I’m going to start this by praising Steve McClaren.
I slated the guy last week and rightly so, but it seemed like in the game against Arsenal he had realised things needed to change and he did something about it. I appreciate this is what he gets paid for and this is what he should be doing, but he hasn’t done anything that he’s being paid for recently.
As a consequence I felt I should offer some praise for doing that.
He moved Gini into a central role and he had a great game. He was in the game throughout and was able to put his foot on the ball and control the game when we were in possession.
McClaren also moved Colback further forward and allowed him the opportunity to use his energy to get up and down the pitch. Tiote had a very good game too and that was because he was doing what he is good at; running after players, winning the ball, and passing it to players who are capable of going forward creatively.
Mitrovic was mobile, worked hard and battled for everything which came his way. The manager should take credit for those things to an extent. He got the best out of our midfield for once by changing the system and moving things around.
However (it couldn’t be all positive….), there are still areas to improve.
Perez had a good enough game in the circumstances but we didn’t get the best out of him as he’s a striker playing on the wing!
Dummett was all at sea as a consequence and was exposed a lot.
I maintain we should be playing Thauvin out there instead of Perez, despite Perez being a reliable performer this season. At present I feel he’d be best used as an impact player from the bench.
I like the system used against Arsenal and the players should fit into the system to make it most effective, rather than the continual problem of having square pegs in round holes. Mbabu should be playing left back as he is a left back – and he should have a winger in front of him to offer balance in the team and width on both sides – something that was dreadfully lacking on the weekend.
All this leads me to our biggest problem, and to an extent, back to faint praise for Steve.
Our finishing in recent weeks has been dreadful. There’s no other word for it. One bad game is acceptable, but vital misses against Villa, Everton and many against Arsenal, have cost us dearly. I won’t criticise the players too much for this and I’ll explain why.
Gini has been our top scorer this season and has scored vital goals. Goals that have won us games. Through months and months of mismanagement of injuries and poor coaching we’ve ruined De Jong. He’s devoid of confidence and can be excused taking his time to settle in having been out for so long and for starting so few games in a year and a half.
Mitrovic is a 21 year old lad who needs time to adapt to the league and his surroundings. We can’t expect him to be a 20 goal a season striker because he’s not there yet, just a body fueled by raw potential. None of these things are McClaren’s fault.
He’s inherited these problems and if the three players I’d mentioned had taken some chances he would have been receiving a lot of praise for his change of system against Arsenal and for getting vital wins or points against Villa and Everton. To finish on Steve, I still don’t think he’s the right man for the job, I still think he should go and I still think his poor attitude towards the games against Everton and West Brom, where we were just after a point, are unacceptable. But I also think he should be credited, where it is due.
Back to Saturday’s game and poor defending on a corner cost us the points. It was a predictable end to a decent performance. Personally, I think we should have been playing against ten men as Oxlade Chamberlain should have been sent off for two bookings. An intentional trip on Perez should have been a booking and the scissor tackle that followed soon after, should have seen a second booking. Predictably he didn’t receive a yellow at all.
Our missed chances cost us points here though, rather than a poor performance from the referee. For all the possession and chances we had, it ultimately led to nothing and that’s the key. Progress can only be made when we turn a performance like this into points and no one will be satisfied until that happens.
We are in a relegation dogfight and this weekend was not a good one with other results around us going against Newcastle. I don’t care that our next opponents are Manchester United, we have to beat them. Simple.
Bournemouth have, Norwich have, Stoke have and so have Swansea. We must too. We can’t afford to keep falling further adrift of the others. Swansea will turn a corner and as things stand we are 4 and 6 points behind Bournemouth and Norwich respectively. Any further adrift and I fear it is too big a hill to climb with our current squad.
That leads me to my final point. We need to shift players out in January regardless of the loss financially. Gouffran, Obertan and Cissé at least.
Replace them with Shelvey, Austin, Townsend and Brendan Galloway on loan from Everton. Players with Premier League experience and Premier League quality.
We can’t gamble any more on foreign youngsters. If we do end up doing that, the next time a transfer window comes around, we’ll be gambling on which foreign youngsters will work well in the Championship.
Over to you Mike…….
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