we have played this year is rather OTT.
I though it was encouraging. We always play better with just one player sitting in the middle with 3/4 ball players around him - hence the reason Carsley is so important when we play well.
David McKee
4   Posted 29/04/2008 at 13:14:02

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Talking about gifted midfielders I hate to write this but! I was in my season ticket seat in the paddock and right behind Mikel Arteta when Gareth Barry picked up the ball and moved forward Mikel just stood still and made no attempt to get to him he just stood there and watched while Barry whipped in a lovely cross and the big Carew headed neatly past Tim Howard. It was over in seconds and I felt Mikel knew what he had done because he sheepishly lowered his head and walked back to the half way line. Now he had not been on for long so it wasn?t tiredness and surely Davy Moyes would not play an unfit Arteta.....

No something's going on here. Mikel, if you read this don't lower your effort or standards. If you want to leave, keep your performance up you owe us that much. If you're on your bike, thanks for some great times... but don't take the piss.

Eugene Ruane
5   Posted 29/04/2008 at 16:55:46

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"The truth!? You can?t hand....."

Sorry, ok, here it is. I hear/read about who ?comes deep? and who?s injured and refs and bad luck and I think ?yeah ok fine? - all contributing factors. However for me, all these reasons aren?t the reason we don?t win stuff anymore.

For me, it?s this. The game now is about touch and pace. If you can combine the two, you have a chance of being..er...good. How do you get pace with touch? You buy it. How much does it cost? A fucking lot more than we can afford.

Chelsea don?t look like Brazil 70, but they have pace and they have touch. That means they can play us, not look great, but still win 1-0.... easily. Arsenal have it, as do United, as do the lovable reds although they?re not as well balanced and have more pace than touch.

We have a couple of ?speedy? players... but too many slow ones. We have a couple of players with a decent touch, but too many... how shall I put this...?Phil Nevilles? And... that?s it.

Things will stay that way for us until a very, very rich man buys the club and THAT won?t happen, because a certain Mr L Darling won?t have anyone else playing with ?his? trainset.
Steve Mink
6   Posted 29/04/2008 at 19:39:39

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Can’t agree that playing good football is all about money. West Brom currently play better football than we do,
Felipe Fuji
7   Posted 30/04/2008 at 07:36:04

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West Brom wouldn?t be able to play like they do in the PL - you watch next season.....

Anyway I would like to pose the question what type of player do we need in MF to keep the ball and keep the team ticking?

I would suggest someonbe like Carrick - calm, strong on the ball, decent ball winner and fantastic passer both in clearing up in sticky situations and in creating attacks.

That kind of player costs around £20m though - good football is all about money I'm afriad. Even if you can bring up a great player like Scholes through the ranks he will leave for a bigger club if you don't have the funds to keep him there....
Eugene Ruane
8   Posted 30/04/2008 at 12:26:58

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Steve I really wish you were right, but the past 5-8 years says you?re wrong. Money wins stuff. It?s wrong, it?s not fair and in my opinion, it?s near-sighted of the PL to allow things to continue the way they are. However, at the moment, it IS the reality.

West Brom may survive, they might even finish in the top 10. But, like us, they will win nothing. Fact: Unless there is a fluke or huge upset, the ?top four? will battle for the prizes again.

NB: Spurs DID of course win the Carling Cup, but I would say check on how much Spurs have spent in the past three years.
Ciarán McGlone
9   Posted 30/04/2008 at 15:15:55

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Of course money wins stuff, it?s hardly a new concept...and to start moaning about it now is about 100 years too late....the money about now may be relatively exponential but the concept of the richest teams winning the most competitions and having the best players is as old as professional football itself....

Promoting the somewhat tired point that money is ruining the game is envious at least and blinkered at most.
Dan Barton
10   Posted 01/05/2008 at 09:02:43

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Matt - I agree the midfield need to show themselves more and offer the simple ball, but Davey needs to have word with Yobo, Jagielka, Neville and Hibbert and tell them not to smash the ball down field. The amount of times they hoof the ball when a simple option is on is incredible.

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