Against Leicester, considering the extent of injuries in the squad, the early news that Arnie was not going to be fit was a major setback which we appeared to manage well. Pellegrini predictably resisted the temptation to be panicked into major structural change such as bringing in Ogbonna and going five at the back and instead went for an attacking midfield offering energy, skill and flair. The outcome was one of improvement.
Players are responding to Pellegrini’s mental model
Now the sending off changed the game completely but in my opinion it changed the mentality of the game more than the game as a physical contest. Leicester saw it as a foregone conclusion that by the game of percentages if they kept battering the door down it would eventually open. As it happens the door did open slightly and right at the end, it wasn’t what Leicester had hoped though. Us on the other hand knew we would be difficult to break down and also for several periods after the sending off we looked like we thought we might even nick another one just to really rub it in and its that kind of winning mentality I think is starting to show through. Indeed we would have been victorious if the two best chances of at the end hadn’t fallen to the match rusty centre back who on his day might have done better.
Voracious, resilient and united would be three words I would use to describe the performance and the team spirit Saturday. Rice having a game like that in front of Southgate was good for him and it was another assured performance when most needed. Although often taken for granted Fabianski continues to move into the realms of outstanding this season with a calm assurance which is absorbed by Diop and Balbuena. Cresswell’s relegation to the bench despite a reasonable appearance later proves that Pellegrini would much rather take a risk with Masuaku’s defensive frailties given his sometimes seen attacking qualities. This must bode quite badly in the long run for Cresswell and I can see a Palace or Derby type club trying to sign him in the January window or beyond.
As for Anderson what are we going to do here? How can he be best used in the cup game and against Burnley Saturday? He has consistently shown flashes of brilliance but appears to be going backwards not forwards in terms of his gelling with the team and with the Premier League in general. The answer must still be that he is being played out of position, he just doesn’t have the confidence to play the one two or run at the heart of a defence with any conviction. Anderson prefers the safer reverse return ball and this suggests to me he is looking for people moving off of the ball who simply are not there. His quality of crossing cannot justify him being used just as a winger to get crosses in therefore playing him in a more central attacking role seems the obvious next move.
Bring on the cup game (and Burnley)
So what now for the cup game? We almost faced going into this game against a top six side without a centre forward and low in the centre of midfield, yet strangely I could see how we may have done quite well. I am now hoping that Arnie did have a cold after all and will indeed be fit. I’m also hoping Obiang might make an appearance but don’t want to get too excited. Players such as Diangana, Rice and Antonio will have a license to have a proper go at them tomorrow and then again against Burnley which has to look like a golden opportunity to wax as they wane. I think in footballing terms we owe Burnley a nice hammering as they not only signed Joe Hart but also benefited from our sense of chaos last time the two sides met. Albeit comfortably.
Let’s keep the belief and keep working and most of all get something from the next two games. COYI