Guest Post by Rugby Irons
So the expected back to back wins didn’t material as the hosts clearly hadn’t read the script instead rewriting their own one where they give us a really hard game. So why were we so poor again and why weren’t we able to deal with this? For me, it’s down to the manager again. Forgetting his record for a minute, he’s our manager now and for £10m a year salary, this frankly isn’t good enough. He’s had enough games to stamp his style on the team, and in a lot of ways he has, but in terms of training and preparation we still seem miles off the pace.
Under Allardyce’s reign the club had six analysts to review each match and a number of psychologists and yet we still didn’t learn. Now, I admit I don’t know how many are left at the club or who has replaced them but you can’t turn up at Huddersfield and expect them to roll over. We started too slowly yet again, and this has to stop. Pellegrini is judged by most of you for 90 minutes a week, but this simply ignores the rest of what he does or doesn’t do. If we are slow starters away from home then what are the trainers doing in the warm up? Clearly it’s not enough. So why isn’t MP reviewing this and changing the prematch routine to enable us to get going? A simple answer is that the players aren’t preparing themselves properly. What I mean is that as professionals they should be getting their mentality right to be on it from the off.
If you look over the last few games there are certain players who seem to need to warm up into games and this just hands the initiative to the other side and we then have to play catch up. On Saturday we should have expected an early, raw, noisy start from them, on the back of their first win, and gone toe to toe with them. Instead we played straight into their hands. I just don’t understand why we play out of the back the way we do. Fab plays the ball to Diop out wide left with Cresswell further up and just inside our own half. So when Diop gets it so wide, he can’t pass to Cresswell. There is no sensible short ball, so you either go back home or punt.
On Saturday the ball into Rice cost us. But I want to understand why the ball isn’t played out to Cresswell/Arthur thirty yards out, so he has a forward, inside and back option and also keeps Diop protecting the back? We don’t do it so much on the right hand side and even then Zabaleta comes inside to take a ball from Fab.
Now it’s easy to see why Rice is getting blamed for their goal but again they set the trap, with a press, and he got caught out. For me there was enough cover to get a proper tackle in but again (like Callum Wilson) we drop off and don’t make the tackle. This is training ground stuff and MP just isn’t stopping these problems. Now, although Rice got the blame you seriously have to question Fabianski’s positioning again. His starting position of three yards out – he did it for the goal and also their late shot – is just too deep. He isn’t closing down his angles, which even at six yards out he would have saved both. Again, his positioning is a regular part of his game so why hasn’t MP or his goalkeeping coaches recognised this and got him to improve?
Now before you start I do recognise that he is a very good shot stopper, and he did again on Saturday but he is still letting too many goals in. You already know that I think Cresswell is a very weak full back, completely one footed which constantly makes him have to come backwards rather than open out like Zab does and go forward and on Saturday I have no idea what he was doing with his back passes, but again MP should be saying, turn out and go down the line to Anderson. Anderson doesn’t get the ball of any quality from Cresswell and often any break or momentum stops with Cresswell.
The problem of course is that Arthur can go forward much better than Cresswell and gives a much better attacking option but he is also a lightweight in actual defence. Now thanks to the central pairing we have got a lot better, which I am sure MP will take credit for but defensively as a whole I do wonder what he does with the left back position in training. It’s always the target area for the opposition and it’s easy to see why, but it should also be the springboard for us too to get Anderson or Antonio away into their final third.
Which brings me to the midfield.? The balance of left footed Obiang , Rice and Snodgrass has worked well. It’s a little lightweight and lacks some creativity but has done well. They have linked well with Diang and Anderson although perhaps not quick enough, often enough. The pace of the ball to the final third v Burnley in the last fifteen minutes was excellent and showed what we can do. The problem is we don’t do it enough; there is still a safety approach first.
Now, if you can understand this then please explain it to me. Why do we play to Arnie thirty yards out from goal and have no one in the box? Arnie is a beast and wants to run at defenders, I get that, but if we are playing two wide players, who are they supposed to be crossing in to? If we break out at pace through Diang or Anderson they get twenty yards out and there’s no one in the box! Arnie is usually around the edge of the box but we have no presence in the box and so they can just hoof out. My view is Arnie should be played further up the field, keeping their centre backs penned back and creating a corridor for Anderson, Obiang’s left foot, Snodgrass and Diang to run into, and even space for Antonio to hit row ZZ.
If you keep Arnie in the box area, he keeps pressure on them, he’s a beast so will hold his own, and he has an instinct for shooting. I think he would score more not less because he is predatory for one and secondly the others will get more shots and chances and Arnie will get more seconds. Now I can hear you all saying but that’s what Chico should do. But he doesn’t. As I said we get into positions to put balls in, but we don’t so Chico wouldn’t get the balls he needs. He is also too lightweight; he doesn’t work to chase down defenders, doesn’t bring the others into the game and is mainly ineffectual. But the biggest problem with bringing on Chico is that you sacrifice a midfielder and drag Arnie back. In effect you gamble on Chico getting enough balls, while withdrawing Arnie deeper and basically handing the midfield initiative to the opposition. It worked just v Burnley, and only just v Huddersfield. Against better managers they will just add another into their middle to make it 3 v 2 and overrun Rice and Noble/Snodgrass. And once again it’s a gamble from MP rather than a preset strategy.
But there are other things we do that makes me question MP. What does he do with Antonio in training to make his shooting so, so bad? Antonio gets into the positions to shoot, which is good, but you’d tell a ten year old to shoot on target and across the face for rebounds for the others and yet he is wild with his efforts. Now I’m sure I am one of the minorities who thinks that Antonio is worth keeping, once he scores, things will change, but he clearly needs help on the training ground. I don’t understand what the point of Cresswell is at corners standing on the edge of the six yard box with another player just behind him. Just put him on a post and be done with. Our defending at corners, with mismatches, and weak tracking is very poor. If you watch us we have players who are doing nothing. Just put two on the posts and man mark properly, how hard can it be? Also, and he did it earlier this season, leave a player with pace, like Diang, up on the halfway line. We don’t need eleven in our box so leave Diang up front which means they have to leave at two back, which then means they only have seven in the box against our seven plus a keeper and two on the posts . It’s not rocket science! Why does he also waste a player with Andersons double touch free kicks? Just put Snodgrass nearer the action than have him wasted by Anderson. And for our free kicks, why are we so predictable? We have good size and strength and yet don’t put in corners or free kicks constantly enough in the areas to score. MP needs to get these things improved on as we all know that in the Premier it’s fine margins between winning or not. I believe MP is in part living of his reputation and he now needs to adjust his style to the players he has available and to do the basic work with his players. As supporters we can see the same things happening each week so it’s fair to say so should Mr Pellegrini. They’re not suddenly going to go right, they need working on. We have a potentially great squad and I think most of us would love to have the chance to manage this group , my view is that MP needs to work harder to get them up to the next ( midtable) level in the next few weeks or face a long hard new year.