One Man Teams – do they exist?

There was a time when football teams seemed to play two strikers who were both as good as each other; Shearer and Ferdinand, Cole and Yorke, Henry and Bergkamp, Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, Sheringham and Klinsmann, to name just a few. These kinds of partnerships seem to be a thing of the past in today’s Premier League – half the time we are lucky to even see two out-and-out strikers on the pitch at the same time.

This is mainly due to changes in formation, with a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 becoming the norm. To compensate for the lack of strikers, teams playing these formations need a big collection of goals from midfield. Chelsea have managed this well in seasons gone by, with Frank Lampard hitting double figures most years with solid support from the likes of Malouda or Kalou. This year, criticism has been aimed at two of the biggest clubs in the league that they are only ‘one man teams’. Arsenal are said to solely rely on Robin van Persie (RvP) for the majority of their goals and inspiration, whilst Liverpool’s main threat and only world-class play (other than the injured Gerrard) is Luis Suarez. 

For me this label it not necessarily true despite comments from within football. It was only last weekend that Swansea keeper, the excellent Michel Vorm, commented that he felt Liverpool were weak if Suarez isn’t on his game: “Maybe they rely too much on Suarez … He is a player who can make a difference. But against us he didn’t, and they didn’t score. Maybe because we kept him quiet they didn’t have other options”. Arsenal have had similar criticism, especially after resting RvP in the Champions League game against Marseille and only managing a 0-0 draw. The Arsenal boys have been on the defensive about this, with Arsene Wenger, Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere all strongly deny that Arsenal are a one-man team.

This debate got me thinking, I have read comments from fans of both Arsenal and Liverpool and unsurprisingly 99% have defended their team as any protective fan would, but I think the critics are right to a certain extent. Fans see this label or comment as something extremely negative, but I don’t think it is all that bad. I mean you have to be realistic about where your team is at and both Arsenal and Liverpool are in very similar situations.

Everyone needs to remember that both Liverpool and Arsenal are very new teams in terms of personnel. Liverpool have virtually an entirely new midfield, with the core of the midfield consisting of Downing, Adam and Henderson, all of whom have joined the club recently. Arsenal are similar with Arteta, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain all new, plus Frimpong emerging and Ramsey coming back from injury. Both teams have had to operate with radically different sides that are still in their infancy and both sides are missing key players, so how can you expect performance levels to be near their maximum.


One Man Van?

If we focus on Arsenal first, they have lost two big contributors to the team in influence and also return in Nasri and Fabregas. For example, Nasri managed 15 goals in all competitions for Arsenal last year and Fabregas scored 9 in all competitions last season with 19 the season before. Liverpool have lost Steve Gerrard to injury, who was always bagging a few goals, along with established goal-machine Fernando Torres (81 goals in 142 appearances).

I decided to check the stats and they make interesting reading; Manchester City have had 13 different players score this season in all competitions, Manchester United 14, Tottenham 11, Chelsea 14, Newcastle 11, Arsenal 13 and Liverpool 9! This obviously suggests that Liverpool are getting the least return in goals from their squad, but it isn’t just about goals.

In my opinion, to a certain extent, both Liverpool and Arsenal are ‘one-man sides’, even if it is only short-term and doesn’t stay that way for long. Neither manager is stupid; they realise that for the ‘bedding-in period’ it is down to the side’s best players to motivate, drive and inspire the team. These are the world-class players who you depend on when times are tough. Both Kenny Dalglish and Arsene Wenger have been raving about their world-class strikers because they know if their performance levels drop, their sides will have a problem.

In a way this label of a ‘one-man team’ is annoying to a fan, but change your thinking and this is a massive backhanded compliment to the player in question and should motivate them however much they say ‘there is no ‘I’ in team’. All players need confidence to be able to push themselves to the limit to get the best out of their own ability. Imagine if neither Suarez or van Persie were performing for their sides – who would push the team forward?

Next time you hear the label ‘one-man team’ don’t instantly get your back up about it, because more than likely, if enough people are saying it, there is probably a hint of truth. If you have to go a whole season relying on one player then this is unsustainable, but if you have to rely on a player to get you through a short period or a tough time, then it just means that you have a player with the quality of doing that in your squad. When key players are out with injury, like Wilshere and Gerrard, the big boys step up, and you be thankful you have those big boys because a lot of other clubs haven’t.

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