The next few months may well prove to be the most important of the Roman era.
There are grave concerns from the terraces that this may be the season where the continual mismanagement of the club finally backfires spectacularly. The squad is bereft of the quality needed to truly challenge for the title.
The robust presence of the old guard has all but faded with the likes of Cech, Terry, Cole, Lampard and Drogba performing well below their effervescent best. The team are hardwired to play to the power of Drogba and the goal scoring panache of Lampard.
With Lampard having less of an overall impact on play and Drogba seemingly turning it on when he feels like the side have struggled to adapt to the changes Boas wanted to implement. While many feel Boas himself is swimming miles out his depth.
For AVB this is no longer about implementing a change of philosophy (being honest there have been very few AVB hallmarks post-Arsenal) but about survival. Boas must swallow his pride and in doing so the senior players, so quick to run to the media with a quotation and “source”, need to buck their ideas up massively.
Whatever has happened needs to be put to bed: the next few months are bigger than any goal scoring record to be broken, any new contract to be offered and any ego willing to sulk.
The way forward must surely encompass a shift away from a grossly ineffective 433 shape that alienates our best player and causes pedestrian horizontal passes. A 433 is only successful in the Premier League if you can play with pace, width and movement.
Considering we are the antithesis of the archetypal 433, Boas must pick a new shape and personnel quickly. Without consulting the statistics I cannot remember a patch of form where we have drawn or lost so many games. I would also wager that our amount of effective passes in the final third is quite dire.
A 433 traditionally relies upon two wingers (inverted or not) of which we currently have none in the squad. Mata drifts infield far too often to offer any natural width and is ultimately isolated and ineffectual if he does remain out there. He is our most creative player without question, and it is painful to watch the attempts of a cumbersome front 5 to get him the ball in a position to hurt the opposition.
Play Mata centrally. Sturridge has also shown a huge decline in form post-injury. His decision making presently is hopeless at the best of times and his greed has been rewarded with a string of high profile scuffed shots. The dilemma being that when you look at their back-ups, who would play Malouda or Kalou ahead of them? (On a strange note, Kalou might be a better option to start games. Who knew?)
We no longer have the luxury of an in-form Florent Malouda and certainly no one with the game winning ability of Robben/Duff in their pomp.
Our midfield is where things become excruciating on the eye. The speed of which we circulate the ball is shocking. People love to blame players such as Mikel for slowing down the speed of the game but he has hardly featured this season and we are probably worse than ever in this respect.
The game becomes slow because we lack the players with the right movement to create the necessary angles for the man in possession. I always ask people to look at our holding midfielder in possession and then count the obvious attacking passes he has on. You will find that bar the favoured out ball to a full-back, there are very little central options to move the ball to ahead of play.
I would loosely classify Mikel, Romeu, Essien, Ramires and Meireles as ball winning midfielders; guys who are either athletic, good defensively or retain possession well. That leaves Lampard as our only midfielder with any true attacking intent. Hardly imbuing the opposition with terror?
The struggle to find Torres and Mata can really be taken back to our players in the middle of the park. Obviously having an exorbitant shadow of a £50m striker up front is not particularly useful, but I have my sympathies with Torres. Rightly or wrongly.
I am a firm believer in picking an established back four (or at the very worst two regular starting centre-backs). Due to a variety of reasons we have chopped and changed our central pairing and in reality this has not helped.
Cech looked ludicrously exposed when we played a high line earlier in the season. More known for his shot stopping ability rather than a great 1-on-1 goalkeeper (look at the Arsenal goals); he has been at fault for a few goals this season. I would estimate us being 3-6 points better off and when was the last time you ever thought of that?
David Luiz teeters from having games where he makes intercepting the ball look easy, to games where his swashbuckling style of play is suicidal. Terry and Cole look very much on the wrong side of 30 and the less said about playing Bosingwa the better.
So what is the answer to the £28million question? (Estimated cost of sacking AVB)
Qn: What do we not have?
Qn: What do we have?
A: A lot of athletic and physically imposing midfielders
Conclusion: drop the wingers and play more midfielders. Before you think I am going mad ask yourself what we gain from playing with width at the moment? The truth is very little
Qn: Who is our most creative player?
Qn: How do we get the best out of him?
A: Play him centrally.
