Something better change.

CoymayWhen the fixtures were announced last June, it was impossible not to look at our games for January and gulp – Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United all away, thank God for that home match with West Ham in amongst them all! When we duly made a mess of things against a woefully out of form Hammers side beset by injuries, it was almost a given that we would have  a pointless January and go into February at the bottom of the league.

Last night’s 2-0 loss at Old Trafford ensured that both of these events came to fruition and we now wait to see if Sunderland and West Ham can cash in on their game in hand on us against Stoke and Chelsea respectively tonight. With Palace and Swansea winning (albeit against other sides involved in the relegation scrap) and Norwich drawing, there is the chance that we will become a little detached at the foot of the table by this evening.

It’s not all bad news, just as at the Emirates and the Etihad, it was defeat with a fair bit of honour for City last night. We weren’t taken apart in any of the games and losses by a two goal margin with neutrals saying, mildly, reassuring things about our survival prospects could have been a lot worse I suppose, but a bit of deeper analysis into last night’s game in particular leaves me wondering if much has really changed as far as the team’s weaknesses are concerned since Malky Mackay left almost five weeks ago.

Robin Van Persie had not featured for Manchester United since missing the game at Cardiff City Stadium in November - typically he marked his return with a goal as his header put the home team ahead in just six minutes.*

Robin Van Persie had not featured for Manchester United since missing the game at Cardiff City Stadium in November – typically he marked his return with a goal as his header put the home team ahead in just six minutes.*

I’d like to say a belated thank you to the person on one of the City messageboards who posted this article last week – it’s a long piece, but I thought it was a very good read. Particularly interesting for me was the bit which argued against the findings of Charles Reep in the 1950’s. Reep’s research was influential in encouraging British sides to play a long ball game which I would say became most fashionable in the mid to late 80’s (coincidentally or not, the period when Football League clubs were banned from competing in Europe).

Modern day research (according to this article anyway) says that the type of football preached by the likes of Reep and Charles Hughes  (a one time Director of Coaching at the FA) is out of date and was never as effective as they claimed it was anyway – as an aside, speaking as someone who definitely wants a team I support to play a passing game, I have to say that I think, and hope, that football is more of a random game than the formularised fare the people at Prozone would have us believe it is.

Whatever my thoughts are, with all but one of the sides in the Premier League using an analysis tool which, on the face of it, proves the merits of a completely different approach from the long ball game, it’s no surprise that a more patient, passing game is now favoured by sides throughout the English pyramid system. The extent to which possession is valued may vary from club to club in the Premier League, but I would say that all sides now would prefer to have the ball than not have it – baffling as it seems to someone like me, that was far from the case decades ago when the giants (in a physical rather than a footballing sense!) of Wimbledon, Watford and both Sheffield clubs roamed the land.

So, if we accept for now that possession of the football is the object of the exercise in today’s game then I’d say your average City fan would have two responses if they had been told beforehand that their team would enjoy 54% of the possession in last night’s match. The first would be to pick themselves up off the floor after collapsing with shock and the second would be to ask “so we won’t get beat then?”.

Unfortunately, this is where theory ends and reality takes over – the result of all of that possession on the ground of the current league champions was a miserable one effort on target according to the BBC’s stats. Now, allowance needs to be made for who we were playing. Manchester United might not be the force they have been, but I’m certainly not ruling out them finishing in the top four yet and, despite the current “crisis” at the club they are still a good Premier League team – the odds were always very long on us avoiding defeat last night.

That said, it’s certainly illuminating to compare the stats from last night with three other away games we’ve played this season. At West Ham, Villa and Palace, we had 52%, 57% and 56% of the ball – add in Manchester United as well and we had a total of six on target efforts in the four games. There are those who say that Villa were there for the taking in November – I don’t agree, I thought they were the better side throughout, but the important point is that, even if we forget about that game, we ended up getting exactly what we deserved in the other three – nothing.

Possession might be vital nowadays, but the evidence of these away matches (where you would have thought we would have more space to create opportunities) is that it’s not enough in City’s case. The same sort of thing applies at home – while we might not have had the majority of the possession in all of these games, the visits of Swansea, West Brom, Southampton, Sunderland and West Ham saw us win the territorial battle, but to what effect? Four goals and, Sunderland, apart, very few moments of danger for our opponents.

For me, we have had problems in the transition between turning promising situations, both in terms of possession and field position, into strikes on target all season. Obviously, this is reflected in our goalscoring record, but are our strikers to blame for the fact that we are so poor at putting the final touches to these promising situations? When you think of it, a book detailing sitters missed by City strikers this season would be a pretty thin volume, so, either our forwards are putting themselves in the wrong positions to benefit from the quality passes being provided for them or those passes just don’t exist – or at least, come along very rarely.

