Saturday was a truly numbing experience.
Comfortably beaten by a side who, during our current Premier League stint, have been to League 1 via administration. A team who, like a lot in this division, we’re now light-years behind. Whether it’s managerial appointments, player recruitment or youth policy, the fact is that most Premier League teams are actually better than us at at least one of those things. Southampton looked a settled side who knew how to play together so well that even their clearances seemed to land at a the feet of a player in green.
It was dull, which is fair enough. Being attractive isn’t something we can really afford at the minute, I totally understand why Allardyce’s main priority was to get out of the game with a clean sheet. But we went about it in the wrong way.
Why leave Steven Fletcher so isolated? Fletcher has been one of our better performers this past month, but with the in-form Virgil Van Dijk and the often reliable Jose Fonte only having to concentrate on him, he was always in for a frustrating afternoon. So why didn’t we start Jermain Defoe? The two linked up together really well both at Everton and against Newcastle and if sitting back was indeed the plan, at least we had an option on the counter.
Even if Defoe had been on the bench for a more orthodox midfielder, such as Sebastian Larsson, I’d have been able to see the logic. A grafter in the middle who wont let Southampton break us down easily? Aye, makes sense that. But no, Larsson didn’t even make the match day squad.
Instead Sam Allardyce chose another dashing swede, Ola Toivonen. The problem was that Toivonen offered nothing apart from a daft shot that would later be ridiculed on Match Of The Day 2. He wasn’t going to be able to effect counter attacks with his lack of pace and wasn’t going to do the chasing we’d get from his countryman. It wasn’t like we were playing the wingers close to him either, as Adam Johnson and Duncan Watmore were pushed out wide with the intention of getting crosses into the box to maximise the height of Fletcher and Toivonen himself. A decent idea in principle, but probably exactly what Van Dijk and Fonte wanted us to do.
We didn’t even do it very well either.
The omission of Larsson from the squad was puzzling to say the least though. After Allardyce had spoke of needing hard workers in the team, he’d would have been ideal alongside Yann M’Vila rather than Jordi Gomez, and later, Jack Rodwell, who probably made the most pointless substitution appearance of all time. M’Vila had a decent game before his mistake to give away the penalty and was rightly praised by Allardyce, but he couldn’t effect the game as much as he’s capable of whilst the rest of the midfield was so lacklustre.
I do feel for Duncan Watmore as well. After finally being handed a start he deserves, it was probably the wrong time. It will have been good experience for the England under-21 international but with Fletcher being marked out of the game ahead of him and not much support going forward, it wasn’t exactly one for the highlight reel.
If we’re to draw positives, we’d probably look to the centre halves. Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Coates had decent games and I’d hope that they both take confidence from the goal being pretty much out of their control. With DeAndre Yedlin and Billy Jones at right and left back respectively, Allardyce was at least going back to something of a formula. The back five that played on Saturday have played together a few times now and are possibly starting to develop something of an understanding.
This isn’t to say the defence is settled, mind you, I haven’t forgot that we did just recently ship six goals. But by our standards this season, it looks about as settled a bloke with a wife, two kids, a dog and a house in the suburbs.
Sam Allardyce has spoke of how he’s learning a lot about the players and how he’s starting to realise the job he’s taken on, but we need to choose which road to go down. If we’re going to be boring and look for a clean sheet first and foremost, let’s at least do it properly.
Let’s get a settled side that knows how to do that and give it time to work. If it means three across the middle who are there to protect the back four, so be it. If he wants to go with two central midfielders and three attackers with a striker ahead of them, great, but make sure it’s the right players for it. Bloody hell, I could even make a case for another crack at 3-5-2 if he had a fully fit squad!
I just don’t want to see a team selection as chaotic as the one on Saturday.