On the surface of it, a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford may not look like the worst result of the season. After all, just ten days ago we were on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline against Newcastle United, and we’ve already seen the likes of Nottingham Forest and Brentford walk away with three points from Stamford Bridge. And we lost this same fixture 4-1 back in May.
So what was it about these 90+13 minutes that was so impossibly excruciating? Was it the lack of any coherent strategy? Was it the lack of any sort of consistent execution? Was it the lack of a solid midfield presence? Was it the stunning lack of finishing? Was it the lack of defensive organization in second-phase plays? Was it the lack of pressure in wide areas? Was it the lack of precision in passing movements? Was it the lack of focus? The lack of control? The lack of ball-security? The lack of any obvious team spirit? Or the lack of quality decision-making in general?
Or was it all of the above, none of which is new and none of which should be happening at this stage of the season, certainly not with the sort of frequency we’re still seeing. Sure, we’re a young team and young teams tend to struggle with all of the above.
But it was tough to see the process in this one, let alone trust it.
What should’ve been a chance to show that we can in fact be an actual football team more than just once or twice a month turned out to be the worst performance of the season.
Mauricio Pochettino tried the bad-cop approach after the Newcastle. He was back to his more positive approach after this, putting it all down to a lack of energy. Yeah, that certainly seemed to be missing as well — unsurprisingly, considering we (well, he) made just two changes after we played over half of a high-intensity game a player short just three days ago.
“Disappointed because we didn’t start the game well [...] they start better than us, more energy than us, we didn’t match their energy. I think they were better.
“I think we create chances enough, we draw the first half 1-1, we had some good chances that we should score and be more clinical, that was the problem. Second half we start well but then we concede and of course then you need the energy to be more aggressive. We had some chances but not enough to be in the game again. Overall, I think my feeling is that they were better than us.
“[...] To play versus Brighton with one less for 60 minutes, I think really affects a little bit the energy and the performances of the players. Then too many players injured, we need to recover them as soon as possible to be more competitive and to have options and to play the team that we want. That is not an excuse, it’s only that.”
Oh good, it’s not an excuse. Just the facts, Jack.
Perhaps we’re being harsh. It’s always easy to overreact to one game, one result, one performance. And we’ve had a few stellar, or at least entertaining, performances of late. But there are some serious systemic issues at play here, which seem unlikely to be solved simply with patience and more hard work.
Perhaps they will be. Perhaps not. I don’t have the answers. But I wasn’t seeing any out there at Old Trafford either. (And that’s a harsh statement for Jackson’s linking and hold-up work; Palmer’s goal; Sánchez’s saves; Caicedo’s efforts; and probably a few other individual things I’m forgetting.)
“We are not going to change what we were saying from the beginning of the season. It is difficult. Even with all of the players fit, we knew it would be difficult but when you have half of the squad out and they cannot help to increase the level, it is difficult. It is difficult to talk because it is unfair.
“[We] need to be calm, keep going, trying to help the players and now we need to lift all of the players because we need to be ready Sunday.”
-Mauricio Pochettino; source: Football.London
Everton up next. Must win?