Yesterday’s game was an odd one – while we played well, we didn’t create and ended up conceding out of a dazzling defensive performance. Being the first week, this is forgivable. Being a big game too makes its forgivable to some extent. But my only concern from what I’ve seen in the pre-season to now is that we haven’t been able to create, produce or finish enough. In other words, we aren’t being clinical.
Out of the 50% position we had and the attacking domination we did possess in the game, it was mainly side-ways or backward passing. Other than the 4’ Harry Kane lob ball to Eriksen, everything was plain. Simple but not enough. To some extent I blame the shape of the midfield. The reason our midfield did so well last season was the balance between our trio in the middle Bentaleb, Mason and at most times, Eriksen. While one of the two (Bentaleb) remained near the half line at most times, the other would support Eriksen by making forward runs to provide more movement. It was as if we had a rotating CDM and CM in place which was perfect. This of course was costly at some big games or whenever either one of them fell short of their game.
What we saw yesterday was another side of a potential big game trio. Two defensive minded midfielders with one a pure CDM and the other a CM but not completely intended on attacking, and then a CAM. This does provide cover and help defensively but this also limits our creation due to lack of support from the middle to the front men ahead of them.
I do believe that the CDM position is a key one but this is the reason Capoue or Stambouli never worked out for us – their movement MUST be limited at all times. Fans argue that they weren’t good enough. Well, they were doing their job at most times but you will not see much of an attacking intent from a proper defensive midfielder. What we need is a Bentaleb who is at his best at all times or a Mason who has the creativity to spread the attack in all directions and a CDM who can hold well.
The first option is simple. It’s risky but it works if you have players who are quick and versatile. We’ve seen it been successful at most times last season. But when it goes wrong, it can go very wrong! The Bentaleb and Mason partnership was the one we saw last season and we know what goes right and what goes wrong with it. With Alli, we have a possible competition to both of them and in time I do believe he could be a potential starter in front of one of them so this will be an interesting one to look out for. This means we do have the players for this system but the only question is the defensive support we will in this approach and whether these players are able to provide it when asked upon.
The second option, for which the best example I can think of is Chelsea. Their midfield trio Matic, Fabregas and Oscar, for me were off the charts last season. They knew their roles and their movement complimented each other. They were one of the prime reasons for large number of Chelsea’s goals. The introduction of Fabregas gave Oscar a freer role rather than that of just creating at all times. We desperately need that. While we have Mason who has been our second best gift from our youth system off last year, I believe we need an upgrade, at least a temporary one. I have time and time again said we need experience in the middle and this could change the game for us. Someone who has the ability to control the pace of the game, distribute magnificently and provide the movement our players can actually produce if given the opportunity.
We have the two options and can go either way. While we already have decent players in terms of the first one, the second one for me is more ideal. It does mean changing the plans a bit, but it does enable us to step up our game. I wish I could say Dembele would be a possible candidate but we need a better, sharper player for it to succeed. As unlikely it sounds, it’s just an opinion from my side which I feel would help us be more clinical. We are too reliable on a couple of players to produce and this approach will not help us. Being dependable from our side makes it obvious for the other teams. We need to get more creative before it’s too late. Its early days but we are a work in progress that needs finishing as soon as possible. Plus, it’s always good to have a Plan B.
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