|Crystal Palace 4 v 1 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 7th November 2020 Kick-off 15:00
So how does Bielsa address our defensive woes?
Sunday, 8th Nov 2020 13:05 by Tim Whelan
After we suffered another 4-1 defeat yesterday, this time at the hands of Crystal Palace, there has been no shortage of culprits in the blame game on social media, but what was really the cause of our defeat?
First of all there was the performance of the opposition, and as with Leicester on Monday night I’ve heard plenty of praise for their performance. They had done their homework on us and set themselves up in the best to counteract our style. I said in my report on Monday that when we commit defenders to go forward we are vulnerable to sides who can counter-attack quickly.
And Palace are another side who are quick on the break, with Zaha in the Vardy role, and although we might think our players are fit enough to get back in numbers if we lose the ball, it’s very hard to catch up with a pacey forward who has a fifty yard start. We’re now up against better and more tactically astute players than we faced in the Championship, so it time to rethink whether we should be so gung-ho all the time?
On official site Patrick Bamford acknowledged this and said “I think they knew our game plan well, they jumped and took the ball in key positions”. But of course he also suggested another culprit for our defeat, the man in the VAR studio. “In the first half, if it gets to 1-1 it’s a different game and things change.”
He was as baffled as the rest of us when his excellent finish counted for nothing because he was ruled offside by the width of an armpit. “To be honest, I thought checking the goal would just be a formality and it would be fine.” We don’t yet have the technology to be that precise, and if they have to use the dots the forward should be ruled to be level, therefore onside. And I’m not sure they stopped the film in the right place, when Klich actually played the ball.
So what about the factors we could control, the performance or our players on the field? In the continued absence of Phlllips, Struijk was back in the defensive midfield role, but again struggled in this unfamiliar position, so much so that I forgot he was playing as much of the play passed him by. But with Shackleton also out yesterday we didn’t have much choice for the task of protecting the back four.
Could Meslier have done better for a couple of the goals? When I saw the first I thought ‘how the hell did that go in’? as a second before I hadn’t thought we were in particular danger. And after watching the replay I thought he should have been able to reach up and keep the ball out as it looped back down.
The third goal was a freak and you can’t blame our young keeper for being off his line as he expected the cross. But the ball had plenty of distance to travel after it took the deflection and he should have had time to pick up the new flight of the ball and get down to it. Instead he was seen to be looking at the replay on the big screen to work out how it had crept past him into the net.
Another question surrounds the omission of Pablo, when he might have been a better option than Roberts to bring off the bench when we were chasing the game. A couple of ex-players have given different theories about why he wasn’t even on the bench when Bielsa confirmed that he was actually fit to play.
Michael Brown thinks Pablo is struggling for form and perhaps he is finding the pace of the Premiership a bit difficult at his advanced age. But surely if this was the he case he would still be named as a substitute in place of one of the inexperienced players who made up the numbers yesterday.
I think Noel Whelan is more likely to be right when he says his omission was more likely a result of his strop after being substituted on Monday night. As well as the action of ripping his armband off he might well have made a few ill-judged comments in his native language when he got back to the dug-out, which Bielsa would have understood. Let’s hope this gets patched up sooner rather than later.
Finally. Liam Cooper has come in for a bit of flak on social media today, with some fans suggesting that although he has improved under Bielsa, the Premier League might be a step too far for a player who has spent his previous career in the second and third levels of English football. Llorente may be a better option once he is back from injury, although that will disturb our current left-foot/right-foot combination in the centre of our defence.
So now we need a bit of a reset, but we needn’t panic just yet. As Bamford said “the last two games have been disappointing, but I think we have had a solid start overall. It’s something to build on and maybe the international break has come at a good time for us, after two losses like that, perhaps the break will help us.”
Certainly the two week gap before we face Arsenal will give Bielsa time to work our defensive woes, though it won’t help that Koch has been called up by Germany for their games against the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Spain. But we might have Phillips and Llorente back by then, so let’s hope we face the gunners in much better defensive shape than during the past week.
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