Everton and United Bring Back the Art of Tackling
By Oliver Wilson
Everton and Manchester United painted a picture more beautiful then anything Leonardo Di Vinci produced as the two sides brought the art of tackling back to the Premier League.
It was an incredible night on Monday and one that optimised the English game.
The old four-sided stadium of Goodison Park provided a fitting arena for a clash that had the feel of a tie from the early 1990’s. There were no prawn sandwich eaters in the stands under the floodlights of one of the Premier Leagues most historic grounds, and a sizzling atmosphere was only heightened by the thrilling performance of a doggid Everton side.
Marouane Fellaini was “unplayable” according to his captain Phil Neville and his header on 57 minutes thrilled the Everton faithful and set up a enthralling final half hour as United threw everything at the Toffees.
It was going to take a unified and gutsy performance to make sure Everton remained ahead, but the back four of Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert, were unshakeable as United pushed forward looking for an equaliser.
Two moments stood out on the warm summers night and both stirred the crowd into a cacophony of noise as if Fellaini had put another in the back of the net.
Jagielka’s challenge on a seemingly clear Danny Welbeck and Tony Hibbert’s tackle on Patrice Evra to win a goal kick weren’t just vital interceptions. They were a masterclass in defending.
Hibbert especially made two or three crunching challenges that, had they not been expertly timed, would have seen referee Andrew Marriner brandishing a yellow card from his top pocket and possibly pointing to the penalty spot.
The art of tackling has been lost in the beautiful game for some time, and the increased pace and aggression of modern football have combined to create some horrendously timed challenges from players at both ends of the park.
While some lunging challenges are appalling, others only appear to be thanks to the overly dramatic, and sometimes Oscar worthy, displays of pain etched on an attackers face as they leap over the ball screaming often avoiding all contact with the incoming defender.
Players appear to hurt themselves more from landing from their elaborate falls then the challenges themselves and although Butch Cassidy lays claim that “the fall will probably kill you,” on a football pitch, this sort of action shouldn't be suported or condoned
This flailing of body parts to mimic physical pain has lead to a blur of what is and isn’t acceptable on the field, and challenges that would have been applauded ten years ago, are now scorned and met with cards, bans and fines.
Programs such as Soccer AM or Goals on Sunday on weekend mornings highlight this, and when ex-players such as Dennis Wise, Patrick Viera and Gary Pallister come on the show, their highlight reels of great challenges from yesteryear would have referees brandishing cards in their sleep.
Hibbert and Jagielka’s challenges showed that there is still a place for physicality and a sliding challenge in the modern game, and on a stage like last Monday night the lost art can prove to be a real game changer.
It raises the atmosphere in the stands and is a joy to watch - even Evra shook the hand of Hibbert after one tackle as a sign of mutual respect for the Evertonians challenge.
Lets just hope it stays around long enough this season to remind players that the art of tackling is one that is worth mastering once again.