Yet another game we dominated in terms of possession, yet another game we threatened not to win because of the lack of a clinical and ruthless edge to our game – or is it just that we don’t have the ability in that critical part of the pitch?
No-one can doubt the power of the man mountain that is Romelu Lukaku, even if an hour of the game yesterday he was keeping the bench warm. His chest infection prevented a complete 90 minutes, that and the fact that he’s been out for over a month, and however ‘rested’ and ‘refreshed’ he may be, he’d still be a bit rusty as well. But should we have needed Rom to come on and win the game in the 81st minute?
We had 75% of the possession in the first half, and nearly 70% all game, so surely we should do something better with that stat than just stick it on a wall and admire it? We should be able to beat teams who do what West Ham, West Brom, Villa, Palace and Sunderland have done – defend deep and let us have the ball, because they don’t think we’ve got enough guile to break them down. And, so it would seem, they’re right. We did well against United, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal with high possession, a bit more space, and no need to break down massed ranks of a flat back 10 in front of a rarely troubled keeper. What we lacked against Spurs and Chelsea WAS the target man; what we lacked against the lesser teams was the guile.
So have sides worked us out? I think so. It is not dissimilar to how sides play Swansea, letting them have the ball, knowing they can play pretty stuff in front of them, but are rarely likely to cut them open and score. We’ve got better players than Swansea, but the principle is the same. Lukaku has the benefit not just of his own ability, and his ability to score, but his ability to create space, but surely we’re not a 1 man team? Surely 75% possession means we can beat West Ham? Maybe we’d have been better off if Barry had (as he should have)been sent off, and we’d have played even more expansively as we did against Sunderland, but I’m still not sure that we’d have won.
The remedy to this in my view is regular starting positions for Deulofeu and an in-form Barkley, both of whom run at defences which they hate, and both of whom can beat a player one-on-one. Get it wide when we need to, and if we’ve got Rom in the box, get it to him or Naisy, just don’t bother trying a corner lumped in to the box. Go short every time! There were times yesterday when Deulofeu got me on my feet, in admiration; and then in frustration; and then back to admiration again when he tracked back! But give the lad his head, Bainesnaar do their thing on the left, let Seamus run from wide right, but get Gerry running at them down the middle. It is his ability that will panic defences, will get beaten by his trickery, or at least create the space for someone else. Osman and Pienaar’s goals and assists have dried up, let them be the impact players off the bench rather than Ross and Gerry doing it.
I have to admire young John Stones (who looked even younger than Joe Root, and only marginally older than the official mascot). He is clearly still learning, but he looked good against the ‘appy ‘ammers, still prone to the odd mistake, but having the guts, the speed and the ability to rectify things afterwards, no damage done. If he plays against Arsenal then he’ll face a different challenge of players trying to play it through him, but he is showing so many positives that I’m delighted he’s there next to Old Man Distin (20 years younger than me, so who am I to talk) learning his craft in a high-pressure way rather than turning out to be watched by two men and a goat at the U21s.
Deulofeu was my Man of the Match yesterday because he tried so hard to make things happen; Stones was right up there, and Baines was tireless once more up and down the wing. Special mention to McCarthy who clocked up even more miles running round the Goodison pitch – there isn’t a blade of grass-and-synthetic-inlay that he hasn’t covered this season, in fact that he covers every game for us at the moment. In some ways he’s the metronome of the side, the energy bank, the pacemaker even, and he is looking a snip at £13m.
So, on we go to Arsenal and the FA Cup. When I say ‘we’, I clearly mean the chosen few who have a ticket. Make some noise everyone, make some noise, and let’s hope Gerry and the Pacemaker bring us a win or at the very least bring them back to the Old Lady.