Last Sunday’s draw with Bolton means that it is now four years and three months since our last home defeat in the league. That means that the rest of the big four have had at least four goes each at breaching fortress Stamford Bridge and all failed.
Add to that the tens of cup games, both domestic and European, (with the exception of Barcelona when we were down to ten men) and we are talking of well over a hundred games in which the opposition hasn’t managed to win at Stamford Bridge.
We have reached the stage were practically no team in the world comes to The Bridge and realistically expects to win. All true, but there are plenty who come here looking for just a draw and getting away with it. Despite our impregnability at The Bridge, at the end of the day it is our home form that ended up handing the title to United last Sunday.
Our seven draws have meant fourteen home points dropped to United’s five (one loss and one draw at Old Trafford). Do the maths yourself to work out where we would have finished in the league this year had we at least matched United’s home record.
You could also look at it in another way, but I’m afraid it still doesn’t make good reading. United won seventeen of their nineteen home games, that’s nearly 90% of their games. We, on the other hand, won twelve out of nineteen, a paltry 63%. Even just matching Arsenal’s home record of fourteen wins and five draws would have seen us over the line. The bottom line is that out of every three games we play at The Bridge, the opposition manages to come away with a draw once.
It could be that our unbeaten run, rather than working for us, has become some psychological impediment to the players and coach, and in the last few minutes of the game the players go into a sort of panic trying to hold on to what they have.
Everton, Villa, Bolton and Wigan were definitely winnable games and we were literally seconds away from victory in all four matches. I would discard the Bolton (players knew the league was lost) and Villa (crazy game) matches, but the goals we gave away in the other two matches were criminal.
You could see a goal coming from miles away. We just sat back and defended poorly, if truth be said. And it could have been worse. We were lucky to win the Boro game and there were others against Birmingham, Newcastle, West Ham and Reading when I distinctly remember chewing my nails and looking anxiously at the clock during the last five minutes. This against two sides who ended up relegated.
So while bemoaning the fact that we dropped points in the last minutes of certain games, points that ended up costing us the league, it could have very well been much worse. So besides having a good look at the squad, the powers that be should also have a good look at the playing style.
Our so called 4-3-3 formation may look like an attacking formation but in reality it’s not much more than a 4-5-1, a system we so abhor and sneer at when used against us. Whoever has played in the wide “forward” positions has always been expected to do more than his fair share of tracking back, often doubling up as an extra full back.
This 4-3-3 fad was born during season 2004/5 when we had arguably the two best genuine wingers in the Premiership at the time – Arjen Robben and Damien Duff. Both were expected to muck in at the back but their main duties were up front. Despite various changes in personnel we stuck to the system, except for a few games towards the end of last season (2006/7) when we played 4-4-2. Since then we have tried Joe Cole, Malouda, Anelka, Kalou, Shaun Wright Phillips and, very rarely, Shevchenko. With the exception of Coley, few could argue that anyone of them has set any houses on fire playing wide.
I hope that next season whoever is in charge will adopt a horses for courses policy. While stuffing Derby 6-1 the coach still felt the need to play a holding midfielder for all of the game (Makalele played 72 minutes and was replaced by Essien who played in the same role for the remaining 18 minutes). Same goes for matches against the other minnows. Did we need a holding midfielder when playing Wigan, Sunderland and Bolton at home who scored 13 goals each in 19 away matches?
So it’s on to Moscow now. At the risk of contradicting what I just said above, a boring one nil win like that in last year’s cup final will do us all nicely thank you. In fact it is not a contradiction but rather a confirmation of my “horses for courses” policy. I don’t want us going flat out leaving the door open for United to exploit. Ashley Cole just needs to keep tight on Ronaldo as he always does.
Maka has to stay back and snuff out any danger before it reaches Carvalho or JT. Yes Joe Cole and whoever plays on the left will have to track back. Yes our best bet is to chuck high balls at Drogba to keep Vidic and Ferdinand on the back foot, hoping the Frank and Ballack exploit the spaces. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just effective. But against the likes of Reading, Birmingham, Wigan, Sunderland and their ilk, I do expect more.
One last word that has nothing to do with all I have written above. As I write this, the Boswinga deal looks done and dusted. All well and good, but am I alone in thinking that since Michael Essien has been playing at right back he has looked the best full back, left or right, in the Premiership by a mile? Just thought I’d ask. Answers on the forum please.