Another year of defending dangerously
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 30 June 2020 at 9:16am
Written by : Nick Moore
A lot of fans’ attention has been focused on the terrible performances of our creative and attacking players. It’s hard to argue with.
We moan rightly about the lack of chances we create, the failure of the big signings and the lack of character in the side. We moan rightly about giving the ball away.
But there is a bigger issue. And it’s not new. It’s at the other end of the pitch. Only Norwich and Villa have a worse defensive record.
We have conceded 54 goals in 31 games. This is not just a Pellegrini issue either. In the last eight games we have conceded more than any other Premier League team – 16 goals – two a game.
It’s hard to win games when you have to score three to win.
It’s not just the creatives that are letting us down.
Two years ago we dodged a bullet. We had the joint worst defensive record along with Stoke. Stoke went down. Only once before in the Premier League era has the side with the worst defensive record not gone down. A poor defensive record is a real problem to thriving in the premier league. Look at the sides that overachieve they always have a good defensive record.
We are not sorted defensively. We don’t track runners. We don’t mark properly. Our defenders often don’t spot runners behind them. We are slow. We are easy to play through. We may not be innovative these days but we invented social distancing before the virus struck.
Marco Silva, who lost his job before Pellegrini lost his, still managed to tactically undo us at Goodison back in October. He moved his quicker players inside to exploit our lack of pace in midfield. Lots of other teams – particularly those we would have expected to pick up points against have followed including the likes of Newcastle with Saint-Maximin.
Roberto of course contributed massively to the opposition confidence during his run and got Pellegrini sacked. But he has not been around for a while now. Our confidence has not returned. Mark Noble’s lack of pace is well known and we don’t seem to have developed a strategy to deal with it. Soucek may help but he will be limited in his contribution by having to stay deep.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for our full backs. They end up having to do a lot of the donkey work carrying the ball forward. It’s not the Liverpool full back ploy so beloved of pundits where the side works hard and creates a gaping space. The full back then powers through the wide open space at pace before delivering a glorious ball in to the box. It’s more like a bit of inconsequential passing up and down the half way line and then push it out wide. Then the full back is faced with the opposition all back in their defensive set up. He then either has to punt a hopeful ball into the box –meat and drink to the opposition centre backs – or try to get a passing move started. When we try the passing move, that’s usually when we give the ball away and the familiar footrace towards Fabianski is on. And of course anyone who has tried to make a run forward is stuck up field.
We have no balance in midfield. It’s a problem going forward and it’s an even bigger problem going the other way.
The defence has been underinvested in. There has been a revolving door of strikers, and we could field a team of disinterested attacking midfielders. Isa Diop is the only defender in the top ten of our most expensive signings. And there are no bog standard box to box midfielders.
A lot of fans have said they are voting for Ogbonna as Hammer of the Year. He has been better this year than last. But he hasn’t been much better than steady. Personally I’d give it to Rice, most passes, most tackles, most interceptions. He is the best reader of the game defensively and a lot of our best moves start with him.
It’s been a terrible car crash of a season so maybe the Hammer of the Year should be whichever player (if any) contributes to getting us out of the relegation mire. But let’s not kid ourselves this is just about the failing of our creative players. We’ve managed to concede more goals than Southampton – who managed 9 in one game. A lot of the water carriers have got holes in their buckets.
If we don’t survive – then give it to the Bubbles machine. At least it turns up and does what it’s supposed to do.