Often Partisan


Two days ago, I published this blog. I was still feeling a bit miffed about the result against Arsenal, and our subsequent drop into the relegation places. However, after reading various messageboards for the last two days, I thought I needed to add to that. Much has been made of our current lack of goals, and our current lack of adventurous play. Many players have been castigated, the manager has been roundly criticised in many quarters for playing too defensively – in all, it’s not been a good time to be a blues fan.

I’ve read on one messageboard a post by a fan (who probably hasn’t been to the ground since the onset of decimalisation) that last year’s league position was a combination of luck and Joe Hart, and that the manager was a waste of space who had to go, now. It’s stuff like this that makes me so disillusioned with blues fans sometimes – for one, I think Foster is a better keeper than Hart was for us last year. More importantly, the point that everyone seems to have missed is that last year our defence was solid as a rock. This year, both Johnson and Dann seem to have let it go to their heads and have been playing as if they were Beckenbauer in his pomp – and in consequence have been losing the ball in poor positions, distributing it poorly and leaking goals. I think Johnson in particular has been hard-headed about playing every minute of every game, despite carrying knocks and strains. It’s a test of Eck, but I think he really has to drop one of them and send the message to them – you’re not infallible. You’re not that good – yet. Jiranek was club captain back in Moscow, he’s an established international – he should be an adequate replacement.

For me, this shakiness in defence is one of the main reasons we’ve looked poor. Our midfield have had to hold back ten yards to help cover them, and we’re more cautious in our approach play for fear of getting caught on the break. Furthermore, we seem to be launching the ball 50 yards from our half for Beausejour or Jerome etc to run onto, instead of playing the short ball and passing it forwards. Too often you’ll see a player hare forwards into space, only to be stopped by the offside line because a player hasn’t looked up and hit the ball. Then we look static because at the offside line, there is no further forwards that a player can run and we end up trying to hit it behind the fullback with often negative results.

There doesn’t seem enough sideways movement – our players aren’t looking to drop into space, to come short to receive the ball, to give and go for whatever reason (which I think we were doing quite successfully last season), and as such we’re looking less likely to get forwards. When we do get the ball into advanced areas, not enough players are gambling, trying to get into the box to make a cross worthwhile so often our wide players are just checking back inside because of a lack of options.

Is this down to tactical management, or a lack of confidence from the players? I’m not sure. I do think we’re anxious more to “not lose” than to win, and as a consequence we have more draws this season than we should. It’s not about formations – 4-5-1 played the right way can be just as attacking as 4-4-2 – but about how we take teams on. Blackpool is going to be an interesting game, as they’re a team that attacks a lot and leaves a lot of space. At home, we benefitted from that and won by two clear goals in a very good game. If we can do that again at Bloomfield Road, we’ll be fine.

Whilst I’m not sure Lee Bowyer does deserve a ban, I think it can work in our favour. It should give AM the excuse to play two up front; or if he wants to continue with a lone striker we can give Hleb a go. We’re crying out for someone with a bit of guile and a good touch in advanced areas, and I think either Zigic or Hleb could offer us this. What is for sure is that we have to go for it – if we don’t, I can see support for AM waning further and once you’ve lost the fans, you’re done for. I live in hope that things will turn for the better, but I need to see evidence of that on the pitch.

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