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Let's Take Stock

By Mike Oates :  28/11/2008 :  Comments (0) :
Whilst we all acknowledge that the team isn't playing anywhere near the levels it reached last season, I've tried to do a bit of rational thinking and tried to take stock on how the season is going so far.

The season started so badly for us with the well-publicised cock-up of both a poor pre-season and the late transfer rush after our failure to get our primary targets. I still don't think we have recovered at all and, to be absolutely brutal, I fear we may not ever get anywhere near last season's levels of football as the balance of the team has been lost, key players are devoid of any confidence both in the club, team and themselves. The new entrants Saha, Fellaini, Castillo, have struggled to show their wares and even the young lads Vaughan, Anichebe, Rodwell have failed to step up to the plate and grab a place. Some might argue they haven't been given a chance? But I don't!

On a statistical basis and at ⅓ of the way through the season we were still only 1 point away from last season's equivalent timeframe points but somehow it hasn't instilled in me a feeling of we are on course for the 5th place. The next 4 games are crucial, Spurs, Villa, Man C and Chelsea — we need 11 points out of the 12 to stay on course as last season and somehow I think we'll be lucky to get 3 or 4 points.

I wrote an article only a month or so ago highlighting that we were aiming for a total of 55 points (we had 65pts last season) which would normally place us about 7th. Updating that today, the new figure is 53 points and this still is looking like 6 or 7th place, mainly due to the complete topsy-turvy season the likes of Portsmouth, Blackburn, and Man City are having as well. On current form we have no chance to take the 5th position either from Aston Villa or Arsenal.

On a player level

  • Howard — recovered from nervous start and looks back to his best form
  • Neville — looking good as a full back , certainly better than Hibbert for passing and attacking
  • Yobo — looks very shaky to me , distribution poor and showing no signs of leadership.
  • Jags — without doubt our best player this season, covers well , distribution poor
  • Lescott — completely lost it. He is a shadow of last season's top performer.
  • Baines — I suspect will leave if he doesn't get a fair chance. Moyes has a major dilemma with him, not from any form himself but how he fits in Jags,Yobo and Lescott. Arteta — I don't believe he doesn't care or is not trying , in fact he's trying to hard get involved as I see it , but the balance with his midfield colleagues is wrong and as a consequence his form is suffering.
  • Osman — plays well when we're on top, but cannot change a game our way. Too lightweight when we get closed down or muscled out of it. On the positive side does score goals.
  • Cahill — another Moyes dilemma where and how to fit him in . His form is suffering , and cannot fit into a 4:4:2 shape. Still gets into positions to score (Wigan 2 good chances) but we suffer as we get caught short in midfield on the counter attack.
  • Fellaini — let's give him time, but again how to get best from him? Difficult for him at the moment as he's joined a poor team, and because of the £15m tag is carrying all the flak. I don't see the flak or moans from other teams with their £15-20M players, ie Bent, Keane, Jo, Bentley, Modric etc — GIVE HIM TIME.
  • Castillo — I don't believe we'll ever see him other than in an emergency. I said at the beginning he's too slow and hasn't got the energy levels required to do a Carsley role.
  • Pienaar — suffering with injuries, but when he plays it certainly improves the balance of the team and I think there is more in his game than Osman's.
  • Rodwell — again where to play him. On one hand we get told he'll be in our next generation of centre halves, but the lad can and does look comfortable at times in midfield. But at 17, he is too young for us to pin our hopes and wishes on him just yet.
  • Saha — an in and out player. Scores 2 at West Ham and is non-existent against Middlesbrough and Wigan.
  • Yakubu — to me is the one of the best scorers in the Premier League and I'm sure other clubs will come knocking in January if our form continues as it is now. The trouble — we can't feed the Yak, only with tripe. He looks and possibly is lazy, but when are we ever ever going to give him a cut back from the byeline or a quick incisive pass through the middle between the centre halves? We have this ability to destroy good forwards — Johnson, Beattie and now the Yak.
  • Vaughan and Anichebe — some people will cringe but to me neither will ever make it. Vaughan is a nightmare, he hasn't got a clue of when or when not to engage, press, rest — he's just just one time bomb waiting to self explode. Anichebe just the opposite, so laid back and daft. As Steve Round said recently the only thing stopping Anichebe is himself.
  • Moyes — hasn't demonstrated that he's got a grip on team formation, team balance and how to get the best from his players. I certainly think his mis-management in Jun — Aug period has knocked him back. He's unsure of how now to keep us on course with assets at his disposal, both short-term and long-term.

Way Forward

We are desperately short of any creativity and Moyes needs to bite the bullet and sort out the left back position and to me bring back Baines at the expense of Yobo. He needs to sort out the centre midfield holding role and I know you wont like this — but stick Neville there for now and switch back to a 4-5-1 formation with Yakubu upfront and Cahill just behind. Arteta and Pienaar wide and Fellaini helping Neville particularly with distribution. Leaves the right back role, Hibbert for now but give Lars a go asap.

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