The idiom ‘big fish in a small pond’ is bandied about to the point of cliché in sport. It came to my drowsy mind again in the early hours while I watched two Premier League Boxing Day fixtures.
First up was Spurs’ demolition of a callow Villa side, led, of course, by the rampaging Gareth Bale. Even last season, when van der Vaart and Modric were at the club, Bale’s displays were the most eye-catching and breathtaking. His hat-trick against Villa was a clear example of how his power and directness can be devastating when he’s left unchecked. On the other flank, the impressive Aaron Lennon flitted in and out of the play, never threatening to overwhelm the opposition in the way that Bale can and does. For each goal, Bale’s intervention was the culmination of a team move which demonstrated how a sublime talent must be harnessed by the collective.
The second match was Stoke vs Liverpool. I find it fascinating watching a player of Luis Suarez’s vision and skill in combination with the confused and elementary abilities of his teammates. Liverpool lost the game 3-1 after taking an early lead through a penalty won by Suarez. The ensuing failure to breach the Stoke defence brought out a series of ever more dramatic gestures of frustration from the talismanic forward as the likes of Stewart Downing, Raheem Sterling and Suso operated on a significantly lower plane to the Uruguayan. Steven Gerrard, in particular, was having one of his off days; spraying hopeful long balls to no-one in particular and shooting wildly from range when a more patient approach was called for. For how long will Luis put up with this?
What do these contrasting examples of Bale and Suarez tell us about big fish scenarios? Not much really, except it’s better to win than lose. But to do so, it helps to have a supporting cast who can at least get the ball to the feet of the big fish (that doesn’t sound right) in dangerous positions.
In Spurs’ previous fixture they had come up against a resolute Stoke at White Hart Lane and failed to break down their organised defence. Perhaps here lies the true lesson; a team of artisans can nullify a team containing an artist or two, so long as they all work together. Villa should take heed. So should Liverpool.