A few weeks back, I wrote a piece discussing what we needed in the transfer market.
My opinion at the time was that we needed more pace, more creativity, and more depth. Lucas Moura has certainly solved the first one. It is probably fair to reserve judgement on the other two until we have really seen what he is like, but I felt it was a good signing on paper.
However, the results (and performances) against Newport and Rochdale have given us a good glimpse at our “second string” and have left most of us unimpressed.
Let’s talk mainly about the recent game against Rochdale. Now, most people would argue that it doesn’t matter who we have, a club of our stature should be able to draw names out of a hat from all of our squads and still put out a side that can beat them. With all due respect to Rochdale, they are bottom of League One.
It isn’t necessarily that every player 1-11 isn’t good enough (Alderweireld is still for me our best centre half, Trippier is our best right back, for example), but you look at the team that started and wonder what would have happened if we had to play that side against a top team. If we had a huge injury crisis, where would a team of Llorente, Sissoko, Foyth, Vorm etc come in the premier league?
I keep going round in circles in my head with it because I do understand that the nature of a squad means that you can’t have two equally good players for every position. Logic suggests that the second string by definition are going to be second best.
However, I worry that there are certain players we simply do not have any replacement for. The three prominent examples that spring to mind for me are Kane, Eriksen and Dembele.
Against Rochdale, we had a three of Son, Moura and Sissoko behind Llorente. Son and Moura are wingers, and Llorente is 8 feet tall, so you would think we would be ok. Did anyone witness us put any meaningful crosses into the box? Then there is Sissoko. Quite which one of our first-choice players he is meant to be an able back-up to, I am not sure. He certainly isn’t capable of playing in the hole and picking a team apart, even if that team is Rochdale.
With Llorente, I thought it was a decent signing at the time. But it hasn’t worked for him. Last season for Swansea, he scored more headers than anyone else in the Premier League. But the football we play doesn’t really gear towards that. Likewise when Liverpool signed Benteke and tried playing tiki-taka football with him. It was never going to work.
Then there is Dembele. Recently talked up in the press but otherwise under-rated in my opinion. Not a necessarily creative player, not a goal-scorer, but runs a game in central midfield like no one else we have. If he isn’t there, would you be confident going into a huge game with Wanyama and Dier as a central midfield pair? Good players, but missing a certain something.
I don’t want to go down the route of talking about financial restraints and budgets and new stadium and all that. But clearly we are not in the same position as Man City, Chelsea etc who can afford to spend huge money on squad players. I don’t think that is actually a necessity all the time, but I do feel that somewhere our transfer and scouting system is broken.
Perhaps it is leaving it too late; perhaps it is trying to drive too hard a bargain. Maybe the players we are linked with and then go elsewhere were never on the cards at all.
Probably, it is the left hand not talking to the right. Who decided that N’Koudou, Sissoko, Janssen and the rest were the players to elevate our squad to trophy winning levels? Christ, we can go further back and say David Bentley, Frazier Campbell, Paul Stalteri.
Because that is what we are talking about really. Yes, with our team we are going to have great days and nights like beating Arsenal and totally outplaying Juventus in their own stadium. But without a squad, we are going to struggle to win trophies, and we will be forced to listen to Graham Souness, Jamie Carragher and Rio Fucking Ferdinand keep talking about it.
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