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The Undropables 2 - Knee Jerks
Monday, 24th Sep 2018 16:38 by Antti Heinola

Antti Heinola has worked a minor miracle and found six talking points from Saturday's night's dire home match with Norwich City.

It's lucky Clive pays me for this (he doesn't) because trying to pick six talking points out of that boggiest of bog standard games (and that's being kind) is like finding six talking points about a winter tree, bereft of colour and leaves. Sure, there's metaphor to be had there, but beyond that, what?

The Undropables

Here we are with a similar situation to last season. Back then, it was Scowongoman - three midfielders all playing well, but for the benefit of the team, the shape needed to be changed, so we could go to a back four and get more width into our play and be better at the back. It was difficult, but eventually it worked out.

This season the problem already seems more acute. We have four good players in attacking positions: Eze, Freeman, Wells, Hemed. Two of them fare best in the number 10 position, so both have to be played out of position. All four are playing well, and all four are important to the team. And yet, the feeling is one is going to have to make way for the benefit of the side.

The trouble is, who is it? Eze is the only one scoring on even a semi-regular basis, and he's also our best player and someone we will likely have to sell next summer, so he has to play. Freeman creates most of our chances and is a valuable player - someone who can hold on to the ball. Wells has been excellent since he arrived. Hemed was not incredible on Saturday, but still wins more in the air than any of our other strikers.

Yet, the situation does not suit Eze nor Freeman. They can play well together and the system can work, as it did at Bolton. But these four are in a position where if you do play them all, and it seems like we almost have to, then there's almost no flexibility for the side as a whole. Not only is there not much flexibility, you end up having a game-changer like BOS sat on the bench, because you have to take off an important player to get him on the pitch.

On Saturday, first half especially, the impressive Max Aarons was able to constantly get forward down our right, exploiting the lack of sharpness and lack of pace in the game Alex Baptiste, while also pushing Eze further and further back. He wasn't worried about Eze, because he knew he had the pace to catch him and, anyway, Eze felt (probably rightly) that Baptiste needed the help. This did get a bit better, but only really changed when BOS belatedly came on. Suddenly, Aarons had genuine, electric pace to worry about and as a result, he was pushed back into his own half and his threat was nullified to some extent. It was a change that needed to come earlier, not least for BOS, who has looked good every time I've seen him this season, but currently can't see a route into the first XI. We have a whole host of central midfielders who are rotating about and people are getting game time, but for now, the attacking slots are sacrosanct - which wouldn't be a problem if that quartet was scoring more goals, but it isn't.

This is the point where I outline my incredible vision of how to fix this, but I genuinely don't know. It's a toughie.

Lynch

A word for Lynch, I think, because he is much-maligned (not without reason) but every now and again, when he can avoid injury, he puts together three or four appearances that remind us why JFH bought him in the first place. He's on that roll at the moment - I thought he was very decent against Millwall, particularly in the air, and was good again on Saturday, with he and Leistner starting to build a partnership at the heart of the defence. Sure, our efforts to play out from the back are not great, but in terms of defending, he's playing well. Hopefully he can make it last.

Building from the back

I'm not sure what's happening now. We started with the build from the back. We reverted after shellackings to a safety first approach. And now we're at a sort of halfway house, where L & L are going wide to get the ball from Lumley. But they usually get marked. So we get one of the following:
a. Lumley decides to launch it.
b. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, launches it.
c. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, passes back, so Lumley is under pressure, so he launches it.
d. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, passes back, so Lumley is under pressure, so he tries to play a suicide ball to Luongo, who almost gets caught out, but usually manages to get it to Lynch. Who launches it.

I don't buy the idea that our defenders aren't good enough to play from the back. Of course they are. But no defender can play from the back if they don't have options. Leistner would get the ball on Sat and look for a pass. Scowen wasn't there. Lynch wasn't there. Baptiste didn't give him an angle. Eze was too far away. So he can't do anything else. It's just so disjointed. I understand that it takes time, but if we're going to do it the rest of the team need to show for the bloody thing.

Kakay

Blimey. From back up to Furlong to apparent third choice behind Rangel is bad enough, but he ended this game as arguably our fifth choice right back. While Norwich did look dangerous down the left, surely his pace would have been useful? A bit of a slap in the face for him to be behind an aged centre back in the pecking order. And then when SM did take Baptiste off, he put Cousins there. Double ouch. I assume he'll play v Blackpool and good luck to him - felt for him on Saturday.

Scowen

Luongo returned to some form against Millwall and did ok-ish on Saturday, but it felt like a bad day at the office for Scowen. A bit off the pace, too many niggly fouls and not as neat as usual in his passing. Hopefully that's due to a bit of rustiness after a minor injury, but he's a better player than that. Almost like he was trying too hard at times to prove he should be first pick, and in the end he just looked frustrated with himself.

Farke & Co

I don't really care (well, clearly I do a bit), but the celebrations from the Norwich backroom staff at the end seemed a trifle OTT for such a mind-numbing game of football. There were so many of them in tracksuits who weren't actually footballers back slapping and so forth. What do they all do? I bet Farke goes on and on about his 'staff' and his 'support team'. It was like they were all congratulating each other on some kind of amazing tactical achievement in out-witting the mighty QPR. Farke off, mate. Yes, I did just do all that just to write Farke off. If you don't like it, you can Farke off too, with Farke and his platoon of farkeing physios and scientists and geo-astro-ball-genome experts.

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bosh67 added 18:46 - Sep 24
a. Lumley decides to launch it.
b. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, launches it.
c. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, passes back, so Lumley is under pressure, so he launches it.
d. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, passes back, so Lumley is under pressure, so he tries to play a suicide ball to Luongo, who almost gets caught out, but usually manages to get it to Lynch. Who launches it.

Excellent this. I think they do this in training. Practice a to d and repeat. Very accurate observation. Scowen is trying too hard. I think the backline are doing fine now. We have some very good forwards who would be rescued by The National Protection Of Cruelty To Footballers Charity if one existed for being starved of service. We have a wealth of talent in midfield but continue to accommodate players out of position or those who must always play and miss the point that if you don't have a genuine playmaker in the middle (Freeman or Eze) and genuine pace down the flanks (Pav, BOS, Smyth and Chair) then your forwards are going to be rescued and re-homed eventually.
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Myke added 23:01 - Sep 24
Thanks Antti . Disagree/agree with this assessment. Think both you and Clive are being harsh on Baptiste (which is not to say I don't think Kakay should have started, so much for McClaren's remit of developing the youngsters). Baptiste made a goal-saving block not long before the goal and for me looked more assured than Leistner who he gave a dig out to on more than one occasion. Sure Baptiste was caught for pace (Lewis was the problem btw not Aarons who was decent too), but so would Rangel have been. The tactical error that McClaren made (one of many) was playing Eze in front of him who offered no protection at all. Cousins, who had a decent game there on Wednesday, or Pav would have been better choices.
Totally agree with you about having the ability to play out from the back, it just needs someone to make themselves available for a simple 5/10 yard pass and the next player to do the same and away you go. These guys are on ten grand a week and can't pass ten yards? Ludicrous.
Don't think BOS influenced the game at all, I was disappointed in him that he didn't run at either Aarons or Lewis who were both on yellows and would have been terrified of picking up another. Sure we bossed the last ten minutes and obviously we should have had a penalty, but we were crap from the get go. For McClaren to say otherwise is embarrassing and undermines his credibility further. If he called it like it was, I for one would respect him for it.
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