I supported Poch’s decision to go with the same midfield and front three. It didn’t work. Kane was dead on his feet most of the day, Ndombele obviously working with a knock and thus could only go a half. Lo Celso still raw and not fully integrated with the forward trio. Son and Dele worked hard but without a certain Danish playmaker (who I don’t think we will ever see again in his proper form) they are a leg short of a stool. When Sissoko got the ball in a decent position he was clueless. We miss Lamela and Lucas was only slightly able to produce more chances. Winks livened things up but not enough to turn the game.
As for the back four, well we learned a lot. Ben Davies is more statue than living breathing footballer with every passing week. He was totally absent on the Blades goal. Dier can defend, and his positioning is adequate, but I lost count of how many of his passes were giveaways and resulted in yet another Blade attack. We are all circumspect about our two contractually challenged Belgians, but let’s not kid ourselves about their quality compared to the alternatives. Sanchez played relatively well but Aurier was largely unable to turn several opportunities going down the right wing into anything productive.
We were today what we are in the standings—a relatively toothless midtable side. The Blades were the better side, and but for a VAR decision almost precisely the same as the goal we lost to Leicester, they might have walked away with all three points. How do we compare to the likes of Sheffield United, Burnley, Palace, Bournemouth, West Ham, Everton and Newcastle?
I’d say they are where we belong. Fortunate to finish as high as 7th—more likely to wind up somewhere around 10th. Poch needs at least two more windows to construct the right team going forward. He has compared this side to the one he inherited in 2014—yet that side finished 5th and this one doesn’t seem capable of those heights. It may be that when the dust settles we simply won’t ever—in this era—get back to the heights of 2016-17-18.
We may get the diversion of one great home and home tie in March in the Champions League—Barcelona? Juventus? Real Madrid? I suspect that’s the only real thrill remaining for the next seven months—the rest will be sorting out just who is going to stay and who is not. It’s not what we all wanted—but it is what this squad deserves.
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