Friday, May 27

Crossing, like swear words and mixtapes, is not how it used to be | Jonathan Liew | Football


Cross 1, by Héctor Bellerín from the right, turns harmlessly towards the penalty spot. Kieran Tierney’s center 5 pings low and Eric Dier pushes him away at the near post. Cross 7 forces Harry Kane into a fighting space. Crosses 12-15, delivered in quick succession between 43 and 44 minutes, drift away. Cross 19 hits Steven Bergwijn and comes out on target.

Like all the best performing art, Arsenal’s attacking display against Tottenham was revealed only in stages: slowly building a universe for us, generating its own fascinating and percussive logic. Willian’s Junction 30 sails over Hugo Lloris, above all. But, surprise, this only accelerates the start of center 31, Dani Ceballos on the opposite flank, who fails to beat the first man.

As the minutes go by, as determination gives way to despair, you begin to glimpse an uncanny beauty in this permanent bombardment, an analog to the essential futility of human endeavor. Cross 42, handed in in injury time by Tierney, is cleared by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Inevitably, he comes back: center 43 by Bukayo Saka, headed back to a corner. Is there time for the cross 44? There is, from Willian. It moves away.

Like it or not, some stats end up turning you into you. David Moyes’ Manchester United once scored 81 crosses against Fulham, a number that seemed to crystallize their era, which on some level still defines it. The temptation will be to see in the 44 crosses of Arsenal on Sunday an equally liminal moment for the Mikel Arteta brand: his Waterloo, his shark jump, his Dan Burn.

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The basis for all of this is a curious and very modern assumption, adopted by the class of connoisseurs, the usual fanatic, and the internet joke industrial complex alike. “They puffed and puffed, the ball widens, without tenderness, without cunning, so it ends up being a cross,” observed Graeme Souness on Sky. “Were we opening up the Spurs team?” Alex Scott asked. “No, we were putting crosses in the area. That is not opening a team to create opportunities ”.

Somehow, the crossover has become something of an abbreviation for bad football – for aimless, headless ball games. It doesn’t matter that this is one of the most difficult and visually appealing skills in the game. That the two most prolific crossover teams in the Premier League last season were Liverpool and Manchester City. That among the rags, the most threatening moments for Arsenal came from outside. Who will speak for the poor, the translated cross?



“His problem was not crossing: it was a bad crossing, a slow crossing, a crossing without a plan.” Photograph: Catherine Ivill / AP

The first thing to keep in mind is that the crossing contains crowds. FIFA games offer three crossover options (high / driven / low), but there are actually hundreds: outwinger, inswinger, float, swirl, skim, trim, dinked, squish, early, on the fly, trimmed, the diagonal long, short diagonal, near post, far post, deep, D, hook and much more. There is the cross specifically designed to win a corner. The cross that is really a shot. The shot that is really a cross.

Then it has its main defenders and, like handwriting, no two people crossing have ever been the same. Gary Neville used to mix them up like he was wearing slippers. Marc Albrighton seems to float in the air for hours. Bolo Zenden threw his crosses almost reluctantly, as if what he really wanted was to keep haggling: cross the line, enter the stands, go out to the parking lot, go out to freedom.

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These days, at the elite end, the crossover is more of a precision instrument: an extension of the modern percentage game with its fixation on automatisms and controllable results. So like swear words and mixtapes, crossover isn’t what it used to be. Let’s be clear: the skill level is as good as ever. There are some brilliant crossovers: Kevin De Bruyne, Andy Robertson, James Rodriguez, Hakim Ziyech. But such is the miniaturization of the modern game that its true scope is rarely glimpsed.

Take Ziyech, a man who essentially plays a type of cross: the little dink at the far post with his left foot. He probably plays the others brilliantly as well. But Chelsea’s game is so polished and streamlined that we may never know it. I love Ziyech as a player, but as a crusader? Give me Beckham, Wilcox or Hinchcliffe any day of the week.

The real issue is not the crossover itself, but the way we talk about the game: the motifs and narratives that get tangled around teams and players like weeds. You see it in the vaguely mocking way people talk about Stewart Downing or Chris Brunt – this idea that crossing, like heading or placing pieces, is somehow outside the core of the modern game, a relic of a pre-era era. concussion.

Anyone who watched Sunday’s game You’ll know what Arsenal were trying to do: with the center locked and without a true playmaker, they just went where space was, creating wide-spread overloads. Tierney is one of the best crossers in the game. What they lacked was air presence and bodies in the box. His problem was not crossing: it was crossing badly, crossing slowly, crossing without a plan.

And yet, fairly or unfairly, this feels like one of those sticky labels. Being 15th in the league will do that to you. Moyes has rebuilt his West Ham career, but if you go to YouTube you can still see those 81 crosses against Fulham, sped up and to the music of Benny Hill. Unless Arteta can turn Arsenal around, this could also be, so to speak, his cross.


www.theguardian.com

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