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The ebb and flow of football


A more direct style of football, lots of goals scored from set-pieces, basketball-style blocks from high balls into the box and less of an emphasis on possession. That pretty much sums up the brand of football being played, to great effect, in the Premier League, as our own Aritz Gabilondo informs us. The three national teams who play the most possession-based football - Spain, Germany and Argentina, were all early casualities at the World Cup. The Premier League is the competition which had the most players involved in the quarter finals: 40 - 23 of which were English and representing their national team. And there are players who play in the Premier League among the other three semi-finalists. The pendulum is swinging back, after having gone to the other extreme – from the high possession/passingTiqui-Taca style. But there’s nothing new in that - life swings in roundabouts after all.

Dele Alli scores
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Calm and assured: Southgate

The possession model has lost some of its clout, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon it completely. Maybe it’s a format which wasn’t employed quite in the way it was intended to. Spain, the chief exponents of the pass-and-move game, went into the World Cup with the distress of Florentino’s hostile hijacking of the coach, and on top of that, the goalkeeper had a nightmare. Germany suffered internal disharmony for the episode involving Özil and Gundogan, who posed for a photo with Turkish president Recep Erdogan, which didn’t go down too well with the rest of the squad. Argentina meanwhile, were awash with confusion. In contrast, in what we might term ‘Premier League style’, has all been about good health, positivity and optimism - embodied by the elegant Gareth Southgate, who gives off a sense of assurance, decorum and confidence – quite the opposite of Jorge Sampaoli, a quivering bag of nerves fretting and pacing up and down the touchline.

Marco Asensio
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Spain still have classy players

So for the moment at least, it’s the slugger who has the upper hand over the out-boxer. The history of football is constantly swaying from one style to another, but studies show that it’s generally the team which plays quality, inventive football which tends to win the most, over those who either try to terrorize their opponents or sit back and stingily defend. You can win playing either way but it’s the former which delivers results more frequently. And it’s also much more elegant to watch. Of course you can only play that brand of football if you are lucky enough to have good players. If you don’t, then you will need to make up for it somehow - with tactical nous or in other ways. So for Spain, here we are wallowing under a black cloud after having been eliminated from the World Cup having amassed 1,174 pointless passes against Russia; but I don’t think Spain should just simply dump their style and start afresh. I’m with Xavi on this one – we already have players who are able to play stylish football, and I do hope that Rubiales will take that into account when he brings in the new coach.