I’d say there is an element of truth to that first alternative (there were certainly a couple of occasions last night when City players couldn’t get on the end of fine crosses from our full backs), but I feel the problems lie more with the second option.

That all too familiar sinking feeling - City players trudge back to restart the game after conceding the first goal for the sixteenth time in twenty three league matches.*

That all too familiar sinking feeling – City players trudge back to restart the game after conceding the first goal for the sixteenth time in twenty three league matches.*

 

We now face a month of matches against sides in what our manager calls the second division of the Premier League. Norwich (who have a good record against sides in Ole’s second division), Villa (most effective on the break away from home) and Hull (who have handled the step up in class better than we have so far) will all come to Cardiff City Stadium knowing that a draw will probably suit them and it could well mean three more matches where we have the majority of possession and dominate territorially as they sit back and make things difficult for us.

We simply have to find a way of of improving our efforts on target figures. In his post match interview Ole seemed to acknowledge this and came up with as good a way of describing it as any when he said we need more “oomph”. A committed Kenwyn Jones could provide that in terms of power and aerial ability and a Wilfred Zaha playing to the levels he did at the back end of last season could as well, but I maintain that it also needs to come in the form of more guile and creativity in and around our opponent’s penalty area. Kimbo, Gunnarsson, Mutch and Whittingham have had their moments this season as far as this requirement goes, but it’s an indictment of our more senior players that, based on the little I’ve seen of him so far, eighteen year old Mats Møller Dæhli looks the best bet we have of providing those cute little passes that can unlock defences at this level.

One last thing, I hope Ole is emphasising that we cannot keep on starting games so poorly – our three league games under him have seen us take forty five minutes to wake up against West Ham, defending desperately for fifteen minutes against Man City and conceding after just six minutes against Man United – without Ole’s oomph we aren’t capable of scoring twice to win February’s big games.

* Pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

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5 Responses to Something better change.

  1. Graham T says:

    I complained last week about Whittingham in particular, but also other midfielders, failing to realise that his job was to create scoring opportunties, or seize them himself … possession was fine but the point of it MUST be to CREATE goal-scoring chances – and too often – even always – Whitts, in particular, didn’t seem to even want to think about going forward ..
    .. I sent your latest article to my brother and other family members in South Africa – all Bluebirds supporters for many years and following every game – and they can often watch on TV when I can only listen [I live in London] … this is the response I got from my brother today :
    “a so well written and interesting article which obviously ’speaks the truth’. However, what I find amazing is that he’s not made ANY reference to the number of times our players pass the ball backwards at a time when it is just unnecessary and with no need to do so. Also our habit of running off the player with the ball, so giving the opposition ample time to line-up and shoot – the very reason they scored that 2nd goal – nobody attempted to tackle or obstruct the player with the ball.
    Anyway, brother, enjoy the big league while we have it ’cause it’s not going to last very long I’m afraid, at least until someone wakes up and says “what’s that frame work and netting structure down that end of the pitch for ?”
    Football games are won by SCORING GOALS – and I’m tempted to say “if you can see the net then .. SHOOT!”
    Do we have to suffer again on Saturday ? I hope not!

  2. Graham T says:

    .. sorry – me again .. but I wanted to make clear that I am a Ninian Stand season-ticket holder and have been for years .. I live in London but travel down to see [almost] all home games spending a whole day getting there and back – so my views on “ball possession” [and the point of that way of playing] come from personal observation of what’s happening on tbe pitch over many years !

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Graham T and his views are a breath of fresh air.
    This “possession football” nonsense is real “Emperor’s Suit of Clothes” stuff. It is modish thinking that has gone on too long.
    People are afraid that if they question it, they will be thought of as Neanderthals.
    They won’t.
    Indeed, I predict that in a few years, a new young coach will arrive and declaim “Eureka! This is what we do. We will get the ball into their third of the field as much as possible, and CONTEST it there. And however excellent their defence is, pressure WILL tell and we will get more chances that way from their errors, than if we patiently play the ball out from the back, and then get caught out by losing control of the ball just outside our own penalty area.”

    Shall I tell you something? That new young coach will get a standing ovation! They will think he has just discovered the wheel.
    I have been saying this for years, and it is to Paul’s great credit that, even though his views run counter, he never attempts to censor me…or even always “have the last word” (as some more insecure bloggers insist on!) I applaud his attitude.

