I know I’m at risk here of sounding ‘glass half empty’ and pouring cool water over a fine display and excellent away result yesterday - I certainly don’t mean to.
Perhaps it’s a little frustration finally seeping out after half-a-dozen, back-to-back failed attempts to win a game; a period that also saw us fail to keep a clean sheet and where we conceded a whopping 12 goals in those 6 fixtures. Perhaps…
Don’t get me wrong; I gave a firm, clenched-fisted salute / celebration at the final whistle and left the pub, where I watched the match, with a beaming smile. That pleased look on my face was for 4 reasons – a very good, overall display; some excellent moves for the goals along with some superb finishing, the fact that we’d ‘bettered’ both Arsenal & Liverpool’s big away wins to stay top of the league on goal difference…and relief at ending such a poor period of results.
But at the same time, what I couldn’t get out of my head was just how much room the home side gave us; particularly in midfield and the fact, therefore, that we couldn’t exploit it even more than we actually did. Yeah, of course, Albion retreated and packed ‘2 lines’ of players behind the ball as we’ve seen so often against us and in particular this season and, for that, I’m very pleased indeed that we were able to unlock them 4 times!
But West Brom did nothing like a 'Spurs or plucky Swansea (in the league game) number' on us – for the most part The Baggies just didn’t close us down and, instead, simply allowed us to play our game; giving us plenty of time to create moves and pick out passes.
The exception to that – and it was so very obvious when it happened – was early-to-mid way through the second half; when they eventually attempted what they hadn’t done, for the most part, in the first 45. The ‘lead man’ on that for them was Irish international winger James McClean; who looked like he was simply fed up of his team not-having the ball! In fact, his frantic, perhaps slightly overzealous chasing around & challenges resulted in a yellow card…and I think he should have had a second one / red too.
Perhaps I should give our lads more credit
As I absorbed the game in my head whilst walking home, I had to remind myself that we had been a team suffering with a big confidence drop. I’m still reminding myself of that now. I honestly couldn’t tell you the reason for their loss of self-belief but I’m pleased that Albion’s ‘stand-off approach’ helped us in that regard.
We were buzzing at times yesterday; zipping the ball around well and a growing sense of conviction throughout the team was tangible…and that’s despite a couple of very little wobbles at the back.
Special mention has to go to Fernando, Fernandinho, Gundogan & Silva; all of whom had 7.5 to 8/10 games. But clearly the MotM was one, Sergio Aguero! He who, like the team, started the season SO very well but who then inexplicably went off the boil; causing the gutter press to-then issue their own speculations of him being sold to either Arsenal, Tottenham or Real Madrid as early as January!
Remember when journalists used to investigate and then report rather than sitting there making up stories?
Sergio’s finishing was SUBLIME yesterday and his general link-up play and work / assist for Ilkay’s first goal was a joy to watch.
During that 6-game period where Sergio stuttered & spluttered in front of goal, there was also assumptions circling from those same press sources that all wasn’t well between the Argentine and his new boss WITH, I might add, absolutely no foundation or even a suggestion as to what the ‘root cause’ of any possible issue was. I must admit that our pocket battleship striker wasn’t exactly looking happy for a time but does any striker when they’re not scoring?
Now I haven’t for one SECOND ever had Sergio down as a lazy striker - and I’ll refrain from naming all the strikers we’ve had in the past who could-easily come under that category - but what I hadn’t ‘factored in’ was just how much Pep Guardiola demands from his players!
So, I was thankful to Match of the Day’s guest pundits from last night’s programme (that I watched this morning) who highlighted just how much running Sergio did at The Hawthorns yesterday in order to attempt to retrieve the ball. In fact, there was one highlighted occasion in the first half when he lost the ball; paused for a very brief moment before thinking better of it [with his manager no doubt immediately entering his thoughts] and so ‘reengaged’ and went charging at the Albion player in possession of the ball…and won it back!
The inference of the BBC pundit was that this level of effort isn’t often in Sergio’s game; adding, in fairness, that it’s not usually deemed necessary due to his other, highly-skilled attributes. However, he continued, this is what Pep demands of his strikers (and others of course) and that shortfall in work rate may have been an issue between the two of them in recent weeks.
So, the press may feel a little justified in their recent suggestions…although to go as far as suggesting that ‘all wasn’t well between them’ was taking it too far in my opinion; more accurately it was an employee and his boss simply trying to improve performance in a place of work and nothing more.
A timely boost, then, ahead of ‘Barca Part 2’ on Tuesday night. But I’m betting too that our next 3 opponents in the league…
Crystal Palace (A)
…who MAY have raised their eyebrows of late at us-showing some vulnerabilities [as we appeared on their distant horizons] might now be a little warier; after our confidence-boosting, 4-0 away demolition of West Bromwich Albion.
And we can only get better (again)...
1. Nolito for ANOTHER headbutt simulation yesterday! Got away with a yellow this time [after a straight red at home to Bournemouth]. He had a decent game yesterday...but what a melon!
2. After being fined for comments made against a referee before their game against Liverpool recently; Jose Mourinho then gets sent off into the stands in their 0-0 home draw with Burnley yesterday…AND now may face another stadium ban [as he did during his time at Chelsea] for his clash with yesterday’s ref! I had him down for crackin’ up at Cold Trafford mid-way-through his second season in charge but it’s happening already to the Portuguese 53-year old (AKA the ‘ticking time bomb’)!
3. There are already calls for West Ham United’s new ground, the London Stadium, to be demolished after being labelled as, “Not fit / safe for football”. This comes after several, quite serious clashes between home & away supporters in the ground; with fans also reporting incidents around the ground where the open spaces, lack of segregation and any real sense of organisation when exiting the area via trains etc. are causing issues. I must add, though, that I have also seen and heard of clashes between fellow West Ham fans earlier on in the season, during poor performances and when home-game-results weren’t going their way! Deary me... Perhaps they could ground-share with Millwall or Chelsea while they build ANOTHER new stadium. No?