Crouch 'the Failure'

Posted by Paul Tomkins on September 15, 2005, 02:46:25 PM

Believe me, it will come: the backlash. No matter how well Peter Crouch plays, and no matter how many goals he sets up (directly and indirectly, as with Flo's the other night), he will be judged on his goals.

Is this fair? In some instances, it may well be (i.e. if he's missing lots of easy chances, or like Heskey at his worst, not having any attempts at goal at all). In other instances (creating lots for others in a successful team), it may be harsh and unfair.

First of all, the more goals any player scores, the better –– right? Perhaps. But the key is how many goals the team scores. For much of the 90s Robbie Fowler and Alan Shearer led the scoring charts; but they share only one league title between them.

Having one main scoring outlet, however reliable, can lead to over-reliance, and predictability. You can't have a team looking to feed only one player in front of goal. And of course, the amount of goals a team needs to score is directly related to how many they concede. Keep clean sheets and you obviously need only a goal a game.

Chelsea proved last season that you can score a lot of goals (72 in the league) and not have a single player reach 20 for the season if you have enough reaching the mid-teens, and a good defence. It is the same kind of tactical system that Rafa is employing at Liverpool, so the same results would be nice.

From 4-4-2 to 4-5-1

When Emile Heskey partnered Michael Owen, I felt Heskey should have scored more goals. Of course, if Liverpool had won the league with Heskey's average of 10-14 goals a season, then, as with Didier Drogba at Chelsea, it would be hard to complain.

The trouble with Heskey's lack of goals was that he and Owen played in very advanced positions, often 40 yards ahead of the midfield, and any long ball (and there were arguably too many) left the two strikers as the only two in any position to score; the midfield was always too conservative in its thoughts. If Owen didn't score, it was only Heskey who could.

Teams win the league with a mean defence, but they do not do so with a midfield whose main job is to protect that defence. Houllier's midfield scored goals, but not in abundance. Danny Murphy had two good goalscoring seasons, but many were free-kicks and penalties. Gary McAllister's six decisive goals in the Treble season were all dead balls, too. Gerrard had one season with ten, but otherwise struggled for goals.

But it's been over a year since Houllier's main strikers left. (Even Baros has left.) That means no Owen to get 25 goals (although he never reached 20 in the league). For the first time since the managerial change in 2004, the squad has more of a Benítez feel than a Houllier feel. While players will still need time to settle and adapt, it's the Spaniard's team at last.

The difference under Rafa this season is Crouch's suitability to the role of bringing into play a series of attacking midfielders-cum-strikers. The area between the opposition's midfield and defence is the area all teams want to exploit. A striker positioned up against the centre backs is easier to pick up than those attackers who arrive late into the box, and the main responsibility will fall on Gerrard, Luis Garcia and both wide midfielders to exploit Crouch's lay-offs and flick-ons.

Of course, the beauty (perhaps the wrong word) of Crouch is that even if he stands right up against two centre backs, he remains difficult to deal with. We saw with Pongolle's goal against Betis the panic a long ball to Crouch causes defenders.

Baros did well at times last season in the role, but he was far from ideally suited to it. He's a similar player to Owen in how he tries to find space. We can thank Sven for showing us against Northern Ireland how ill-suited to the lone-striker role Owen is.

Owen needed to drop deep and wide to escape his markers, and that left England with no focal point. Crouch doesn't need to find space; the ball can always find him,  even when he's tightly marked. Any ball he wins will present big problems to the opposition, if our attackers are alive to the second ball.

But we also saw more evidence this week of how good he is with the ball at his feet. Had Denis Bergkamp played the reverse pass that let in Bolo Zenden for the Reds' second goal, everyone would have marvelled. As it was, the media are cottoning on, and he received universal praise for the kind of pass that 99% of players just don't see.

It's the kind of vision he showed frequently for Southampton. Just look at the beautiful cushioned pass for Prutton's goal against us in the 2-0 defeat. It's not an easy skill to help on a ball with inch-perfect subtlety, and again it reminded me of Bergkamp.

I never thought I'd be comparing Crouch to Bergkamp. I'm not saying he's as good, but he has that cool awareness of where others are. Where Baros was almost totally unaware of anything other than where the goal was, Crouch knows what his teammates are doing, despite only having just met them. There aren't that many of that type of player in the game, and they tend to improve with age and experience, too. (Look at Teddy Sheringham.)

Crouch will almost certainly improve as he gains more top-division experience, not to mention playing in the Champions League and for England. He's on a steep learning curve. Rafa will help him make the most of his unique stature, and bring out the obvious skill on the ball.

In recent seasons Bergkamp's goals have dried to a trickle, but his creativity is still there for all to see. But Crouch doesn't have a regular scorer like Henry in the team. He will almost certainly have to weigh in at some stage (weigh in with goals, that is).

While I think he has the ability to get 20 goals a season (although much will depend on delivery), the system also means that 10-15 goals from Crouch could make a hell of a lot of difference –– if the other attacking players continue with last season's form (and Kewell finally locates his).

I hope people don't get too fixated on Crouch's goals record if he's playing well, creating chances and the team is winning. He's the kind of player who invites ridicule quicker than others. Whenever he makes a mistake, it's instantly apparent.

I'm glad he's winning people over with the quality of his football, but I wonder how long the goodwill will last . . .

©Paul Tomkins 2005

Obligatory book update: I'm pleased to say that the success of "Golden Past, Red Future" is leading to ever-wider distribution for the book. For an independently produced title it's done something very difficult, namely finding its way into Waterstones as core stock, and last week Britain's biggest wholesaler, which deals with all major UK bookshops, added it to its main stock, too. With the Christmas market about to kick into gear, this is good timing.

The book is now fully available from our website (www.paultomkins.com) with free worldwide delivery. In recent weeks delivery has been free to the UK and Europe, and half-price to the rest of the world, but that's now free, too.
 

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