It’s quite hard to know where to start this week. It can be a bit like that sometimes when you’re at a stage of the season when results are not going as expected, and performances even less so, and yet you know the journey and or the context is different to if this had been ‘more of the same’ from our former Spanish leader. The temptation is either to lambast the team, the Manager, and even the ball boys, or to be kind and gentle and say that we’re on a new road and it’s going to be a bit bumpy from time to time, so support the players. At this stage of the article, even I’m not sure what’s going to come out next, so let’s make this a voyage of discovery.
Firstly, let’s play Spot The Ball:
If someone asked you to mark with a cross where you’d expect the ball to be as a defender headed your only goal of the game, my guess would be nowhere near where it actually was in this pic. Coleman’s excellent leap from a standing position under some, if not complete, pressure yielded a looping header that agonisingly (for all of us, not just Fabianski) dropped in to the net to salvage a point. Against the mighty Swansea. That’s the Swansea that despite (for them) an excellent point, are now at the bottom of the League, and even therefore below Hull and Sunderland. A point. For us. Not really good enough is it? Not at all.
And if we’d been battering the Welsh doors down (no euphemism intended) from minutes 1 to 90, and we’d created 25 chances, had 15 shots, 11 on target and the ‘keeper had played a blinder, we’d perhaps shrug our shoulders and say “it happens”, but at least we created the chances. What worries me most about yesterday is that is exactly what didn’t happen. Barely a shot in the first half, barely a sweat indeed was broken, and the second half was better but not exactly a sea-change. Creation was in very short supply, as was an accurate pass, and the changes made by the Gaffer didn’t really have the transformation effect we might have hoped for.
The clamour amongst the fans, the vocal ones at least, so who knows if that is representative, is to have a clear out in January and bring in almost a new team who want to fight for the shirt. I can tell everyone now, and I’m no soothsayer, that just isn’t going to happen, and nor do we need that kind of change. January is usually the month that fans across the country look forward to most, because it’s at least a brief and defined period of transfer activity, but are most disappointed than cheered, as deal after deal gets “done” in the papers, but gets undone by excessive demands from Clubs holding the registration of the players most coveted, or from players or agents seeing an opportunity to board the gravy train. It also is not a great time to make wholesale changes that have a remote chance of gelling between now and the end of May.
Not that changes aren’t needed. They very much are. Almost a new spine is required in my view, a ‘keeper, a Centre Back, a creative midfielder, maybe even a longer term back up to the ageless Barry as well, and certainly more guns up top to add to Lukaku’s goal tally, and maybe do a bit of the leg work that he seems incapable of doing as well as bag 20 a season. Some want another winger too – why not, we’ve only got 17 at the moment, why not another enigmatic mercurial talent?
Others point at further weaknesses in the team and squad, and although I’m not sure I agree with most, with some I do.
I definitely don’t get the anti-Coleman bit at the moment, which shows no sign of abating despite his goal. His passion having scored yesterday was blindingly obvious, his defensive capabilities are strong for Club and Country, and whilst his marauding runs have become less frequent, one suspects that’s as much to do with a tactical constraint from Koeman, as it is to any sudden loss of ability. And if we think about back up in the squad, I think Holgate and Kenny give us depth there.
Jags, however, needs some time out. His propensity to trip opposition forwards in the worst place possible can be no sign of an accident, but more likely a sign of a slowing down of thought and deed; almost a desperate compensation for not having dealt with the problem properly in the first place. He’s a lovely bloke it seems, and I’d be sad to see him go, but he can be replaced from within (Holgate or Mori) or maybe, just maybe, we could find someone who can be a better partner to Williams. It pains me to write such a paragraph, but unless this is a temporary wilting of form, I think Jags has just gone past his Sell By date.
McCarthy seems to divide opinion. The Twitter Warriors were not shy in advocating his immediate execution and his head placed on a spike outside the ground, and whilst that might be a slightly drastic reaction, let’s not forget that he is not fully fit; or at least not fully match fit. He seemed slower in anticipation and slower in reaction, and just about slower in everything yesterday, which I’ll admit is a concern. But the first choice pairing there will be reunited next weekend, and McCarthy is a back up, as is Cleverley. If we could get a Schneiderlin or such like, that would be better back up, but if funds are tight, I’d focus on opportunities elsewhere. I’d also like to give Jimmy Mac the benefit of the doubt at the moment, but equally don’t deny that he’s not at the top of his game at the moment.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the creative burden is too heavy to be carried by one man, especially if that man/boy is Ross Barkley. I’ve said before that whilst his age, and Premier League experience, is not that of a kid any more, but when I look at him, when I hear him mumble, and worse when I see him trying too hard on the pitch, I see an immature person. I am a strong Ross advocate, mainly because he’s got a cool first name, but I don’t think he’s got the shoulders broad enough to release the potential of a front line that occasionally fires, but more frequently splutters. The player I’d most like to see we’ll never get (Mata), and the player RK seems intent on getting is either tied to a relatively new contract and in yesterday’s opposition (Sigurdsson) and unlikely to be released given their perilous position, or another young wide man unproven and not getting any games down the East Lancs Road (Depay) and equally unlikely to be released to make us stronger whilst we’re competing with his employers for the ‘Best of the Rest’ Trophy. But just because it’ll be difficult to recruit, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. I’d like to see Davies, maybe even Walsh as well, get some game time, but their experience and capability is not proven at this level. They are still in the file marked ‘ones for the future’.
And then up front. As per usual, the fans who leap about when he scores, are a fickle bunch when it comes to assessing and commenting on Lukaku. It’s possibly because we know he’s capable of scoring goals like he did against City, or nod-ins like he did against West Ham, that when he doesn’t do it every game and doesn’t run himself ragged in the process, that some fans are way too quick to slag him off when he was no more a blatant offender in the Minimal Effort Club than all bar Gana and Stekelenburg yesterday. I KNOW Koeman wants him to defend more from the front, and I KNOW he could do more of it, but if that means that he misses a sitter for a win in the 93rd minute because he’s knackered, then points are only won by strikers on top of their game, not by miles run or effort expended. He’s a big lad. He’s no Gana. He’s not even a Bolasie (unfairly singled out again yesterday by some). And equally he’s no Usain Bolt. There’s a reason Bolt only does the sprints and not the middle or long distances, he’s not built for it. I want more effort from Rom because it’s a team game, it’s what his team mates want, it’s what his manager wants, but I want him to be a better version of himself not a completely changed player – let’s build on what he’s brilliant at, and not try and focus on his weaknesses.
But he does need reinforcements up top. Niasse and Kone are on their way out (how about loans to Hull?), and Valencia can only be a short term solution, if he’s that at all. If he gets more game time, and does well, he’ll be back in the Hammers’ line up next season, but even before we can consider him (or others) we’d need to contemplate a change in formation either during or before a game. I’d love to see us try two up top occasionally. No idea how, but that’s why I’m not paid £3m a year to manage the Club.
Enough. I’m beginning to ramble.
Where did I end up? Lambasting or Supporting? Hopefully a bit of both. I firmly believe we are a work in progress that a promising early start only served to raise unwarranted expectations for this season, and so my sense is to support, but that doesn’t mean being blind to changes where changes are blindingly obvious.