Brendan spoke to the media today ahead of the cup final this weekend, and he made it clear that neither he nor our players are in the least bit impressed by Motherwell’s threats to get physical during the game.
In a message to the governing bodies, Brendan warned that the officials will have to take care that the rules and laws of the sport are followed, but he stated for the record that our team will not shy away from a battle and never have.
Motherwell are entitled, as any club are, to play whatever sort of game suits them. This is a cup final, where the winner will take him a trophy. They won’t be shrinking violets. But for their players to have put down a marker by effectively threatening to rough house us all over the park … to me that comes off as a little bit weak.
Are they not capable of playing actual football?
I’ve watched them a few times this season and I know that they actually are.
This isn’t Mark McGhee’s useless shower from last season; the Fir Park club actually has good footballers and a style that’s attractive to watch. There’s no need for this kind of stupid chatter from their quarter. They can be better than that and put on a show.
Their manager has defended the comments by his players by saying that if they try to go toe to toe with us they’ll lose; this is an echo of the criticism Brendan is getting in other quarters at the moment, because we tried to do the same with PSG.
But in order for it to be a valid statement, his side has to do better than we managed to.
Brendan noted that the size of the Hampden pitch makes expansive football easier to play; this is shaping up to be a contest between the football we play and the football the media thinks we should play against certain opponents.
The game will either demonstrate the rightness of that approach – their approach – or reveal its many, awesome, limitations. That’s how I expect it to go. More often than not, a team with the right players which tries to play football will beat a team that sits behind the ball and tries to play a physical game. There are exceptions, but it generally works that way.
The pressing game is misunderstood. Marry it with tight marking – which is what some of the press would have had us do – and you are asking for trouble against the really good teams. Let’s try to imagine a half-fit Simunovic trying to tightly mark Neymar. Even the act of trying to stay on the Brazlian’s shoulder would be exhausting. And it wouldn’t work. The PSG front man is just too fast, just too slippery, just too good.
And whilst Simunovic is trying, in vain, to keep Neymar close the gaps elsewhere in the defence would allow Mbappe and Cavani and others to roam at will. The same applies to tight pressing; it opens gaps, and a good team like PSG has the ability to find space and move ruthlessly into it. And of course, if you sit off them you gave those players room to run.
Motherwell face this dilemma tomorrow.
They will play a game the exact opposite of the one that we played in midweek.
The press thinks that strategy might bear fruit.
We’re going to find out. It will be interesting to say the least.