Counter Attack : A Reliable Route To Excitement And Goals

As I watched Chelsea breach Man City's rearguard again and again, especially in the first half of yesterday's match, I just couldn't help but wonder why counter attack football has become a sin for the supposedly big teams. If the two chances wasted by Jackson and Sterling fell to better players, Chelsea would've ended the first half with two goals up and possibly leave Manchester with all three points. So why is everyone ripping apart managers who prioritized the art?

In football, there are several routes to scoring a goal. Growing up, the now maligned, aptly named Route 1 used to be a popular route to goals. All a team needs is a goalkeeper who can kick the ball to high heavens, a broad-shouldered, tall striker a la Jan Koller or Emily Heskey who is capable of turning the defenders or heading the ball, and a relatively small, very fast strike partner (Defoe, Baros) to feast on the big man's knockdown. And boom, we have a goal without needing the help of some tippy-tappy defenders and some ball bending midfield tactician. It really is Route 1, straight to the point!

Ruud Van Nistelrooy is one of those modern dudes who took the fox in the box mantra literally and turned it into an art. But before the Dutchman's exploit we already had football greats like Gerd Muller, Gary Lineker, Hakan Sukur, Miroslav Klose, and, ehm, the offside master, Pippo Inzaghi score multitudes of goals in and around box 18. These dudes would leave the scrapping and macho display to their teammates while biding their time to ruthlessly put the ball in the back of the net. They are always the ones to score the goal after an almighty scramble in the opposition goalmouth. Their sense of timing is impeccable. To the opposition, they are incredibly annoying and sneaky individuals. Just ask Sir Alex.

Till today, Steven Gerrard is still respected around the blocks as one of the talismanic captains of modern football. However, he became really popular - and feared - during his playing days because he can knockdown the crossbar with his thunderbolt of a right leg. In fact, goals from long distances, either it is arrowed into the top corner, curved into the far corner or bent in via the post is always some form of highlight reel. They are always widely celebrated because they are somewhat unexpected, leading to a sudden burst of adrenaline and unprepared jubilations.

However, for a regular football fan, the goal that draws the most attention, though, is the one scored from a counter attacking opportunity. Nothing hypes anticipation during a football match as much as watching your team on the attack in a 3v3 or 3v2 situation. Instinctively, you assume the position of the player with the ball while reading the movement of teammates and opponents alike. Despite watching from the stands or on the TV, the game comes alive inside of you. So when counter attack opportunities break down, a tinge of sadness takes over for a few seconds. One is desperate to blame poor decision making of the players. And when it leads to a goal, the celebration is richly satisfying - except if your team is already trailing.

So, despite the incredible amount of joy counter attack football gives, I'm always baffled whenever I see pundits and fans alike berate teams who play that pattern. For some reasons, Johan Cruyff successfully got into the head of many people and made them believe the only way to play football is to pass your opposition to death. He spent a reasonable amount of time casting aspersions on successful footballers and managers who don't play the game the way he sees it. So anyone who is not really playing possession heavy football these days is not regarded as elite. I have no problem with possession based football, but I want to believe a neutral football fan will enjoy watching Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund and Liverpool compared to watching Guardiola's Bayern and Man City.

Though Chelsea conceded a late equaliser, I thoroughly enjoyed the chances they created. With better players they could've won that game by defending deep and playing exciting counter attack football. But, can counter attack football be exciting? Well, I believe it can if a manager has top quality players filling most positions. Mourinho had it at Inter, Conte had it to some extent at Chelsea and, yes, Ranieri's Leicester City had Mahrez, Vardy and Kante.


3 columns
2 columns
1 column