A quarter of the season has now passed. With yet another lull of perpetual boredom and contemplation devoid of any football worth (otherwise billed as the international break), it’s as good a time as any to analyse how we’re doing so far. If you can bare with the analogy, I’d like to compare the season so far to a game of Snakes and Ladders. Now, for the younger ones at the front, Snakes and Ladders isn’t the latest mobile app nor is it a mind-bending, graphical onslaught on your eyes that’s released, just in time for Christmas, on your Playtendo 360. It’s a board painted with squares, ladders and snakes and comes with a die to roll – this is what was known as a ‘board game’.
Onwards with the crap analogy. I’ve been hugely impressed with Villas-Boas forward thinking so far. From the get-go the team have had a heavy emphasis on forward play, a momentum to commit to attack. This was reflected in a solid winning streak that lodged us high up the board (league table) until we hit a small snake (Man Utd away) that was but a little setback on our progression forwards. After the United game there was, again, another solid winning streak. The dice was rolled and onwards and upwards we went. It was a run that put us within touching distance of the leaders but, just as we were about to overtake a rival, we hit a much bigger snake (QPR, Arsenal, Genk) and have slithered a good way back down the board. Blackburn away was a stuttering one on the die, perhaps fortunately missing another slippery fiend, and, with the leaders stretched ahead of us, the question is – can we start rolling sixes (getting big, consecutive wins)to catch up?
Publicly Villas-Boas so far has done what a good gaffer should do and tried not to be harsh on the players for the dropped points instead referring to the luck of the die. Some you win, some you lose. To be fair he has made a valid point, we’ve had a lot of bad luck in some of these games. Foy’s incredible (in every sense of the word) refereeing ‘performance’, the numerous dodgy penalty decisions and harsh sendings off, and the flukey ricochet that gifted Rooney Man United’s third goal. There have also been a catalogue of glaring misses we’ve witnessed and, come to think of it, simple passes wasted – if Sturridge had found Torres (and he managed to hit the target) it might have been game, set and match by half time against Arsenal. Still the post match comments have tended to put these episodes down to the rub of the green, lady luck – much like a game of Snakes and Ladders. The boss has also eloquently discussed a lack of efficiency in front of goal and it is right to expect more from our finishing and attacking positions. I think if we’re going to go on a winning streak over the busy winter schedule Villas-Boas must address one thing as a priority – concentration.
Although some of the above mentioned slips were down to ill fortune – the luck of a decision, the width of a post – others must be attributed to individual mistakes. Luiz was too clumsy, Drogba far too rash against QPR. Terry and Ivanovic were caught dozing, waiting for the whistle, as Walcott raced through, whereas Bosingwa was caught too far up the pitch against Wright-Phillips, Sandros and De Bruyne. Malouda gift-wrapped Van Persie a blinding through ball, Cech culpable with three near post goals and no saves to note in the same match. Midfield have been guilty of easily squandering possession with misplaced passes and not tracking back, Mikel in particular needs a reminder of his anchor role duties. Upfront has been just as error prone – surely the inexplicable miss from Torres at Old Trafford must have been down to him switching off and not concentrating on striking the ball? We’ve endured more sitters – missed by Lampard and Meireles against Genk, Anelka against QPR, Mata had a glorious chance to win it against Arsenal and, as mentioned, the bad decision-making what was a day to forget for Sturridge.
You can train a team all week long but cutting out these individual errors is a much trickier task. Is it confidence, psychology, fatigue? Or are long drills out on the practice pitches something that will iron out the errors? Who knows but, for a manager with such an eye for detail, I’m optimistic Villas-Boas will be working on finding a solution. The squad undoubtedly has the talent. The manager has got the team working some slick, attacking and often gung-ho football this season that has been thoroughly entertaining to watch – just occasionally not with a happy ending. He’s managed the squad extremely well, created a squad ethos and rested players at the right times. He’s shown excellent tactical acumen and nous to make brave changes to try and win each game. The next task must be to get the team to be switched on for the full ninety and cut out the sloppy and costly lapses of concentration. After such a bright start Torres looked more like £5m worth of footballer against Arsenal and Genk away – we’ve seen the talent is plainly there but the confidence often isn’t – we need a striker playing without fear, preferably bagging twenty a season to win the league title. Confidence and concentration need to be instilled into the mindset of each player. This is where Villas-Boas can earn his money, it’s time to use the international break for a little man management and to rabble-rouse the troops for a winter offensive. The first game back is a huge opportunity against one of the title rivals, it’s a potential six pointer (big ladder), let’s get the win and kick-on up the table (board)!