What is the most dangerous playing position?

Manchester United’s visit to Upton Park and Everton’s trip to the Emirates this week prompted Jenny Leigh to consider what the most dangerous playing position is?

On Tuesday night I watched Everton hold Arsenal to a 0-0 draw, which was far from dull, despite the scoreline’s suggestion. There were no goals for the fans to celebrate but the game was not without incident – the fouls and the referee’s decisions took centre stage.

Then, on Wednesday the Premier League leaders travelled to Upton Park where they faced the physical demands of a clash (literally) with West Ham. The two fixtures share much in common, as United were held to a 2-2 draw in which the officiating left to much to be desired, which ever way you look at it.

There were 23 fouls (officially) committed in the eyes of referee Neil Swarbrick in charge at the Emirates – he dished out 5 yellow cards over the course of 90 minutes.

At Upton Park, only one yellow card was shown – to Andy Carroll – by referee Lee Probert, despite 16 fouls being counted officially.

Both games were intensely physical encounters – without bias Everton got away with more than they ought to. Darren Gibson was lucky to escape with just a yellow and another verbal warning and Everton were lucky to keep 11 men on the field.

Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere was visible aggrieved and frustrated by Swarbrick’s refusal to even blow his whistle for free kicks that, on another day, could very well have seen players dismissed. Theo Walcott rode a couple of dubious challenges, as did Santi Cazorla.

That’s not to say Arsenal didn’t throw their weight around too – they did – and they incurred just one foul less than the visitor’s according to the match report.

A few miles up the road on Wednesday, both Sam Allardyce and Sir Alex Ferguson were left furious following the draw. Allardyce bemoaned (rightly so) the linesman’s performance due to Robin van Persie being clearly offside in the build up to his equalizer in the 77th minute for the Red Devils.

His counterpart was less than amused by Andy Carroll’s challenge on United goalkeeper David De Gea and, later on, his clash with captain Nemanja Vidic.

De Gea certainly suffered the most dangerous of challenges between the two fixtures – whether Carroll intended to collide with him so aggressively is up for speculation but, nonetheless, he was clattered and could very well have been knocked unconscious.

Carroll himself was the subject of a couple of barges from Vidic but that’s to be expected – in fairness, centre-backs and opposing centre-forwards tend to give as good as they get in this league.

It’s part and parcel of the game, especially on set-pieces and aerial duels – they all winge to the ref but they all do it – the holding, the shirt-pulling, the elbowing, the barging.

Goalkeepers too at the highest level know that they cannot play with fear of getting clattered into – that’s part of the job description and, eventually, it happens. For most the injuries are not too severe – the Petr Cech and Steven Hunt incident from 2006 springs to mind. These things happen, especially to goalkeepers.

What suddenly occurred to me, however, was how dangerous it is to be an attacking midfielder – like Jack Wilshere or Shinji Kagawa, Santi Cazorla, or Wayne Rooney.

Those players are deployed in that position because of their far superior technical ability compared to the majority of other players. They are of slight stature, have a low centre of gravity and possess skill and passing expertise matched by very few of their fellow professionals.

With a player like Wilshere, for example, his style, the way he’s been taught to play, is that he released the ball at the latest possible opportunity – he waits to draw the opposing midfielder or defender as close to him as possible, in order to create space for his teammates to operate in.

He, along with the along with the others, use misdirection to trick the opponent who has no idea where he is moving and no idea where the ball will be in a split second’s time.

Subsequently, these small and gifted players often fall victim to mistimed tackles, clumsy challenges, and, every so often, career-threatening injuries. The likes of Aaron Ramsey and Antonio Valencia know all about those.

Both Neil Swarbrick and Lee Proburt gave poor performances this week – as did the linesmen at Upton Park.

They did not protect the players of either side, they did not deter the players from committing cynical professional fouls, nor did they display any backbone when it came to dangerous conduct of which, unfortunately, stole the limelight in both fixtures.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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