A Big Stadium Doesn’t Automatically Make You a Big Club
Personally, I believe the connection between the move to the new stadium and the poor performances so far this season is being vastly overplayed. It certainly is not the prime factor and cannot explain the performances on the road. The expectations at club following the move were unrealistically high though and maybe an assumption that we are now one of the big boys has found its way into the psyche at the club. Overall it was a good season last year but the report card still included a fair few areas where we could and should have done better. This requires hard work and application from the Board through to the coaching staff and players. Early signs are that the investment made in new players has not been well spent; that the coaching staff are short on ideas and the players low on effort and application as well as confidence. Both Newcastle and Sunderland have above average sized stadiums and their current positions demonstrate that on its own it does not bring success.
Second Season Syndrome: An Absence of Style and Formation
One major positive that Bilic brought to club was an approach that was the antidote to the unadventurous, football by attrition of his predecessor. It was a big relief in respect of football as an entertainment and brought further joy in victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs. The successes were enough to overshadow those disappointing aspects of our season where we failed to dispatch the teams we should have beaten with ease. Tame defeats at home to Swansea and away at Stoke in the last weeks of the season were definite warning signs of our limitations. On the good days our approach was high tempo, organised, hard working with quick counter attacks. On the not so good days it was slow, ponderous, short on creativity and focused on high balls to a big striker. Most of the teams setting the early pace this term play at a high tempo and most employ a pressing game. It is difficult to identify or articulate what our game plan is meant to be. Bilic says that the players are working hard on the training ground but to a man they look slower and less fit than any opposition we face. We lack cohesion and do not attack or defend as a team; operating as three detached units. Big gaps exist between midfield and defence and not enough players are getting up quickly enough to support the attack. There are major issues to address. Maybe confidence and injuries plays a part but there are deeper fundamental problems that need to be resolved (and fast!)
We Appear to Have Wasted a Lot of Transfer Cash
It is said that we spent £43 million in the transfer window on 10 or more new players (although that includes the permanent signing of Manuel Lanzini) with just James Tomkins leaving the club. If all the squad were fit it would be unlikely that any of the new players would feature in many people’s preferred starting eleven. Until his aberration at the Hawthorns I did like the look of Masuaku but he is no Cresswell; who even if he is not the best defender in the world is one of our most potent attacking threats. We haven’t seen too much of Arbeloa yet but for a player of such experience he looks to have poor positional sense. Likewise for a player who spent a good few season in a decent Bundesliga side, Nordtveit seems to be completely lost (at sechs and siebens you might say) and his distribution is woeful. Tore and Calleri look dreadful and if there is an exit clause on their respective loans then it would make sense to terminate them now. Zaza did put in some effort (at least in the first half) but looks wanting as a Premier League lone striker; did he have the ball under control at any point in the game? Without knowing the structure of his loan it would be a brave man to trigger the apparent ‘must buy‘ clause. I will cut some slack for Fletcher and Fernandes as I guess they were bought for the future rather than today and would be willing to give Feghouli a few more more chances. We will not know whether Ayew can make an impact for several weeks yet.
Players out of Position
As soon as I saw the team announced my heart sank. I understand that we had a left back problem and playing Arbeloa there may have been the only option available. However, Nordtveit at right back was just plain stupid (even if it was marginally less stupid than playing Antonio there earlier in the season). Why do we so frequently play players out of position in supposedly the best league in the world and expect them to perform. It didn’t take long to recognise that Bertrand was going to be a big threat for Southampton;and why did Nordtveit just give up running for the first goal? I’m not sure the midfield players know who is supposed to be playing where and we continue to defy convention by playing without a proper holding midfielder. With Kouyate drifting right and Payet keeping left there is no threat coming through the centre.
Where Will the Goals Come From
We have just the two tactics for scoring. High balls into the box from open play or set pieces and hope that Antonio will get on the end of one; or a Payet free kick. That it was obvious that the Southampton defence could cope with Plan A for the rest of the week appeared to bypass everyone in claret and blue. For Plan B, no amount of diving won any free kicks in a dangerous enough position for Payet to take advantage. Yes, we probably should have had a penalty in that brief 5 minute spell were we showed a little spirit but otherwise very little was created. No quick interplay and no openings created to bother the keeper. I am not a believer in most football statistics but 6 games and no goals from a striker is quite worrying.