The summer excursion to the continent is over for another year. Here’s what we learned from the inglorious campaign.
Formations are not set in stone (…….unless they are rock formations).
Among the rush to hasty conclusions following the Europa League debacle there has been earnest debate about formations. Have we now changed shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a more defensive minded 4-1-4-1. It is possible for people to become anally retentive about formations as in a good team players should be fluid in reacting to changed situations. The concept of the formation is mainly of concern to TV producers for the pre-match build up; for heat map geeks from the statistics community; and for Italians seeking to confuse with talk of false-nines, false-tens, nine-and-a-halves and liberos. Perhaps Slav’s innovation is the false-fullback!
Most often we utilise 3 central midfielders no matter exactly how we position them – this does not make them defensive midfielders as many seem to claim. The signing of Nordtvelt looks like an attempt to deploy a specialist DM in order to cut down goals conceded as neither Noble nor Kouyate are cut out for this role. Whether Nordtvelt’s other attributes (i.e. passing) allow him to make an overall positive contribution has yet to be proven. Apart from goalkeeper I’m not sure the modern Premier League is the place for one-trick specialist ponies.
It’s a Game of Four Halves.
Embarrassing is an overused word and much favoured by the knee-jerkers who find that so much about the club causes them embarrassment; whether it is young Jack’s transfer gossip, David Gold’s tweeting or that Sullivan Senior made his money from adult entertainment. However, losing at home on Thursday to a team from Romania in a match where a 0-0 draw would have been good enough is probably about as close to embarrassing as it gets.
If there is one thing we know from last year it is that we are not good at breaking down teams that come to defend and rarely batter teams that we should beat easily. OK, that might strictly be two things! Astra didn’t come bursting with ambition and damage limitation may well have been at the top of their agenda. Perhaps there was pressure for us to entertain in the new stadium but the truth was that our main priority should have been to not concede. You only have to look at the Astra goal, and how many players were AWOL as Teixeira was given freedom to waltz through the middle, to wonder what on earth we were thinking in that regard. At times tactics in two legged European ties need to be pragmatic and we got it badly wrong.
Slav the Great and Powerful?
Last year when we failed to qualify for the Europe League group stages it was in the context of a new manager, a fairly thin squad and an approach that said “OK we’ll give it a go but it’s not a top priority!” This season everyone had been quite clear that the intention was to take it seriously and start to make a mark on the European stage. This desire may have been obstructed by a raft of unfortunate injuries but nevertheless we now had a stronger squad – at least that is the received wisdom – and a stated intention to give it our best shot.
So, whereas last year’s elimination passed with merely a shrug of the shoulder this year it risks rubbing a little of the sheen off the reputation of the “can do wrong “ manager. If there were such a thing as a Manager’s Rating Agency there could be a risk of downgrade from Super Slav to just plain Slav. Of course, as players return from injury and with a few inspiring league victories all will be quickly forgotten in the short term memory of the supporter on the Clapton omnibus.
How Deep is Your Squad?
There has been a lot of talk that we were building a squad to take account of a Europa League campaign (i.e. the minimum of 6 additional matches that group stage qualification would have brought). To date there have been 9 arrivals during the transfer window (if you include Manuel Lanzini again) with Tomkins the only notable departure. On paper the squad is much stronger but, as the recent injuries have demonstrated, there are still gaps in cover in some important areas; most notably right back, creative midfield and striker.
We have since signed Edimilson Fernandes and there is continued speculation about Zaza so the fat lady can still belt out a few tunes before the window closes. There is no doubt that the squad looks far healthier than a few years ago but then so do those at most other clubs frantically spending the new TV money. We should not need to be in a position of asking players to be ‘humble’ and play out of position any more. Keeping everyone happy, however, might be the new challenge.
No Place for a Seat Fighting Man.
I have an idea for a dystopian movie which I will call Intransigent. Set in a post-apocalyptic east-end borough, people are divided into distinct factions; the ‘Perchers’ and the ‘Uprighters’. In the finale, these factions come together in a great stadium to fight an angry battle between themselves much to the amusement of the rest of the world.
This is clearly an issue that has to be resolved. The right to stand cannot trump the right to sit and it lacks consideration to deny others a view simply because you were allowed to stand previously. Likewise you have no more rights as a long term supporter than a young child going to their first match. I have no issue in principle with a designated area for safe standing and hope it is something that can be addressed amicably.