    I would like Ole to have training sessions at The Vale where nobody is allowed to pass backwards – or even square – in their own half.
    Funny how people think Route One so terribly infra dig.
    Oh yes, if Hoddle could ping a ball to land on a sixpence 75 yards away, it was not called Route One then! It was called “artistry”.
    But if a goalie or central defender tries it, it is called HOOFING it. Trust me, a rose by ANY other name WILL smell as sweet!
    And puhlease…do not tell me that a goalkeeper cannot do it! Ever seen Claudio Bravo of Real Sociedad?
    Anyway I have got all that off my chest. (These things are better out than in.) Suffice to say that my heart sank when I read that Ole too subscribes to this “play the ball out from the back” trendy empty-headed stuff. If that is INDEED the case, were Private Fraser still with us he would surely have said: “then we are all DOOMED Captain Tan!”
    Before signing off, dear OBW, let me add some words I have just written an hour ago, on the decision to take a HUGE loss on Cornelius.
    Incredible news.
    Will this be the event to get the Media to start to lose their crazy love affair with Malky and Moody? I hope so.
    Malky should become a political spin doctor, so adept is he in saying things that suit his image. How he loved South Wales and how the fans are the salt of the earth etc.
    It DOES NOT WASH any more, Malky! You have been found out.
    And all the time, experienced Media personalities trot out this anti Vincent Tan rubbish. Gray and Keys the other night were saying “how can you take an owner seriously when he wonders why his goalkeeper never scores!?”.
    Of course, Vincent Tan never said this, nor many of the other outrageous apparent quotes someone (or some party) has put out there in order to make Malky look good and Vincent look bad.
    I am spitting nails at how our owner has been defamed and these two chancers wasted a small fortune of his money.
    Money was wasted on several players, but NOT on John Brayford. He looks a fabulous full back: you just had to go to the Rams fanzine to see how Derby fans lamented his departure when he signed in the summer!
    He was man of the match on his debut for the Blades at the weekend. And interestingly – as I previously said to OBW – the two commentators for TalkSport both said he was on loan from – wait for it – DERBY County.
    What does that tell you?
    It tells me that they would be amazed if they were told that St Malky Mackay had bought him and then decided to take an instant dislike to him and freeze him out. This is the same very pleasant Malky who banned that inoffensive radio reporter Roger Hughes from his press conferences!
    It is about time the TRUTH comes out..
    And maybe with the Andreas Cornelius debacle, the worm has finally turned.
    Dai Woosnam

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning Graham and Dai. Sorry, but I cannot give your messages the attention they deserve because I’ve got a very busy day lined up, so here are my brief replies to the matters you raise.

    Graham
    1. I’m not sure that the desire to go forward and create chances is missing from most of our midfield players, what increasingly concerns me is that they don’t have the ability to create those chances on a regular enough basis.
    2. Agree with your brother about our defenders standing off attackers at times this season – it’s not just something I’ve noticed in City matches either.
    3. I’ve got mixed feelings about us shooting from a long way out – I do think Whittingham (who has such a fine shot from distance) looks to pass on the responsibility these days when he gets into the sort of areas he used to score from, but, at the risk of sounding like one of those Prozone analysts, I can also see the sense in passing the ball on to a colleague who is in a position where the stats say he is more likely to score if you can.

    Dai
    1. I knew what I said about the long ball game would draw a response from you! You make a good point about a sixty yard pass from Glenn Hoddle being a thing of beauty and the same pass played by, say, Ben Turner being called a hoof up the pitch. You know my views about how I like to see football played, but the problems occur when a side sticks slavishly to one method or another. For me, you need to mix things up so your opponents cannot just expect one of the two options from your team – it strikes me that we will need to play in a more direct manner if we are to see the best of Kenwyne Jones mind.
    2. You are like so many of our fans when it comes to the Vincent Tan v Malky Mackay debate in that you see it purely in black and white terms – one of them is completely right and the other completely wrong. Instinctively I’m very much pro Mackay, but I’d be stupid to deny that some of his summer signings have turned out poorly (that’s putting it mildly!) – Mackay and Iain Moody have to shoulder their share of the blame for this, but Tan and, in particular, Simon Lim are responsible as well for not overseeing the situation in the manner you would expect from the owner and CEO of a Premier League club. Why did they,seemingly, only become aware of the claimed overspending a month or so after it happened?

  5. Graham T says:

    Yes – I agree : Jordon Mutch always wants to go forward and create goal-scoring chances .. and Kim also, although he too often takes that extra move himself and loses the ball or is booted off it .. it’s Whitts who often simply passes the ball straight back to the player who’s passed it to him without even looking forward for attacking passing opportunities let alone moving forward – he should be reminded that when he was our top-scorer a couple of seasons ago, not all his goals were penalties!
    And the one person at our club who has failed to do what he should have been doing and who should be shown the door is Simon Lim.

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