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Strong defence is simple answer to Robben riddle

sports Updated: May 24, 2013 02:32 IST
Arjen Robben

An internet search for "Arjen Robben cuts inside" produces more than two million items, one of them a recent tweet declaring: "That was the 10,000th time Robben has cut inside and shot with his left foot - so predictable".

Yet, when the Bayern Munich winger bears down the right in Saturday's Champions League final, Borussia Dortmund's defenders, if they follow in the misdirected footsteps of so many before them, will still, inexplicably, allow the Dutchman to switch the ball on to his favoured left foot and turn a usually benign situation into a potentially critical one.

Robben's right foot was once described as being "made of chocolate" by compatriot Johan Cruyff and is still so ineffective that any Sunday league full back, let alone the cream of world's defenders, would know to focus their entire strategy on forcing him to use it.

Yet, time and time again, having feinted to go outside, Robben is somehow given the space to cut in. Too often the end result is that the ball sails into the top tier behind the goal but, as he has matured, the manoeuvre now more often leads to a dangerous pass or a fierce, left-footed, attempt on goal.

If the world's television watchers have managed to identify this familiar routine, then clearly leading coaches and players are aware of it too. So why is he still so often allowed to venture into the one place he wants to go instead of being ushered down a generally blind alley?

He has quick feet, wonderful control and critically explosive speed over the first two or three metres so that even when defenders are expecting the move they are sometimes unable to counter it, but there is very little deception about what he does.

‘Quick and clever’
The process leaves many experienced observers shaking their heads in frustration every time his all-too-familiar "trick" comes off. "If the defender is doing his job properly of course you can stop him cutting inside but they have to really concentrate because he is so quick and clever," said former England manager Terry Venables.

"Once he goes inside, the opposition are in danger — the secret is staying close."

Robben fans will point to the semi-final first-leg victory over Barcelona as evidence that he is not a one-trick pony, as he did indeed go past Jordi Alba on the outside. His performance will certainly be central to Bayern's prospects on Saturday, when the man marking him will be Marcel Schmelzer.

If the German international has done his homework and manages to keep Robben glued to his chocolate side then it could well be a sweet night for Dortmund.