Not Panicking

I’m not panicking. I’m not panicking because I think we can explain away the last couple of matches. Am I huffing copium? Maybe, but hear me out.

It’s really easy to make sweeping statements about the rotten mentality of the club, the same players letting multiple managers down, how unacceptable it is to lose to lesser teams at home. It’s easy to boo at half-time, to be absolutely sick of the sight of Ben Davies and Harry Winks and even poor Matt Doherty (who has, astonishingly, now made 46 appearances for us). But Ben Davies was rejuvenated and playing genuinely really well in a back three including Eric Dier and Cristian Romero. Harry Winks put in some excellent performances in matches where we actually had possession of the ball. Doherty was even starting to look okay at times. Who are the players that let the previous managers down — Hugo Lloris? Son Heung-min? Harry Kane?

Southampton caught us off-guard. Ralph Hasenhüttl doesn’t do things by halves — it’s all or nothing. Typically they press themselves out of gas as much as they smother opposition teams. They expose themselves defensively in the same way that they expose their opponents. But, in this game they maintained their press, they got let off the hook a couple of times with our counter-attacks failing, and they were clinical when it mattered through James Ward-Prowse’s outstanding and deeply-specific skill not being managed at all well.

And Wolves? Well, I think I’m willing to put this mostly down to Hugo howlers. I realise that, even aside from Lloris’ blunders, we had a ropey first half. And I do think we were outnumbered in midfield until Conte brought on Dejan Kulusevski to play as a ten (and, thus, add another body to the midfield). But I think the second half performance was pretty good. And, had we not had those two comically poor moments in quick succession, I really believe it would have been a different game (albeit tricky against a stubborn Wolves defence).

If you take a step back, the level of performance and the data that those performances have delivered have improved significantly since Antonio Conte stepped in. And I strongly believe that will continue (maybe after the City game, lol). Kane is still under-performing his expected goals, but he has had 31 shots in his last six matches, which is highly encouraging. He is playing very well.

I’m not happy with how the last week has gone. I’m also, if I’m honest, completely taken aback by it — I had these down as two home wins. I was genuinely so adamant that we’d stride towards fourth, with those six points very much included in my thinking. But I don’t think we need to tear anything up and start again, I don’t think top four is off the table (far from it, I still feel pretty confident about our chances) and I definitely don’t think our squad is useless.

I do think, though, that Conte has made some mistakes. I’ve been a little obsessive about my belief that 3-5-2 suits us best (based, mainly, upon Liverpool and Leicester). And I really believe that the continuing selection of Davinson Sánchez has hurt us, previously primarily for his inability to participate effectively in build-up, but in these last two his defending was also particularly poor. My reading of the post-Wolves press conference was that Conte is also coming round to this way of thinking — when asked about Joe Rodon, he said “But in this moment maybe I make mistakes to pick different players maybe. Maybe. My evaluation is to try to put on the pitch the best players at the moment.” I believe that Rodon is significantly better in possession than Sánchez.

Dier’s return should mean that Cuti Romero moves back out to the right centre-back role which should, in turn, help Emerson Royal, who also really struggled against Southampton, but who I generally think is okay. Oliver Skipp should hopefully be back soon but, even if he’s not, I think there are decent enough combinations from Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Rodrigo Bentancur and Harry Winks (and I’m not against Dejan Kulusevski playing in midfield in a 3-5-2).

I’d love to see us switch to 3-5-2. I’d love for Sánchez to only be used in an emergency for the rest of the season. I think everything’s going to be fine. But, if the next three don’t go so well, I’ll pop back in March to apologise for spreading my copium.

Join the conversation

  1. I agree that it doesn't make sense that we are not using the system that served us well against better teams, ie 3-5-2. I think that Royal's bad performances due to the headless play from Sanchez, who spreads panic for various reasons. Winks was all over the place and I'm not sure he can play as part of a two man midfield. This leads to the main problem we've had, which is the wide open space in our midfield where zebra, wildebeest and the opposition players roam freely. Some of our players cannot play when given too many choices and so they have to be reined in, eg Winks. What was disheartening in the last two games was the utter stupidity of the manner that we gave up goals.
  2. Arguably, the two most important players in a 3-5-2 set up are the two wingbacks, providing width and attacking options when we are on the offensive and -crucially- dropping back to thicken up the midfield and then becoming defenders when we are on the defensive. If they fail to do that then the whole system crumbles when they fail to do either job adequately. Emerson was the culprit in the tonking by Southampton by failing to tuck in next to Sanchez and prevent the two headed goals in the second half. I am not convinced by the lad who is raw and still learning the game, which is asking for trouble in the unforgiving attrition in the Prem. And against Wolves when you have a shocker like Sessegnon it almost gives a man advantage to the opposition. Hugo's two mistakes, however, were the reason we collapsed, but we seem unable to start on the front foot and only decide to raise our game when it's too late. At times it looked like we were Mourinho's Tottenham again, a team of strangers huffing and puffing but we all could see they could play with 12 men for another 45 minutes and still not score.
  3. To be honest, I've reached the point where rationalisations and excuses have given way to blunt reality: it will take miracle for us to be top four this season. we have too many players who just aren't top PL quality. Winks, Davies, Sessignon, Doherty, Emerson and Sanchez variously try hard, have a good game and five bad games, but should be either at a club nearer the bottom of the PL or playing for a team in the Championship – that is their true standard. Until we rid of ourselves of this level of players, and let's face it that may be never, then we will not make the Champions League and don't deserve too. And if we don't do that then we won't attract the players we need. The future is mid-table oblivion from my perspective. And that will be brain numbingly dull.
    1. But the miracle did happen. Believe again!
  4. I cannot see a situation where I do not want Tony at our club but he has made some terrible mistakes. After SOuthampton he had to change it but he stuck to the failed routine and as for praising Winks. Come on Tony wake up my friend.
  5. Lloris and Davies mistakes cost us the game. Plus we missed at least three one on one chances against with their goalkeeper. But where was the fans support, booing at half time better that booing after 30 minutes, if I was playing it would make me think sod you lot. Our section of useless spectators are a real handicap and cost us time and again. They should boo themselves.
  6. To be honest I don't really share the optimism. Think the fight for fourth is going to go down to the wire and I fear we may just fall short. I have to confess that i am sick of hearing people saying these players have got the last three or four managers the sack,the reality is that managers generally get sacked because of results and they generally are as much to the blame as the players. Losing at home to Southampton was a real shock to me, I felt that was a banker but having lost that game we seemed to lack confidence in the Wolves game. I guess the fact that we still have to play United, Arsenal and West Ham is a positive, win those three games and I imagine we will finish 4th but it is a big ask. I really fear what may happen in the summer if we don't make the top four, I suspect Conte will leave and Kane will again rock the boat.
  7. Great assessment and honesty Windy. If only you had the time to post mores write ups! If we can keep Conte and be in the top 6 by the end of the season (higher if possible), then all is far from lost. It is not Jose mania after all!
  8. Still not panicking after flaking against Middlesborough (not a dig, a genuine question)? The season's down the pan (same as always) but with the situations of Conte + Kane there's so much at stake in this one. This team feel genuinely cursed. Considering the time/energy I expend on them I'm regularly considering whether they're worth it...


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