Mes Que Un Long-Throw

5 03 2011

Alternative Title: How to Lose Twitter Followers and Alienate People

 “I don’t know if Barcelona have ever gone to a place like the Britannia Stadium and suffered the kind of onslaught from Tony Pulis’ team of long throws and free-kicks or been up to a place like Blackburn and been beaten up by their long ball into the box.” – Andy Gray (December 2010)

It was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. Frankly, for some, I suspect Andrew Gray could have happily draped his ball-bag in Charlotte Jackson’s eye-sockets – but blaspheming Barcelona and Messi was simply unacceptable in the modern world. Gray, you dinosaur! I bet you still think it’s fashionable to prefer Real Madrid too.

But here’s the thing. What if he had a point?

Don’t laugh. Especially you, Liverpool fans. On February 19, Kenny Dalglish contributed this pearl of wisdom to the debate:

“I’d like to see what Tony Pulis would come up with if Stoke played Barcelona — and how Barca would cope with that.”

See. Oh, you’re a Man Utd fan? Ok, I guess I’ve definitely lost you by now then.

As I see it, the problem is that the fully-deserved reverence being showered upon the heroes from the Camp Nou means that anyone wanting to even discuss this possibility is a philistine … a Little Englander. But here are just a few reasons why I think the issue is worthy of debate:

The Physicality of the Premier League

It’s a familiar theme but the intensity of English football is no myth. It’s a big part of the reason Serie A sides have struggled to be as effective as they can be when faced with English opposition.
I could quote several dozen big name players saying “the pace and the aggression of the Premier League was tough to adapt to” etc and if a magazine had been willing to touch this topic with the proverbial barge pole then I’d have made the effort to find such quotes. But as it is I’m hoping you’ll take this bit on faith.
The bottom line is that if teams, even at Champions League level, are struggling with the physicality of the Premier League then it does logically follow that the league’s most physical side would – in this regard at least – represent the ultimate test.
Of course, Stoke aren’t about to win the league so this test may not translate itself to the scoreline but a novel test it would surely be – which leads nicely on to reason number two:

A Unique Problem

If the Premier League is a more intense league then the players who play in it are generally going to be better able to deal with that intensity. They get accustomed to it. The short sharp shock treatment of exposing a team from another league to a one-off game could leave them more vulnerable to a different approach. As UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh said of Greece and their man-marking system at Euro 2004, Otto Rehhagel had “posed a problem the rest of the world had forgotten how to solve.”
Likewise, how exactly are Barcelona supposed to be prepared to solve a problem like the Stoke long-throw …

Set-Pieces

Barcelona could well be the best team on the planet. They are also the shortest. So by the time the most ardent of Puyol, Pique and Busquets fans have convinced themselves that the aerial threat of Kenwyne Jones, John Carew and Ryan Shawcross can be dealt with – we are left with Abdoulaye Faye, Jonathan Walters and the not-so-small matter of cutting out the old Rory Delap to Robert Huth one-two. Dani Alves may be an improved defender but 14 stone of Teutonic muscle hurtling at him may test that resolve. As Ron Burgundy said, “It’s science.”

Ultra Stoke

It isn’t science that tells us Stoke would become a particularly horrible animal if faced with the challenge of subduing Barcelona. It’s just pragmatism. That is to say, Delap would regard any throw-in within 70 yards of the Barcelona goal as an opportunity to load the 18-yard-box with any big beasts Pulis could round up. And then see what happens. That means even more throw-ins getting the 30-second ball-wipe treatment – and a conscious effort to ensure the ball spends a minimum of time possible in open play.
Sounds fun doesn’t it.

Stoke vs Arsenal

These aren’t all the musings of a man on a train back from London with too much time on his hands you know. Not by a long shot. Because, we’ve been treated to numerous contests between Stoke and Arsenal that shine a light on the fantasy encounter that everybody (indulge me) is talking about. Arselona, Barsenal, Barca Lite – you may want to call them Barca conquerors very soon – but however you view Arsenal they certainly adopt a similar approach to Barcelona. Their results against Stoke since Pulis restored the Potters to the top flight show four wins for Arsenal and two wins for Stoke. There is a total goal difference of 12-7 in Arsenal’s favour. Is it a winning record for the ‘proper’ football team? Sure. Is it a footballing humiliation to redefine the laws of common decency? Not in a million years.

Conclusion

I know Barcelona are great. They’d almost certainly win. They might well break all kinds of possession records. But they’d also be posed a challenge slightly different to anything else they’d be likely to face from any top division side in the world. Which is, I believe, what makes this game interesting. Interesting, you see. That’s surely all the likes of Gray and Dalglish were getting at in the first place.

Now I’m going to go have a lie down before I convince myself Stoke would actually snatch it with a cheeky 1-0.

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14 responses

5 03 2011
2nd Yellow

So Stoke to win the FA Cup & Barcelona to finish 3rd in their CL group next season then?

I’m all for it as a one off.

5 03 2011
Jack

I thought that this might be the one benefit of that playoff system for the 4th Champions League place they talked about last year.

5 03 2011
Joshua Askew

Would need to be an English refereeI suppose. No way Stoke would be able to complete the game with a Spanish one.

