The big man’s out, he needs a knee operation, what can we do? (Bar have a slight panic attack and breathe heavily into a bag?) We can still win, that’s what, and coming into the biggest week since Avram first took over that comes as a bit of a relief.
The obvious starting point would be Roman’s fat chequebook. That massive tome of potential roubles may be waiting to be written off but let’s look at the team first because there is more to us than Drogba. Sadly I don’t share the coaching CVs of Messrs Grant, Clarke and Cate. I’ve been schooled on Subbuteo, wayward Sunday league hoofing and Pro Evo. Basically enough for an FA interview. But judging by the last two games we can guess what formations and tactics will be used over the next few weeks and, going on, into the African Nations Cup.
With Drogba in the team Grant has played with one holding midfielder (Mikel or Maka) and two central midfielder players bombing up and down the pitch. Then there are the wingers, attacking to a 4-3-3 and defending as 4-5-1. (If only we had salt and pepper pots eh?) It’s Mourinho’s old system, tweaked, and it’s worked fantastic so far this season. The full backs are getting past the wingers more, the midfielders are supporting the attackers, and generally the onus is on keeping possession and attacking the opposition by moving the ball quickly.
There hasn’t been a change to the philosophy with Drogba’s injury but a slight tinkering with the system. Against Sunderland Grant had two central midfielders in Mikel and Lamps and a free-roaming attacking player in Wright-Phillips. There was the usual lone striker in Sheva and Kalou and Joe Cole on the flanks. The same system started against Valencia with Pizzaro taking the attacking midfield role. Also, which was encouraging, the system changed again with twenty minutes to go. Maka and Essien held the centre and Kalou joined Pizzaro upfront, the Peruvian dropping to hold the ball to build attacks and Kalou stretching the defence with his pace.
The football played at times on Tuesday was breathtaking and only the score line was a disappointment. It should have been four in all honesty. We kept the ball for huge chunks of the game, switched play when it was on, moved it intricately in tight spaces and had good movement all over the pitch. The finishing was lacking on the night but we won’t get too many nights like that again. A few commentators are currently hammering us with the fact Drogba isn’t in the team and hence we can’t score. No doubt we’ll miss him, as any key player, but I’ve seen enough already to think we can get the goals. We just need to play to the forward’s strengths.
Introducing Pizzaro is a good move from Grant, the ball sticks to him and he has great eye for a slide ball, ala Gudjohnson. However I think he doesn’t look clinical enough at times and may not score too many. That’s why we need the other two. Sheva sits on the shoulder of the defender and needs the ball to feet or something swung into the box. Given a chance, he’ll finish it. Those rumoured sprinting sessions look to be paying off too, he seems quicker off the mark of late. Kalou is all about being quick and sharp in the box. Again, ball to feet, and he’ll do well. On Saturday and Tuesday I thought the team played to these strengths excellently and if it wasn’t for bad luck and resolute defending both score lines could have been more. As long as we start with two of those three in the eleven I think the goals are there.
Add to this the midfielders of Wright-Phillips, Sidwell, Ballack, Mikel, Joe Cole (player of the season so far?), and Essien. All of which haven’t contributed as many goals as they could and should have so far this season. (I’d have put Maka on the list but, let’s face it, it’d look like a p*** take.) The potential is there, throughout the team, to score. Like I said, it’s a good job with Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn away, three of the toughest teams in the league. I’d like to see Maka play against the Gooners on Sunday. The likes of Rosicky and Hleb occupy the space in front of the back four and with him patrolling I think we’d be very solid. He’s so good at that role that they had to name it after him after all. With Mikel and Lamps either side to hustle and keep the ball I think we can get all three points at the Emirates.
We do well this week and we’ll be able to smell some silverware. We don’t and we’ll all moan about missing Drogba. I know which one I’d prefer.