“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” That’s not working too well, is it?
First off, in this column, I’d like start out by talking about the last result, the 3-1 loss to Napoli. I had a bad feeling about that match all week, and my fears were realised. However, there were a few positives to take, though I’ll only touch on one here. I was amazed at how slow the Napoli back line was, and it gives me hope for the next meeting.
Now, to the Bolton match. It is at Stamford Bridge, which could be a good thing or a really bad thing. The pressure will be piled on Andre Villas-Boas, though I’m not sure it’s entirely his fault.
Owen Coyle’s men will be a tough proposition because they need the point. At 19th in the table with 20 points, they have the potential to leapfrog two teams and get clear of relegation, though I think they’re not nearly as bad as their record indicates. There are three teams worse than them, I think.
Here we go.
1. Gary Cahill will make a start against his former club, but more telling is that Bolton will once again face another former Wanderer in Daniel Sturridge.
Let’s be realistic. The one problem that Bolton has had this season stems from the fact that they cannot score enough goals to keep them in matches. Currently, they’ve only scored 29 goals in 25 matches. It’s not for lack of trying; they just lack that creative midfield spark and the striker that can score with flair. Sturridge fits that latter mould, and they miss the goals he scored last season.
2. I don’t think any Bolton supporter would have said this last season, but they really miss Johan Elmander.
He only scored 11 goals last term, but he and Sturridge both gave solid options as second strikers to Kevin Davies. Their absence has been felt because Bolton have not had a legitimate support striker, despite having decent wingers in Chris Eagles and Martin Petrov. As we well know, if you can’t get the midfield to create chances, the wide men have to, but your striker also has to get in the right spaces. Right now, it’s gotten so bad that David N’Gog and Tuncay have both gotten starts as strike pair. Things aren’t good going forward for Bolton.
3. I would mention that Bolton’s defence is one of the worst in the league, but I still have a feeling that it won’t matter on Saturday.
Coyle’s not a stupid man. He will have seen the tape, and he will have noticed that our squad struggles to break down teams that play with an organized defence that forces us to play through the middle. The thing is that all his central midfielders are more defensive minded than attack minded. Couple that with the ability to counter attack down the wing and Bolton are a force that we’ll have to account for. That’s not to say we won’t win, but we will have to be very careful.
4. Number four has nothing to do with Bolton, but everything to do with us. This stretch is where we find out what players are truly up to the fight of playing for the club.
Sometimes I wonder what goes through the heads of footballers. In U.S. sports, when a new manager comes to a team that is clearly looking to rebuild, we like to say that all the experienced players are auditioning for their jobs or their future employers. Some of our players haven’t got that memo. Even if Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, etc… aren’t part of the future of the club, they’re not doing themselves any favours if the rumours are true. While still rumours, when every paper tells something similar, there has to be a shred of truth. Not only are some of the players dividing the team, they’re also starting to risk being branded as problems, thus limiting their chances of finding clubs that want them. Just ask Robinho and Carlos Tevez what happens when you do that.
5. Lastly, my take on Villas-Boas is that I don’t want this to become a Brian Clough/Leeds United situation.
We all know the story. Brian Clough goes to Leeds United, gets sacked after 44 days because of the players not buying into his methods, and Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles, and Norman Hunter get their way. The ending is much more pertinent. Leeds United have won just won major trophy since that fateful sacking, with Brian Clough going on to Nottingham Forest and winning back-to-back European Cups.
My great fear is that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Because of the player power that Hunter, Bremner, Giles, and the Leeds team wielded, a young talented manager was sacked and went on to great success, while the sacking club has never been able to regain their dominant position in English football since. Sacking AVB might give a bump to the squad, but it also may be an admittance that one or two players won their tiff with the boss. The last thing we need is another season without the squad being refreshed, an aging team being relied upon, and Villas-Boas off to another job to rub in our faces.
Sounds a lot like one Jose Mourinho, eh?
My prediction is that we get a 1-1 draw. I can’t see us scoring more than one goal, simply because the lack of creativity is shocking at times, but I also can’t see us keeping a clean sheet. The booing will come out, the “Jose Mourinho” songs will be sung, and more pressure will be heaped on a manager, who may not be entirely at fault.