As surely as Barcelona has become the standard for beautiful soccer over the course of their astounding run in recent years, so too has Premier League hoofball purveyors Stoke become the antithesis of aesthetically pleasing soccer. Drawing a comparison between a team’s style of play and Barcelona is the highest possible praise. Doing the same with the Potters is the worst possible insult. They’re the two opposite ends of the modern football spectrum. So when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said Everton are “similar to Stoke” after the Merseyside derby, he wasn’t pulling any punches.
“Every single time they get the ball to the goalkeeper it comes in long. There was only one team who came to play football and that was us. Everton are not better than us.
I thought we were fantastic and stood up to a team that are very similar to Stoke.
Everton are effective because they have some big, physical lads in the team. We had a young, small team out there who were men and stuck together.”
Gerrard’s proclamation prompted a response from Everton captain Phil Jagielka, who mostly laughed it off, both because it was factually incorrect and because well, nobody is as bad as Stoke.
“It does make you chuckle, but Stevie is saying things like that then there must be a reason behind it which must be that we are doing something well.
If Stevie says we are a long ball team then I’m not going to deny the fact that we play long balls.
Do we play long balls for the full 90 minutes? No. But we play quite direct.
Who wouldn’t when you have someone in form like Felli who can bring the ball down from fun and we start creating things from there? Why wouldn’t you do that?”
Jagielka’s words hit at the heart of the matter: There’s plenty of gray area between Barcelona’s tiki-taka and Stoke’s route one. Everton’s style is neither one nor the other, but a pragmatic style that best suits the personnel they have available. Why, if Everton plays to their strengths (even if they did so by mimicking Stoke, which they clearly do not), does that make Liverpool the “better” team, presuming that Liverpool play something slightly closer to Barcelona?
The better team is the team that wins the game. In the case of the Merseyside draw, red hackles are raised because Luis Suarez’s would-be winner was incorrectly ruled offside. If there’s a reason to say Liverpool are better than Everton, it’s that fact, not the style they played.
Now Gerrard is backtracking, claiming that he was too harsh with his previous criticism after going back and watching tape of the game. Gerrard even went so far as to apologize to Tony Pulis and Stoke.
“Just to clarify I’ve watched the game again, and I’ve seen some of Everton’s matches this season, and what I said in relation to their style of play went too far.
I was frustrated by the disallowed goal from Luis when I spoke and also some of the things that have been said about Luis in recent weeks which haven’t been fair in my opinion.
As captain I have a duty to stand up for our players when I feel they are unfairly singled out.
But it wasn’t my intention to disrespect Everton or Stoke for that matter and I certainly didn’t intend any disrespect to their manager or players.
I have the utmost respect for David Moyes and Tony Pulis and the job they have done at their respective clubs.
My main issue was with the goal that wasn’t given and that Liverpool did not get the three points I felt we deserved in what was a fantastic derby match.”
Emphasis mine. Sorry, Stevie, but that was exactly your intention. Stoke are the uncouth hicks of world football, resorting to ugly, unskilled, physical play to keep themselves afloat in a league in which they cannot compete financially, and you meant to cut Everton to the core by comparing the Toffees’ style to that of the Potters’. Own it.
To review: Anyone that plays long ball/route one plays like Stoke, and this is bad because only pretty, possession-based, pass-happy soccer—like Barcelona play—is worthwhile. I’ve yet to see anyone give a satisfactory answer for why one strategy for winning is inherently better than another strategy for winning, or explain why direct play is inherently less “entertaining” than the opposite.
I was in the midst of writing this post (stop-start, as I do) when Richard Whittall dropped an item on this very topic. Go read it.