Conclusion: pull Mata from the no fly zone and park him centrally behind a striker/strikers.
Solution: Solidify at the back; play a powerful/athletic midfield; deploy Mata centrally & play two strikers.
The premise behind the team is to accept that we simply are not that great at passing the ball to implement fluid and successful 433. What we do have, however, is two very fast and athletic midfielders who have success driving forward with the ball.
Romeu or Mikel (yes, we do not tend to concede as many with Obi Wan) can sit and we may finally see a full-back getting forward. I do not buy into the idea that Bosingwa should play because he offers a greater sense of attacking purpose. Ivanovic is far more solid and can do a job going forward.
The idea is to look to replicate a similar shape that we adopted against both Valencia and City. An emphasis on being solid at the back, adopting a more cautious outlook and using Ramires, Essien and Mata on the counter. Drogba offers us an excellent option long if necessary, but we have to pray he is having one of his days.
Many people talk about deploying Luiz as a holding midfielder, but I would go one further. Anyone who has watched him closely will probably have noticed he is a superb passer of the ball. Some of his long ball distribution is Leboeuf-esque and even more impressive are his slide rule passes that David Silva would be pleased to have played.
Purely as an experiment in putting a high risk, high reward player in the Ramires or Essien slot, I do wonder how he would cope He can tackle, he can shoot, he has good feet, he is aggressive, he is quick, he can pass. Yes, the argument is there that his own wonderful brand of insanity would be far too chaotic for the intricacies of a midfield battle, but given the alternative of playing Raul “mind Row Z” Meireles I would be willing to take a chance.
The shape may actually play to Torres’ new found strength as provider. It would allow him to pull into the channels, deliver crosses, find intricate passes and maybe have Mata pick him out with the occasional through ball. What we are lacking is a spearhead to our attacks. Someone to get on the end of crosses. What we need is Drogba to roll back the years (even 2 would do…) to rediscover that bulldozer of a centre forward that scored goals for fun against any opponent.
I would even like to see the currently ineffective Sturridge given a chance alongside Drogba as a front-two. Sturridge can finish, is exceptionally quick and playing in a two will take some of the pressure off of him that saw his performance level at Blackburn dip when deployed their earlier this season.
I think the use of Lampard is key for several reasons. There appears to be an obvious element of unrest in the dressing room. Frank, more than most, has the ability to unite the squad and put aside any of his differences with the manager for the greater good of the club. That I truly believe in. The reality remains that no one believes Lampard is an “untouchable”, but in the face of the continued selection of Meireles ahead of him I can see why he is miffed.
If we had a midfield trio who were moving the ball around the park in a stunning fashion then so be it — but we aren’t. The obvious issue needs to be addressed. Lampard is definitely not part of any long-term future at the club (in a playing capacity), but his goals may well determine the clubs long-term future. Kiss. Make up. This is bigger than the pair of you.
We need to move away from the endless sideways passing without any penetration We need to stop relying on individual moments of inspiration that are too sporadic in coming. We need to adopt a winning style again which sadly throws the rebuild project back another season. We can beat City, we can absolutely outplay Valencia, we should have beaten Spurs at White Hart Lane and we should have stuffed United recently. We need a consistent 90-minutes from every player.
Are we good enough to finish in the top four? Yes we are. In fact, call me deluded, I think we could pinch third if things go our way.
Ultimately AVB’s future will only be determined after the season. I cannot see Roman sacking his personal choice for the position mid-season after forking out a small fortune to secure him in the first place. If we secure a top four finish I would expect wholesale changes to be made, the type of changes that have been delayed for almost three-seasons now.
If we do not finish in the top four the prospect of attracting top quality players to an Europa League outfit is grim. I think Boas is an intelligent man, if very stubborn. What he needs more than ever are those senior players to stop skulking surreptitiously to the media every other day and to wind down their careers the right way. What he needs is compromise.
AVB — swallow your pride. Senior players — less posturing, more playing.
If AVB is here in the summer and we have qualified for the Champions League, then the structure of the club really needs assessing. What I see when I look at Boas is a very talented coach who lacks the experience or guidance to organise a squad who do not fit his philosophy into a cohesive side.
What I see when I look at Boas is someone who would benefit from a proper Director of Football. I would love to see Hiddink take up the role at the club and help nurture a very bright coaching talent to his potential.