Of all the issues that’s been plaguing this club for years (age, changing of managers, the Michael Jackson statue) one that has been overlooked, or brought up and then seemingly forgotten whenever we go after the next shiny new transfer acquisition, is lack of speed from the wings.

Now, that’s different from creativity from the wings. Which, with Ruiz and Dempsey, Dembele and Davies and Duff (more on him later) we have plenty of.

I’m talking a wing or fullback that can blaze up the sideline, turning defense into attack at a moments notice, (sort of like what Valencia was doing all day today. And Ashley Cole will presumably do on Monday.) and then dish it off to another speedy winger who takes the baton either up to the forwards or scores himself (like what Young was doing all day today. And Juan Mata will presumably do on Monday.)

It might not be that far of  a stretch to say we haven’t signed a speedy winger since Damien Duff 3 seasons ago (on a permanent basis; sorry Kakuta). We did sign a speedy defender in Carlos Salcido (which isn’t saying too much) last season… but then let him go this season. (And yes, we did sign Kasami this summer and have Briggs and Frei from our academy, but their combined ages are about 17 and first-team appearances, here or elsewhere, before this season was 9. There’s still some polishing to be done with them.)

All of which brings us to today. Below is the passing charts from The Debacle (as it will be known for from now on). It’s stunning.

Completely ignore our mess and focus on United. It’s almost like there was a funnel in their attack. Not one that would open at midfield and pour out its furor on our two center-back, but the opposite. It completely bypassed our middle, choosing instead to exploit our defensive backs and what existed of our midfield wings. And hey, if you have Valencia or Young attacking the likes of Baird and Riise, why wouldn’t you focus on the flanks?

All of this begs the question; why in the hell didn’t Jol put on Duff or Frei? And where in the world was Kasami and Briggs? And, going back a bit, why was Salcido let go for the season when our only defensive acquisition on the flanks this offseason were two solid but slow 31 year old has-beens from Serie A?!? If you’re getting torched on the wings, why not fight fire with fire? Bah!

Not to fully switch gears, but our lack of any real winger both offensively or defensively means that that position is being filled by someone else. Or, in our case, two slow fullbacks and three interchangeable attacking midfielders in Ruiz, Dempsey, and Dembele…which is a issue I’ve been struggling with all season. And it just so happened today that its fatal flaw was exposed to the max: what good is it if 3 of your 4 attacking players are basically the same player?

This is like a basketball team that uses three shoot-first point guards as their PG, shooting guard and a small forward. Or a baseball team with no left handed pitchers. Or a frisbee team that has two handlers on the field but five deep cutters. The redundancy makes you easy to defend against, and subsequently difficult to score yourself.

Which can been seen today, as Rich wrote in the prior post, we really were “trying to walk the ball through the most crowded area of the pitch.” Just look at the shots. If we were to draw a line from the goalposts straight out to the half line, are the location of any of ours outside of that area? Two?

Contrast that to United. Service to and from the wings will result in shots from more (or less? I’m awful at math/geometry) than a 90˚ from the goalpost. And the graph bears that out.

As does the 5-0 scoreline.

13 thoughts on “Wings

  1. I know what you’re saying, but is it all a bit ‘hindsight’?

    Salcido was roundly condemned for his defensive ineptitude (I quite liked him myself). Would he have done any better than Riise. Grygera (?) was a resounding success until his unfortunate injury. Briggs – fast but suspect defensively.

    Blooding inexperienced players like Frei (looks good) and Kasami (I’m unconvinced) against United is a very high risk strategy. Against that they couldn’t have done much worse, but what effect would it have on their confidence.

    I agree with you that Dempsey, Ruiz and Dembele are very similar. But against most teams it will (eventually) work fine, once they have got used to playing together and they have a decent striker in front of them. Until today, our defence has not been our main problem, and maybe D, R and D are not our problem. If AJ could take his chances we might have got a couple of goals back. Bobby, I think is dead and gone as a FFC player. I’m of the opinion that, had he played, it would have been another sulkathon.

    January window – a striker, a replacement for Murphy and a fast full-back.

    And how many goals have we now conceded in the last 10 mins of matches this season?

      1. but if we continue to play 1 up front (4-2-3-1), get rid of AJ and BZ, keep Sa as backup (I think he’ll come good), then use the AJ and BZ proceeds (10 mill for the pair?) to get one decent striker.

        1. I don’t know that our system works well against a team playing down the flanks. Our front three all spend a lot of time infield so aren’t giving our fullbacks the protection they could do with. This was mercilessly exploited last night.

    1. Is it hindsight though? Or did the chickens come home to roost?

      Our lack of width has been written about for some time. A large part of this is our love of inverted wingers. Here’s Zonal Marking’s report on our Europa Semi-Final at Hamburg (, in April 2010.

      “The consequence of both sides playing wrong-footed wingers was a very narrow active playing area – both sides set out their 4-4-2 with an emphasis on getting the ball into wide areas, but when it got there, all four wingers were intent on coming inside into the congested centre, rather than having the confidence to beat their full-back on the outside and swing a cross in.”

      And all told, its 11 goals conceded in the final 15 minutes (nine in the league, two in Europa…)

    2. I continue not to understand why people put so much stock in Zamora’s apparent mood (“I’m of the opinion that, had [Zamora] played, it would have been another sulkathon.”) Are we forgetting that he ALWAYS looks unhappy, even on his best days?

  2. I think the assessment is spot on.

    The option of being able to alter the formation and tactics during the match requires adaptable and intelligent players plus an adaptable and intelligent coach.

    On last night performance we are seemingly lacking in both areas. IMO

  3. Little harsh in calling Grygera and Riise slow has-beens! Grygera looked terrific and Riise, although disappointing so far, may yet hit form.

    Mike Hopkins: not sure why we need to replace Murphy, he still sets up/plays a significant part in most of our goals! He is also a good leader and I for one want to see him carrying on.

    1. Eh, are they ones for the future? No. They cost less than Kasami. I’m not saying they suck, but they’re certainly on the downward trajectory (oh how I hope I’m wrong though!)

    2. Riise, Riise, Riise. I hear a lot of talk about his “thunderous” left foot but why doesn’t anyone acknowledge that he hardly ever puts his shots on target anymore? If the plan when we bought Riise was for him to be a short-term solution and Matthew Briggs to eventually take over (it isn’t like we went out and bought Jeremy Mathieu or someone else in his prime), is it maybe time to accelerate that plan? I’m sure if you put Briggs behind a free kick and told him to kick it as hard as he can, he could shoot 20 yards over the crossbar too.

      Or am I just overreacting after (hopefully) the worst loss of the season?

  4. Thinking back to Hodgson’s teams, I was always struck by how much defending Davies & Duff did – they were always helping out the full back. Oh – those two banks of four … happy days.

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