There were some people who castigated me for my comments after the Anzhi game, claiming that my remarks about it being “a less than convincing 2-0 victory” were somehow negative. But at least we won, got three points and the performances of one or two players was positive and the goalscoring of Defoe earned him a place in yesterday´s starting line up.
So what will these same people think of my headline after the WetSpam debacle? Will they again criticise me for being defeatist? After all we were defeated – well and truly – but was it a “disaster”.’ Let us examine some facts.
1. In thirteen second half minutes we conceded more goals than we had in the entire Premiership so far – that’s over 600 minutes. Disaster.
2. We lost our unbeaten home record for the season. Disaster.
3. We failed to score – for only the second time this season. Disaster.
4. At the same time as Le Arse were being held to a draw we lost ground on them and are now three points behind with a goal difference inferiority of 5. Disaster.
5. With the other four contenders for Champions League positions all winning and all scoring three times – all against opposition of the same quality and status as ours – we now find ourselves in 6th having started the weekend in 3rd. Disaster.
6. Had we won on Sunday by 3-0 instead of losing by that margin we would have 16 points and a goal difference of 7 – enough to put us top of the Premiership. Disaster
6. We – or more importantly WetSpam – showed other teams how to compete with and ultimately beat us. Disaster.
7. With the international break and all bar a handful of our players jetting off around the world, there is no time for a proper inquest, no time to discuss what went wrong and put it right. Disaster.
We had more possession, more shots at goal though not necessarily more on target, yet still lost. Where did it all go wrong? Was it simply a case of them wanting it more because on this occasion I do not think so. Whereas we had no luck in front of goal, they had plenty. When we took pot-shots and they rebounded, they rebounded to safety. When their shots were blocked the ball fell straight at the feet of one of their players who stabbed the ball home.
Is it that the constant changes between weekend and midweek create an imbalance – or is the team inherently imbalanced in the first place?
The whole point of us playing 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders is that it gives us flexibility to change the setup quickly and fluidly. When we press forward one of the midfield duo can drop into the gap between the two centre halves, allowing the other midfielder and the full backs to join up in a 3-4-3 formation. This is what happens in midweek, but neither Dembele or Paulinho are that type of central midfielder. They both want to get forward, meaning the wing backs cannot rampage up the wings denying us the width we need when our attacking trio and especially our inverted wingers get into the box. This creates a bottle neck of six players trying to get through the middle, and with the opposition also cramming that area, there is no way through.
What is needed is for a change in the centre of midfield. For Sandro to be restored to his rightful position of midfield enforcer. If he had been there against Chelski would they (and Mata in particular) have dominated the second half? Had he been there against WetSpam would we have had more space and freedom down the flanks to deliver more telling balls into the centre?
Who knows, but for now we have to wait two whole weeks to find out if anything can be resolved.
And for me those two weeks will be very interesting as I am away on holiday on a Mediterranean cruise with a difference, taking in such sights as Palermo, Napoli, Roma and Cagliari – a veritable feast of Serie A. Shame the football is all about World Cup qualification.
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