7 03 2011
Josh

Yes, yes, yes and again YES!!! I couldn’t agree with you more. I defended what Gray and Keys said at the time for the same reason. Many bloggers and journalists I follow on twitter are utter football snobs, and are so fed up with Sky’s “best league in the world” mantra that they purposely take the polar opposite view, which isn’t right, either. I think Barca probably would win 9 out of 10 encounters with stoke, but I also think the potters, on their day, could give “the best team in the world” one hell of a game.

Thanks for going against the grain. Yet another reason this blog is one of my favorites. Keep up the good work!

8 03 2011
GhostGoal

Thanks Josh, very kind of you.

Interesting comments about blogging snobbery. I started blogging partly because I was so annoyed by the narrow-minded coverage on TV. On Twitter I found hundreds of like-minded individuals. But yes, a year down the line I am finding my views on the game almost regressing!

Being exposed to so many (great) writers who come across as a bit anti-Premiership means I now feel compelled to, as I see it, ‘correct’ the balance the other way.

Who knows, maybe I’m just a contrary f***er!

9 03 2011
Cookie

Well, Stoke have beaten Real Madrid in their prime and achieved two creditable draws with Johann Cruyff’s Ajax – not forgetting the 5-0 thrashing of Arsenal.

Anythings possible.

http://northy.footballunited.com/2010/07/03/video-stoke-city-5-0-arsenal-197071-in-colour/

10 03 2011
defensiveminded

Teams usually adjust their game when playing Stoke, I don’t see why Barcelona cannot do the same ?
These arguments don’t make sense because Barcelona would be a different team if they had to play teams like Stoke on a regular basis. Even Arsenal have figured out hot to play these kinds of teams now. Recently Barcelona had some problems against Valencia so he adjusted his tactics and played with a 3 men defence. Why cant he do the same thing against these other teams? Barcelona dominate the ball so much that teams don’t get a lot of set pieces against them anyway.
Defensively, Stoke are just average so I don’t see how they stop Barcelona from scoring at will. Their big backline struggles against dribblers and off the ball movement.
In a one off game anything is possible but 9 times out of 10 its not even close.

12 03 2011
Engel

I don’t know about Stoke but what about a team with the sort of quality the great Watford side of the early 1980s had? John Barnes and Nigel Callaghan pumping in the crosses for Luther Blissett. Could you put together a team these days with similar qualities – two wingers with great delivery, Andy Carroll up front with Tim Cahill in support maybe?

Hard to see how it would be successful over the long-term, but as a one-off strategy it could have merit.

13 03 2011
Al

Every team has a chance to win against any other team. Even more so when we’re talking about teams made of professional players. That notion doesn’t make anybody a contrarian. Now, is it a relevant fact? Taking the time to make this case looks like a unnecessary exercise in being provocative. Exactly what Gray was looking for.

I probably picked the wrong post to read first from this blog, it’s probably not a fair reflection of it. Sadly, I did read it first.

20 03 2011
KWolf

This is the most unremarkable comment I’ve ever read on the Internet.
How dare someone speculate on how 2 sides, that may never face each other in competitive action again, would fare against each other?
Sheer madness.

14 03 2011
Roberticus

Ghost goal,

a mitigating factor in this proposal – a considerable one in my view, is the referee. Where would he come from And would he be so forgiving of Stoke’s physical play.

And not just the typical La Liga referee who, granted, are at the other extreme of the spectrum: excessively whistle-happy and pernickety (Stoke would probably end the game with about 7 men). But any continental referee, from outside the Premier League.. I think that would be a fair compromise.

14 03 2011
MH

The thing is, Stoke just aren’t that good. The principle of Stoke would definitely give Barca a run for their money, but the thing is they just aren’t that organised defensively to be able to fend wave after wave of Barcelona attacks. That’s my problem with it.

22 03 2011
Archibald

I don’t agrre with the statement “Barça is not used to being played with Long-Trows”. You just must watch a Athletic Bilbao-FcBarcelona game at San Mames and you will discover that 90% of attacks of the basque squad are based on long throws to Llorente and Toquero. Llorente is one of the best headers in the world and the great atmosphere in this stadium pushes Athletic to play at a very high pace. The same with other teams such as Osasuna (Pandiani-Aranda) or Racing Santander when they had Zigic. I agree that PL is much based on pace than La Liga, but even so don’t look down on the diversity of other countries’ football. Barça are able to play against a wide variety of styles!

4 04 2011
Jimi

Err dream on Stokies, seriously though….try as you might to convince yourselves that the way your team play is the way forward, its not a tactic to be applauded just a means to an end.
Hence the fact that Stoke will not play in the champions league for the foreseeable future and will not get the chance to get UFC all over Barcelona, unless some kind of major revamp is implemented in playing staff and style.

I agree that some of the tactics work, who wouldn’t use their physicality and freak throw to their advantage, its natural, but its not enough to beat real quality with any authority and certainly not consistently if a freak result occured.

Since Stoke came up they have pushed their style of play and it has reaped benefits of mid table results 12th, 11th and currently 10th in the league.
So pretty much consistently average, a 50-50 of good and bad results proven by the current ratio of wins to losses 17 wins to 16 losses (and 6 draws).

So on one day maybe stoke would beat Barcelona but they’d get hammered the next 4 occasions guaranteed.

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