The attitude of a number of Latics’ wonderful keyboard warriors has really got on my wick this week, so much that I nearly couldn’t be bothered writing this preview, but hey, I’m on a train and I’ve nothing else to do, so let’s go, and to start with, let’s get a couple of things out of the way.
I’ll keep it simple, this weekend Latics are playing Chelsea, they’re quite a good side, better than Latics and they’re probably going to outplay us in one way or another. It’s somewhere between highly probable and definite that we’ll lose, especially as they’ve won every other game they’ve played this season. That’s out of the way now, it’s realistic, not pessimistic and don’t come complaining to me when it comes true.
In fact it’s probably best if you keep your trap shut all together. Shhh!
Now that, and hopefully a few idiots are out of the way, let’s be honest. We could have performed better against Arsenal. Everyone knows it and the manager admits it, admitting it doesn’t make the idiots any less wrong so there’s no point in hiding it. There were a few individuals who needed to up their game and as a team, things didn’t quite tick.
I emphasise quite because my first, mental, draft of my post Arsenal thoughts focussed on how Latics were a yard or so short in pretty much anything they did. Too slow to close down, too late to put the tackle in, too much time taken to pass and then either a yard too much or too little weight on the ball. It might be a yard all over the pitch, but it’s a yard that I’m basing my optimism on. If the manager and players are clever enough then they’ll close that gap one way or another and it could happen quite quickly.
In time for this game? Maybe not, but we could be closer and with a little redistribution of resources I think that Bobby could go a long way to paper over some of the cracks that his rebuilding job will be looking to fix in the longer term. So what is the “not a patch on elastoplast” sticking plaster treatment for Saturday? Like all good things, it’s a five point plan.
1. Build a foundation in the game
I think we need to be less progressive in the early stages of games, by putting less emphasis on the full backs getting forward. Start off with a flatter back four protected by the two defensive midfield players and we could find ourselves with a solid base to attack from later, rather than trying to get a foothold in the game in other ways. I’m only talking about the first 10 – 15, a period where we’ve struggled up to now.
2. Experience plus potential stands you in better stead than potential and potential
We need some experience in the middle of the park. I’ve no problem with either Diame or Thomas, but both are on a steep learning curve and could do with some help. Mbami might be the answer in a couple of weeks, but for now (and it pains me to say it) may be Bobby should give into Scharner and admit that he’s of most use, at the minute in one of those two midfield positions. It might not be his best position (answers on a postcard for that one I think) but hopefully he’s learnt something about the pace and flow of top flight football seeing as he’s played more than anyone else for Latics at this level.
3. Protect Jordi Gomez
I’m in a minority here, but I still reckon that Gomez could prove an influential player for us in the long run, it’s just that he’s been thrown in at the deep end a little bit. The position he’s playing in is very exposed and something that some very good midfielders and attackers have struggled with over the years. In an ideal world you wonder if the best thing would have been to phase him into the team, but we didn’t really have that luxury.
Maybe now is the time to say ‘too much, too soon’ and consider one of two things either move him into one of the wide berths (see 4.) where he is less in the firing line and can pick up the pace a bit better or give him a rest and let someone stand in for a while. A few subs appearances might just stop Jordi becoming the next Andreas Johansson.
4. A wing and a prayer
I’ve a feeling that the starting point for the wingers should be on their natural side. I see what Bobby is trying for with the swap over, but my gut reaction is that until the players are a bit more used to the system as a whole asking them to do something that doesn’t come too naturally could be a step too far. Maybe getting over the other side is something that they could try once the pattern of the game is more settled but then again, maybe I’m missing a big point of the formation, I don’t know.
The other thing is that this would be a natural extension of point 1. Playing on their natural side, the wingers would be more inclined to give the full backs protection in those tricky first few minutes.
Before I move off this one, if you’re reading Bob, you can ignore the rest completely, if you reconsider your view on Jason Koumas. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the reason Bruce didn’t pick him wasn’t because he liked to play football.
5. Two strikers good, one striker bad?
Whoa, hold your horses. I’m sticking to my guns on the formation. Played properly, with the right players, 4-2-3-1 is just about the most flexible system around. No, my final suggestion is simply to consider giving Jason Scotland a start and consider playing Rodallega either as one of the wingers (depending on point 3) or in the role that Gomez has been playing. Hugo’s shown himself a good enough footballer to play in those positions and my gut reaction is that Scotland might prove himself a hand full earlier on in games.
Admittedly it limits the attacking options from the bench, but on the plus side it’ll shut half the idiots up as they’ll think we’re playing 4-4-2 and give them one less thing to moan about.
As I’ve said, all these suggestions aren’t about ripping up the Martinez plan and starting from scratch, they’re not about abandoning Bob’s principles and getting back to our place in the scheme of things (i.e. little clubs must play kick and rush and defend for their lives), they’re simply about getting a more solid base in place to help the team get used to how things are these days and to help the new players learn the ropes a bit better.
I’ve no way of know if they will work and I’m certainly not going to throw myself on the floor and starting kicking like a three year old if they don’t happen. One way or another I think things will work out, not through blind faith and sentimentality, but because I (maybe on my own) can see where the shoots are going to come through.
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