A phrase that crops up in football conversation with more frequency, Anti-Football is a myth that people like to throw at teams that play defensively to earn themselves a valuable clean sheet. It’s not a system you look to use to “earn a draw”, it’s a tactic you use against teams that either like to relentlessly attack or play possession football to frustrate and counter.
Chelsea’s performance was labelled as such, playing a negative style of football to stop Liverpool’s quick attacking play and it worked, the Reds had no answer to what was put in front of them. Chelsea worked incredibly hard in getting players back, with wide men Andre Schurrle and Mohammed Salah (then Willian) tucked in next to the back four with the wall of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel in front of them.
They got a lucky goal, held on until there was a real chance to counter and killed off the game in the final minutes. From the first few minutes, Liverpool had a problem because their style wasn’t suited to someone sitting back and they couldn’t cut through Chelsea’s “parked bus”. They never tried anything different and as soon as they went a goal down they rushed passes into the frontmen and took pot shots from distance.
As usual, the losing manager comes out in anger that the other team didn’t play football simply because they played a different style. It is regularly used to deflect the attention away from the fact that the team who had all of the possession couldn’t find a way to break them down, the onus is on them to cut through them and pinning the blame away is looking past your own faults.
It’s ironic that Chelsea employed the style that Jose Mourinho called “19th century football” after a draw to West Ham but it’s been a staple of the Special One’s style and even Chelsea themselves. It’s helped Mourinho be so successful in the big games, it helped Chelsea win the Champions League and it helped them beat Liverpool last weekend.
So why is it called Anti-Football? It’s created by the football “purists” who want to see entertaining football that’s end-to-end but creates so much risk for a side that feels that it doesn’t suit their players. Chelsea knew that a clean sheet against Liverpool would be vital to victory, especially as they come out so quickly and they proved right, Liverpool don’t have the best defensive record and they knew that if they could shut them out they could get something at the other end.
It’s a slur, an offensive statement that’s supposed to annoy or irritate those that decide that their best route to victory is through defending. It’s wrong to insinuate that there is only a few ways to play football, that’s the real beauty of the game and to denounce something simply because it’s unattractive is snobbish.
The very best of teams find a way to beat teams regardless of how they set up, the best of managers alter their play to make an opening that creates a goal and when it doesn’t happen it’s just one of those days. It’s a part of football that whilst not being so pleasing on everyone’s eye, it’s something that a team must deal with and shouldn’t be so dismissed as Anti-Football. It makes it sound like it shouldn’t be done, but it’s a perfectly viable tactic that creates interesting football battles and for that, it’s definitely not against the spirit of the sport.