OFFSIDE RULE CHANGES BRED DEFENSIVE PLAY

Results clearly show that Boro are in one of their defensive periods, that the team is becoming over-cautious and that the manager is stifling enterprise for safety’s sake.

At the present rate the number of Boro scoreless games in the Premier League this season will not fall far short of the peak of 9 reached by Sunderland and Aston Villa and could even exceed it, especially if the struggle to avoid relegation continues to be so tight. While teams do not by and large set out to achieve 0-0 draws, late in the season when both sides need a point to stay up a goalless result becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Games need goals or, failing that, the feeling that a goal might be scored. If, as the Americans say, a draw is like kissing your sister then I dread to think what they would say about a goalless draw.

An analysis of the nil-nils in this season’s Premier league shows that the blank encounters are fairly evenly spread among the 20 clubs apart from Middlesbrough. There have been 15 nil-nils so far this season and Middlesbrough have been involved in 5 of those. Not that Boro are the league’s most boring team, far from it. Karanka’s side can play watchable, intelligent football, passing to feet and building attacks. In any case a 0-0 draw can be as much a consequence of good defending as indifferent finishing.

Changing tactical habits are making goals more difficult to score unless teams have the attacking quality to surmount the problem. A five-man midfield behind a solitary striker is becoming a normal sight nowadays, both home and away for many teams, which usually means an attacking side having to face a massed defence the moment they gain possession.

OFFSIDE RULE CHANGES

Changes in offside rules are usually made in an attempt to generate more goals and excitement into football, but actually have had a reverse effect on the game.

Any relaxation in the interpretation of the offside law could inevitably lead to a temporary increase in the scoring rate followed by fewer goals once defences have learned how to deal with the new threat.

The best example of this is the decision to change the offside law in 1925 when the number of opponents needed to keep an attacker onside was reduced from three to two. In its first season the total of goals scored in the old First Division rose from 1,192 in 1924-25 to 1,703. Prolific strikers like Everton’s Dixie Dean scored for fun for a time but eventually everybody copied Arsenal’s idea of making the centre-half, originally an attacking player, an extra defender and the fun was over.

Modern defending has been conditioned, not to say confused, by the declaration that attackers in offside positions are not interfering with play unless they touch the ball. With so many goals scored on the break and defences no longer able to step up in such happy anticipation of an offside flag, managers are now inclined to keep at least six players behind the ball even when their team has possession. This is how Aitor Karanka works, and although it isnt the free scoring, entertaining football the offside changes intended, a glance at the clean sheet statistics shows he knows how to organize against the modern attacks. He just needs to build one himself.

In the end it all comes down to the cost of losing and going down. There will always be great games but there may also be more ado about nothing-nothings.

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