- May 8, 2002
- Reaction score
There is something about the devastating synchronicity of a well executed counter-attack that pulls you to the edge of your seat, even in these strange times when an abundance of live football can make the action grey and indistinguishable. Mohamed Salah's second goal for Liverpool at West Ham was one such moment. Why does this category of goal resonate and delight to such an extent? Firstly, counter-attacks are an exhibition of the razor-thin margins that decide top-level football matches: a team can be camped in the opposition's penalty area before picking the ball out of their net less than 10 seconds later. What better encapsulation of the emotional swings a fan experiences throughout the 90 minutes? They are also very difficult to pull off, demanding technical accuracy at pace which is the most sought-after combination in football. Players who can see a pass or produce a piece of skill at walking pace are two-a-penny, as are those with speed but the touch and awareness of a rhinoceros. What separates the great from the average is the ability to do both. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were sensational exponents of this type of football at Manchester United, as were Arsene Wenger's title-winning Arsenal teams who galloped from one end of the pitch to the other like a cavalry charge. Jose Mourinho's best sides at Chelsea and Real Madrid were also famed for slicing through teams with fast breaks. Leicester's 2015-16 champions spearheaded by Jamie Vardy are also a must mention. Like passing the baton in a relay race, one mistake and the entire sequence breaks down. How often do you see a team butcher a move when they have four-on-two against the defending team? It is not easy as it looks, yet the picture-book goals that result from a well coordinated counter look delightfully simple. When analysed in its entirety, a 90-minute football match is really a story of mistake after mistake. Often, especially in an era with so much focus on pressing, the victorious team is the one who makes the fewest. The best counter-attacks on the other hand, are harmonious vignettes of mistake-free football bordering on perfection. That is what makes them, and Salah's goal, so satisfying. Here we pick out some of the essential components. Seeing into the future "Speed is often confused with insight. When I start running earlier than the others, I appear faster," said Johan Cruyff. Salah is fast by any measure, but the way he sensed what could develop was crucial. As soon as the ball popped out of the penalty area, Salah is sprinting into space before any West Ham players have broken into a jog. You would expect Salah to win the race starting level, but that moment of 'insight' to start sprinting before anyone else has seen the possibilities is what puts clear blue water between the Liverpool forward and West Ham's retreating players.