Whilst it is not time to ring the alarm bells, yet, we need to look at some facts and possible areas for concern.
This is our record away from home this season;
Pre season; played 5, won 1, lost 4, goals for 5, goals against 10
Champions League; played 2, won 2, goals for 6, goals against 1
Premiership; played 6, won 3, drew 1, lost 2, goals for ,11 goals against 5
These statistics do not look alarming until analysed. Okay, pre-season is all about getting fit for the big kick-off, but it is also a chance to hone systems for the new season. We were woeful, albeit, with key players missing, but that is what happens during a gruelling season. Our shape, especially defensively, and speed of distribution led to us losing 4 out of five matches. Some will argue that Ross Turnbull had a nightmare pre-season but he was left exposed by our lack of shape, when counter-attacked. A weak Ajax side destroyed us, on the break, whilst Hamburg and Frankfurt eased past us, again hurting us on the break. It must be said that Zirchov added to our woes with some kamikaze defending. We played 4-3-3 in the majority of those games.
In Europe we have faired better, result wise, in beating Zelina and Spartak Moscow. However, again, we had problems. Zelina were destroyed by Marseilles last time out, whilst we surrendered possession to them in the second half, of our tie. Against Spartak, we were professional, but again were under the cosh, second half, but held firm. Therein lays the answer to why we won the latter. We defended with two banks of four, after attacking in the first half, and were hitting both them on the counter.
In the League we have enjoyed victories at Wigan, West Ham and Blackburn, whilst failing to score in our 3 meaniful away games at Man city, Villa and Liverpool. We played 4-3-3 in every away match.
At Wigan, we were under pressure for 30 minutes and then scored on the break. Second half, we scored twice just after the interval, again on the break, after which their heads went down.
At West Ham, we started very brightly and controlled the majority of the match thereafter. We defended deeply and did not allow them a way through, counter-attacking at every opportunity.
At Blackburn, we were fortunate to come away with 3 points. Roberts almost scored for them, on the break, just before Ivanovic settled the tie.
At Man City, we were relatively in control until Tevez caught us, on the break. We never really looked like scoring after that.
At Villa, we were unlucky at times, but were almost undone, by Reo Coker, in the dying minutes, on the break.
At Liverpool, we started slowly and never recovered from being two down at the interval. The second goal resulting from loss of shape, due to Cole slipping in mid-field.
The common denominator in all these games, whether we won or lost, is hitting the opposition on the break. If we are to continue playing 4-3-3 away, then two midfielders must hold. This would allow the attacking midfielder to create the link and axis needed up front with Drogba/Anelka. We would then be less vulnerable to counter-attack, especially when our fullbacks push on.
The Premier League is a counter-attacking League. The ratio of goals scored on the break is growing year by year. Carlo needs to take this on-board. To succeed away from the Bridge, especially against the bigger boys, we need to start quickly, score first and counter-attack. We have frightening pace up front so we need to use that to our advantage. Liverpool squeezed the play against us. Anelka and Kalou had no space to run into. Malouda and Zirchov occupied the same space and therefore nullified each other. We needed to play two holding, Mikel and Ramires, invite them out and then hit them on the counter. I guarantee we would have beaten Liverpool with that shape.
Carlo, we love you, you are a manager (and a man) of great integrity, knowledge and experience but please remember this little ditty; ‘You got to know when to hold em’!!!!!!!