All change with this column, folks. Goalkeepers are great and strikers consigned to a bygone era. Yes, you read that right and yes, I am still Peter Crouch. Promise.
It is not quite so straightforward obviously, but last week I dedicated a section of these pages to the excellence of Edouard Mendy and how goalkeepers are becoming even more important for potential title-winning teams.
Now, having watched Chelsea and Manchester City score 11 between them without a recognised frontman on Saturday, it does make you wonder if we can start labelling the strikers’ position as unfashionable at the elite level.
Has football changed or have I? Answers on Twitter, please.
Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah (left) are two of the new breed of goalscoring wingers who now outnumber centre forwards, the position Cristiano Ronaldo is playing for Man United
Mason Mount (left) and Phil Foden are also shining for Chelsea and Man City respectively
Romelu Lukaku will be back for Chelsea and probably straight in when he recovers from injury, yet — even though Norwich appear to be this year’s whipping boys — it was interesting to note how they swept the Canaries aside without him.
Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi interchanged superbly and with freedom, ably assisted by the flying wing backs in this exciting Chelsea team wonderfully managed by Thomas Tuchel. All this without a main man to hit.
We were famous for it in England, that No 9 role. These days, you look around academies, though, and they all want to play in those wing positions. They are the glamorous spots in the team — it’s fashionable to score the goals from there.
Nobody wants to be the classic centre forward any more – like I used to be for Liverpool
Chelsea scored seven times against Norwich without a recognised striker on the pitch
Foden scored twice for Manchester City at Brighton whilst playing in a ‘false nine role’
Standing up front just isn’t in vogue any more and this is an ongoing issue being debated around Manchester United this season after Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival. Things do change, new eras are quickly upon us, although there is definitely a part of me that is a little sad about it. I’m nostalgic and old now, remember.
The people I looked up to while growing up were obviously the old-fashioned, quintessential No 9s: Dion Dublin, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, the Brazilian Ronaldo. Supreme footballers.
I think back to those combinations of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley, the big man-little man partnership. The sort that Jermain Defoe and I had. It has died out, the two strikers up there feeding off each other. I can’t think of too many around.
There is so much more demand on the goalscorers in the modern game. Usually in that position now you have quick, potent wingers either side of you. The frontman didn’t used to get involved in too much pressing, but at Liverpool when you see Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — plus Diogo Jota when he starts — the roles have altered hugely.
Fluid forward lines, like what Chelsea and Liverpool possess, is now the future of football
It’s the same with Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and others at City. They all work so hard and that is why there has been this wave of criticism for certain players who just score goals now. That all boils down to City being the best team in the league since Pep Guardiola came in, and the work-rate that goes into making them such a formidable outfit.
As the best team of the era, Guardiola’s Barcelona started it all, didn’t they? Everyone tried to emulate that and then we are looking at the number of goals that wingers can chip in with.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane is one of the very few classic No 9’s still around, we are not extinct!
Take the numbers consistently posted by Salah and Mane for Liverpool. City play with five of them and they get more than 10 goals each per season. The game is forever evolving. That pressing, the defensive side of it, is what the very best are doing.
There are still the more traditional players at the top of their game — Karim Benzema, Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski — so it’s not dead yet. They are keeping it alive but what happens when those guys move on? Hopefully, somewhere, there is the next lot of them coming through on the quiet.
It must come back round — I’m sure of it — and teams won’t know what’s hit them when suddenly a big target man does turn up in years to come. There will always be room for that sort of presence, definitely, but at the moment it is unfashionable.
So let me tell you, as a member of the strikers’ union, this trend is worrying. Can we start developing some more, please?
My boy is three so I’m going to start pinging long balls to him in the garden and ask him to control those on his chest. Then we’ll get his quick, nippy sisters around him! Maybe then there will be at least one who can carry the flag for us throwbacks.
SCHOLESY WAS RIGHT – HE SAW THIS COMING
Paul Scholes sat next to me in the BT Sport studio on Wednesday night. It was a difficult assignment for any pundit and even more so for a Manchester United legend.
United’s comeback against Atalanta was rousing. One of those big, special nights at Old Trafford. For both of us, it would have been easy to focus on the positives.
Paul Scholes was critcised for being too negative after Man United’s 3-2 win over Atalanta
Scholes was proved right when the Red Devils were humbled 5-0 at home to Liverpool
Paul didn’t want to be the doom-and-gloom merchant after a great Champions League win, but he called Sunday’s dismantling.
He has to give an honest opinion on what unfolds. He said if they played like that against Liverpool, they’d be on the end of a hiding and look what happened.
There had been all the euphoria, Cristiano Ronaldo’s late winner again, but you have to see the bigger picture. Paul did just that.
There were a lot of people commenting on how miserable he was, but Paul was proved absolutely correct. Atalanta are decent, but we both said United would come undone if they replicated that performance.
United come up very short against teams who play like one, such as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool
It was almost not nice being proved right. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is clearly a good man. But he has a terrific squad and they are totally outperformed by sides who play as a team.
You cannot be shipping five goals at Old Trafford and Solskjaer has been in charge of two afternoons like that in the space of a year.
The unrest around that club — you all saw the thousands streaming out of Old Trafford on Sunday — is relatively simple. They have top individual players but are less than the sum of their parts.
United have been too individualistic for too long. They’ve been getting away with it because the likes of Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford can all do something special.
United are too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford (right) to shine individually
Have they got a top manager? Is he at the same level as Tuchel, Guardiola or Klopp? I think any of those managers make sure this team goes deep into a title race.
Ole must have known that there was loads to work on from Wednesday night. Locating the negative aspects of a win is the only way you can improve. You cannot wait until you lose two or three games, because you won’t be in a job anymore.
There were individuals errors on Sunday — Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire coming together for one of the goals — and defending like that is not the manager’s fault.
But who didn’t smell this sort of result coming? Gary Neville was right yesterday: the fixtures so far this season haven’t been difficult. This was the tough one and they lost 5-0.