Whats Needed?

Saturday has made it abundantly clear that we are nowhere near good enough to be in the mix for promotion. No matter what you think of McLeish his record speaks for itself, he knows how to take teams up out of this division. So you’d hope he needs to identify what the problem is. And yet we seem to be struggling to put together a capable team. However, that said it might not be as simple as it seems. Here we look at what might be the key to unlocking the promotion capable side.

I for one think there is no point at looking at the front line anymore. Henderson now means we have 4 strikers who are good at this level, and have proven goal scoring records to back this up.

So is the problem in the midfield? We spent all January and the previous summer saying that this position looks sorted. We had so many options, that anyone targeting it looked mad. We could have a made a team of just midfielders!! However, the ball is just not being held by the midfield and immediately putting the defence under the cosh (don’t worry we’ll come on to the defence in a moment) the way which Watford carved through the midfield before getting to the defenders was alarming. Too often standing off and letting teams play. Is the balance of 1 holding and 3 in front, although narrow, working?

A flat 4 strung across the park is what many have called for, but it’s somewhat old fashioned, and to merely suggest a straight 4-4-2 does negate the whole evolution of tactics. But is Gillett, so lauded early on, doing his role? Not any more in my mind. If you look at the great teams at the moment, they all have that holding midfielder. So for those to cite a midfield with no holding misfield as the key and the way forward (I see people citing a midfield pairing on McGugan and Majewki as an answer....) is somewhat foolish. Man City have Yaya Toure, United use Carrick, Barcelona have Busquets, Juve have Pirlo. We have Gillette. If you look at those players above, they are not only great ball players, but also physical presences. Gillett is anything but a physical presence. I was one of his biggest fans earlier this season, but for me it’s one glaring area of the team we aren't performing. But is it his fault, or is it the structure of the team. If you think of those teams utilising that role, many of them are also playing the more evolved systems whereby it’s more a hybrid of 4-5-1 with a 4-3-3. Those 2 difference between midfield and attack are neither full on strikers, but neither are they midfielders. Look at Chelsea. As well as a sole striker they have very attack minded midfielders (although 3 in this example and not the 2 I have cited) who get forward readily to support. Lampard and Ramires or Obi Mikel would then hold. The same with City. Silva and Milner can get forward to provide the service. City often use a second striker though, a more deep lying number 10. A Trequartista. Aguero or Tevez but they are shorter take this on, with Dzeko as the lump to aim at. Arsenal are a great exponent of this. Barcalona have evolved it to a point they don't even need a striker

That would mean an evolution in our team. One of the 4 strikers would play. Now McLeish has tried to drop Cox deep, but I’m not sure that works. Dexter after Saturdays performance would likely look to be dropped. Leaving Sharp. Sharp is pretty much undroppable this season, but can he play that sole role? Perhaps not, but Henderson possibly could. This is all theoretical of course. I doubt this would be implemented, but is more looking what other teams do.

So in that essence we need a new enforcing midfielder. Moussi is not that man, he is imposing and should be able to play the role, but is so maddeningly inconsistent and is prone to horrific errors to consider that. Moussi though did work well in the Davies teams as that role. If we could get his form right, we already have the right man in the squad.

As for the defence, well when I look at the best teams, my main criticism that ours is too slow almost looks redundant. However, Vidic and Ferdinand at United aren’t the fastest and at Barca, Puyol and Pique aren’t fast either. However I believe we need at least some  pace, if not someone who isn’t going to get turned easily. Watford had two smaller zippy strikers and if we play that sort of team again we might struggle. We did well against Derby because they had a big focal point striker in Sammon that we could go like for like and clear up. But if long balls aren’t going to play through, and it’s all on the ground, our defenders struggle. Ward is slow. As much as he wins most in the air, he often seems to slide in late, when he does at all. Collins I rated until recently, and probably still would, but he too is more comfortable in the air rather than defending on the ground. Would Ayala be any different? Possibly. He’s more cultured, but he still isn’t exactly pacey, and Watford last time did the same thing, when he did play. So therefore a new central defender looks like it should be a priority.

