There has been a lot of understandable negative reaction from NUFC fans after the Swansea and West Ham defeats.
Two home defeats against opposition we expect to comfortably finish above in the league this season is simply not good enough!
Blame has been placed in many areas, including the ownership, for not having properly invested in the summer transfer window despite our qualification for Europa League. I found myself asking the question, of whether I agree with this sentiment or whether I agree with others who say, that we should be more than capable of beating these teams with the players we do have at our disposal.
After much thought, I find myself leaning towards the former…
1. Investment was not made because the club wish to give the youngsters a chance to progress
At first I thought this may be a good idea, after all, what would the point of the youth system be if these youngsters are left to go stale in the reserves and never get their chance? But having seen the evidence so far, I feel there are better ways to allow the youth to develop.
Players like Shane Ferguson, Sammy Ameobi, James Tavenier and Gael Bigirimana have shown glimpses of great talent whilst making appearances in the first team, but on the whole, in my opinion, just haven’t quite made the grade yet.
Now while further first team game time may eventually see them come good, do we really have the luxury of losing points and vital league positions while they grow into players of consistent Premier League quality? Or are we better off loaning them out to other teams where they can develop and gain confidence without their inexperience costing us vital points?
Solution: Buy players who are ready for Premier League level and allow our youngsters to develop at other clubs. Allowing these players to develop is good, but not when it costs us crucial points when they aren’t quite ready to step up.
2. Weak links consistently dragging down the standard of play
Now, while I think even though we played crap against Swansea, I feel we still played better than we have in previous games where we managed to luck a point or three out of essentially nothing.
There were obvious poor performances from several players, but for me there are two players who consistently drag the others down with them, not through lack of effort, but because of a lack of ability to do the simple things that any player in a side chasing a European position should be able to do.
Those two players (or scapegoats) as some will call them, are Mike Williamson and Danny Simpson. Their weaknesses aren’t really just in their ability to defend but rather to play football.
Game in and game out I watch the two of them lump or chip poorly executed long balls from the back to the opposition, gifting possession away and leaving our midfield and strikers chasing scraps.
When the ball finds either Fabricio Colocini, Davide Santon and to a lesser degree Steven Taylor, we seem to play our way out from the back in a decent and composed manner.
We simply cannot afford to be gifting the ball to teams who have sussed out this weakness and pack their midfield to constantly win secondary balls and pressurize us when we have possession at the back because they know we will hoof the ball back to them.
If Williamson and Simpson aren’t punting long balls, they are passing back to Tim Krul, exposing his biggest weakness which is distribution. Sometimes even these back passes are underhit which puts us under even more pressure.
We have to buy players who allow us to build an attack from defence and then perhaps our midfield and strikers will be far more influential. The midfield seem to have stopped looking for the ball because they know it is just going to go over their heads.
Having two defenders who can’t pass makes us very predictable. While decent enough defenders, Simpson and Willo’s inability to play football, makes us very one dimensional.
Much the same could be said of our wingers. We are forced to play our no.10 and most influential player in Hatem Ben Arfa on the wing, where his talents are limited and he can be cornered and closed off because we don’t have sufficient creative quality out wide. This is ridiculous for a club aiming to qualify for Europe!
Solution: Buy quality to replace glaring weaknesses. Stop carrying players who the club’s ambitions have outgrown. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
3. Playing two strikers who want to play the exact same game
I think it has become apparent after almost a year of playing together that Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse simply cannot perform as a front two pairing in the centre of a 4-4-2 formation.
Both players are making the same runs, getting into the same positions and neither are the creative or target man type. They are goal getters and therefore both have a selfish attribute that tells them to shoot on sight. So why continue to play both together?
While Shola Ameobi isn’t my favourite player, he is a far better partner to either Ba or Cisse because of his ability to hold the ball up and pass. Unfortunately, his lack of pace and mobility also makes him very easy to mark, which means he is only really effective as an impact player because he rapidly runs out of energy.
Solution: Buy a quality striker who offers something different. Someone who is happy to play out wide in a front three, or someone who can hold up the ball and win aerial duels in a front two when playing 4-4-2. Perhaps someone who is willing to play “in the hole” and create opportunities for finishers like Ba and Cisse. (we already have this in Ben Arfa, which brings me back to the point of why is he being wasted on the wing?).
I suppose in order to do this we need to decide on a formation which suits the players we have. However, no matter what formation I look at, I see a glaring weakness in a least two positions on the field. This clearly tells you we are lacking in quality!
So to answer my original question… Yes! I feel we made a massive mistake in not investing in quality to replace weakness during the summer window. It was a gamble that most certainly hasn’t paid off.
In my view we need four players: a centre back, a right back, an attacking midfielder/winger and a striker, and yet, despite these glaring weaknesses, I can see us being linked to hundreds of players this January, making several “bids”, and at best seeing two cheap signings in and perhaps one out.
I guess time will tell…