A reflection on the WBA game

Author: . Published: at 9:05pm

Written by Paul Leahy

The hysteria caused by our first three games was, I admit, a little amusing. To ask for the manager’s head seemed an overreaction. Yes, you can point to the indifferent form we had last season but I reasoned if he’s in charge at the start of the season you have to back him for at least a little while. Besides Man Utd are clearly a good team—ask Swansea or Everton. And there is no explanation for Arnautović’s brain fart.

But the nagging feeling the dissenters have a point will not go away. In part, it’s because I feel the board now view Bilić as a stopgap manager. His contract expires at the end of the season, and the club have not been shy in locking down the personnel they want to keep to long term deals—Reid and Antonio being two recent examples. If they truly believe Bilić is their manager for the future I believe they would have offered him a new deal by now. My gut says he’ll see out his contract and we’ll have a new manager next season.

After the West Brom game I’m wondering whether we should make the change now. I’m not anti-Bilić by any means. He’s very likeable and he talks a good game but I’m beginning to think there is a rigidity to his thinking. There seems to be a belief that any player can play in a number of positions. I put last season’s Antonio right-back debacle down as an experiment gone wrong but it was interesting to hear Snodgrass’s recent comment attributed to Bilić—”when players are confident they can play anywhere”. This might be true but it’s unlikely to bring out their best performance.

This belief flows into his tactical formation. I am no tactical genius. I’m sure there are nuances to tactic formations that escape me. But half-an-hour into the West Brom game it seemed obvious the home team were not interested in scoring, and our centre-backs were very good at passing the ball sideways. I know the official website heralded our domination of the game, presumably down to us having 63% of the ball, but what good is that if it’s in our half? Why not try something new for the last fifteen minutes before the break?

We could have pushed Fonte into a defensive midfield role and sent Kouyate over to the left wing. Okay it’s not ideal but it means we can bring Hernandez into the centre buzzing around Carroll. Have Antonio on the right wing which is by far his best position. Sure, Cresswell and Zabaleta would have had to be more defensive minded but they could still have license to go forward when the opportunity presented itself. Then we work the ball to the wing and send in as many crosses as we can. We get the advantage of the added height of Kouyate or Antonio coming into the back post to cause havoc with Carroll and have Hernandez sniffing around for opportunities.

I’m spitballing here and I do see my hypocrisy of asking a centre-back to play in midfield but there must have been a better way of utilising the players on the pitch to fashion out more chances. If it feels like the change is working it gives Bilić a reason to make a permanent substitution at half-time.

One shot on target and only three corners is not a sign of a team dominating a game. Punting it long was clearly not working.

And why do we do that when Carroll is in the team? Why does it automatically mean we have to bypass midfield? Carroll is fine with the ball at his feet. Yes, you play to his aerial prowess but where it makes sense—in the box where he can attack the goal. Although, he’s just as likely to chest it down and try and volley it in. There is much more to his game than the flick on.

West Brom were set-up to nullify our formation and we let them. We continued to pursue the same avenues looking for, as the official website puts it, ‘a bit more quality and fortune’.

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  • RDB
    18th September 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Kouyate on the left wing? That thought doesn’t really aid your wider and valid argument about Slav’s tactical confusion!