Also where we also went wrong at Watford was the midfield cover. As much as I mention Gillett he isn’t the only one to blame. The midfield doesn’t defend well, because we play narrowly, there is now natural wide protection, and when things get sucked in down the middle we are fine. Attack with semblance of width and we struggle. Look at the goals from Watford. Two came semi wide positions, balls played across. Whenever there were players running through to support and  and the attacked played a squared ball, we just didn't cope with it, but lump it up the middle and we can usually defend. No natural width means any wide protection so attackers are on our full backs without any kind of forward defence. Whereas before we would have had a McCleary, Anderson or Reid, there is no one. Cohen tries to get wide, but down the right side on Saturday we had no natural width at all. And that’s why Jara didn’t look as good as what he has.

Now maybe when McLaughlin settles he can provide that, but we can’t wait. We need it now. Maybe this is why McLeish is so desperate to get in Burke. He could provide this width, and balance, and which paradoxically for the point of my arguments returns us to a flat 4-4-2. But that’s tactics. It’s such a convoluted and complex game that if it was so easy we’d all be managers. The variables on that midfield are almost endless. Different players bring different skills. We need a merry blend, and right now we aren’t getting that. All the best teams have this balance right. The ball winner, the play maker, width, pace, protection. On Saturday a lot of that was lacking.

And all this without mentioning the tactic of merely hoofing the ball long. Which doesn’t work with our players. They weren’t signed for that system, they can’t play that system. Play to your team’s strengths is something McLeish said he’d do. Saturday showed no evidence of that whatsoever.


  1. Well, you've hit the nail on the head to be quite honest.

    Whether we want to or not, we can't blame the forwards. We have four strikers now (minimum) who have been proven to perform at our current level.

    Midfield is, unfortunately, our main problem in our eyes. The CM spot has nothing at the moment, I personally see Guedioura filling that when he comes back, his creativity and strength dominate that position. In my eyes he brings the craft and skill of Gillet with the stature (almost) of Moussi.

    As for defense, again, you're right. Jara has played out of his skin since he came to us, and he's provided us with a bit of stability where we've lacked. In my opinion our two strongest centre backs are Collins and Halford (yes, I know halford isn't a natural centre half, but he's versatile and I think he's strong enough to play there.) but that leaves us with a gaping hole at left back, where in my eyes harding isn't good enough... Prone to silly mistakes and not defensively strong enough, nor possessing the attacking strength to make up in his defensive frailty.

  2. Good review and thoughts there mate. I agree with you on pretty much everything but also want to chuck my two pence worth in. Gillet for me was our stand out player along with Reid first third of the season and maybe just needs to get back to his role tactically, hopefully that's something the management will pick up.

    With regards to CM as well we are spoilt for choice with Pep, Radi, Cohen, Lewis, Lansbury, Moussi & Gillet.If we can't find a promotion pushing pairing between that lot something is wrong. My issue is something Billy Davies (not a BD fanboy) used to be spot on with. "square pegs for square holes". I rate all of the above mentioned players highly but not one is a wide player, something you mentioned and something I think we drastically lack.

    With regards to pace at the back I think most teams cover this by having a full back cover as a sweeper from the opposite flank to were play is, Jara looks a great player for us and easily able to cover our lack of pace but as well as Halford has done and as versatile as he is Greg is still learning the role. His coverage off the ball needs to improve. Agree with comment above about Harding ( would struggle to get in my team!)'.

    Basically my rant is for the debate that we don't actually need any more players, just a few tactical changes to help us play to our strengths better. Our squad on paper is right up there in terms of depth and quality at that standard, only thing I would change is some of the fans perception that calling for the manager to be sacked our the new owners to part with the club is a good idea.

    Good article though bud, please keep it up. You Reds!!!!!


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