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.