Welp, folks, it’s been a while.
Whether it’s because my head’s been buried in textbooks, or I just simply wasn’t able to catch the first few matches until replay, I’ve been out of the loop.
My dearest apologies.
Now back to business.
The first 10 games of the season, roughly a quarter of the Premier League campaign, have passed, and we are sitting in a solid 10th, with 12 points to show for.
With all the injuries we’ve endured (Zamora, Duff, Dembele for a bit, Murphy for a bit, Etuhu, etc), I’d say we’re doing alright.
Mark Hughes hasn’t really done anything surprising tactically. Just about every side he’s put out has been of the 4-4-2 variety, usually a 4-4-1-1-ish looking side. And really, injuries considered, it’s amazing he’s put out such a consistent formation weak in and out.
The key loss tactically was Zamora. His hold up play can’t be replaced by anyone in the side, so we’ve had to mix and match a bit. We’ve had rough patches (West Bromwich comes to mind) and sweet spots (Saturday’s trouncing of Wigan is still fresh in my mind), but our style of play has been very interesting.
Some key points:
- 4-4-2, or some variation, is the formation that works best for our boys, for several reasons. First, without Duff, we lack a true winger, and even he is a step off the pace and not really an out-and-out winger. Gera, Davies, and Dempsey are all wide midfielders — crafty on the ball, good defenders, and good down the byline or in the center — but none are true wingers in the mold of an Antonio Valenica or Florent Malouda who look to cut inside and take on defenders. Dempsey is closest but doesn’t qualify. As our central midfield is slower and older and can’t cover wide areas all too well, our wide players can’t really press high up the pitch, which means flat four is the best option.
- Right now, Hughes needs to stick to his guns and continue the 4-4-2 used against Wigan. Our depth in wide players is our greatest asset, and right now Dempsey, Gera, and Davies seem to be on the same page. All three were fantastic Saturday, with Gera unlucky not to score (again), Davies dominating the left side of the field with Salcido, and Dempsey netting two excellent goals. If anyone comes off for Andy Johnson, it should be Dembele, who still seems to be hampered by that earlier injury.
- If there was ever any doubt about Danny Murphy’s value to this team, it’s been eradicated. Just place the West Brom and Wigan games side by side to see his impact on this team. No? Allow me. The graphic on the left shows all you need to see in terms of Murphy’s importance. The question now is who to put beside him. Dickson Etuhu will get his spot back when he returns from injury, but for now I think Baird is our best option. Greening is too slow of a partner for the equally velocity-challenged Murphy, and Baird is a super passer, a great aerial defender, and a pest on the turf.
- This also opens up space for John Pantsil to return to the lineup. While his form earlier in the season was shocking, I think he’s ready for another run out. He offers a more attacking option than Baird, and with Ashley Young waiting this weekend, I think we’ll need his speed in defense.
- As an American, this is difficult to say, but I’ll be damned if Carlos Salcido isn’t the most impressive summer signing in all of London (van der Vaart excluded). The Mexican international is forming a very nice left-sided attack with Davies. They seem to be connecting telepathically, as their cover for each other and attack has been quite impressive. The return of Etuhu will only free up that left side even more, as Dickson provides physical intimidation and cover from midfield that no one else in the side really offers.
I’ll end with a final formation for Villa on Saturday.
You could see Davies on the right to help out with the threat of Ashley Young, but I wouldn’t make the change, personally. I think Baird will stay at right back and Greening in the midfield, but I’d lean toward Pantsil. Villa are a talented side and will be a tough outfit, but if Murphy can dictate the tempo of the game and Gera, Demebele, and Dempsey can continue to link up, I think we’ll pull out the full three points.
On some personal news, I hope to be getting a video blog started on some of these games, barring I get my software working properly and find some time between classes. Until next time.
I’d like to see Johnny P given another go, but I reckon Hughes much prefers Kelly at right back, despite some of the Irishman’s unusual decisions when he came on against Spurs.
I also think that Greening has done alright in the past two home games – especially on the defensive front that has perhaps allowed Danny M to push forward and spray passes into attacking positions.
Also its a bit harsh comparing Greening’s passing away from home with Murphy’s at home. A look at the away game against West ham shows they are quite similar.
Sorry – the Guardian website is having a bit of an attack and that link is wrong. I can’t seem to get a direct comparison.
Here is Murph in isolation http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/chalkboards/H078124dj3M218D86n20
Fair comment. But even there, while he’s deeper in the pitch, he’s completing more passes and seeing more of the ball. The possession numbers from those games (50% against West Ham, something like 39% against West Brom) show some more of what I’m trying to say. I’m not trying to piss on Greening, but I think it’s key to see how vital Murphy is going forward. I was doubtful of Murphy’s legs this year, and it remains to see how long he’ll last, but he’s been our quiet MVP when he’s played. 499/588 passes on the season, with 11 created chances (Second only to Davies’ incredible 19). I smell another post based on that stat.
Murph is definitely number one in the middle – I just don’t know who I prefer next to him – Greening/Baird or this season’s version of Etuhu.
I’d stick with Bairdy every time, especially if we face a team playing with half decent wingers who like to get forward. Pants may be adventurous going forward, but lacks the skill of a propper bread and butter defender. Baird knows his positioning, and while wont be spraying passes around like a young Zat Knight, he wont let half as many players past him.
And going forward he can do a job too, it was a pretty sexy ball he put in for our second goal on Saturday I think we’ll all agree.