One criticism often levelled at Roberto Martinez is the ‘fact’ he doesn’t ‘change things up’ enough. Based on results, I’m often inclined to agree with them but like him or not –and that indeed seems to be central to both sides of this argument–, Our Bob does show at least a degree of flexibility. He will, for example, go three or four up front should the need arise; we’ve seen Conor Sammon and Shaun Maloney get 15-20 minutes worth of action at the end of a contest to try and grab a late goal. He is not afraid of switching to three at the back, as evidenced against Tottenham after Steve Gohouri received a red card, in an attempt to make some sort of real impact. As in, scoring goals.
We’ve seen during his tenure that Roberto will make proper, attacking substitutions and tactical changes with mixed success. Sometimes they work, as evidenced in ‘that game‘ with Arsenal. More often that not, though, we’re left stranded at the back and looking like Manchester United in those final 10 minutes against Man City yesterday. In other words, completely open and inviting the opposition to score goals for fun like at White Hart Lane or (all to often) at Old Trafford.
It isn’t the all-or-nothing, last-gasp stampedes forward I’m talking of, however. It’s the staple starting lineups we see at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon (or 1.30 on a Sunday, or 7.45 on a Tuesday, or… whatever). Should we bite the bullet and revert to the classical 4-4-2 with two centre forwards as many are clamouring for us to? Should we bypass the midfield keepball and go straight to the attackers? Well, one need look no further than Saturday afternoon at St James Park for evidence, when both tactics were employed at one point or other with the same XI that graced the pitch at kickoff. Yes.
I’ve briefly discussed the merits of having a long ball system which sees Gary Caldwell aim straight for Hugo Rodallega, and how the Newcastle game is perhaps the most we’ve relied upon that so far this season. Yet at the same time, the patient buildup play is still there and it is a mixture of the two, I think, that led to what Latics did well. I’ll admit the extent to which Latics employed the long pass strategy was way over the top (in more ways than one…) but it still remains that our best chances came when Diame, Moses, Crusat and Rodders ran at the defence. Many chances were created, and in this sense it’s a marked improvement over what we’ve seen.
The main problem on Saturday was keeping up the same sort of pressure for 90 minutes. We seemed to fizzle out as the game neared half time, our attacking threat reduced to the odd break from defence which failed due to lack of bodies joining the counter-attack. This all boils down to one thing, in my opinion, and that’s having another goalscorer in your ranks.
I guess you can do what you like elsewhere, but if there’s the luxury of a Charles N’Zogbia to get you out of a pickle and add a touch of class to proceedings, you’ve got an effective method of escape. Victor Moses, great as he is, has not yet become a scorer of goals in the same way as Charlie. This is not a criticism, as he is still a young man and has a successful career ahead of him, and for what it’s worth he’s one of the better Latics players at the moment. Albert Crusat’s zippiness on the wing is heartening, and if we see more of this he may be just the man to relieve some of that pressure that’s fallen on Vic’s shoulders. Should this occur, then we could easily see some success from the 4-3-3(ish) setup we saw this weekend.
If things do not work out and Bert proves less effective in the long run, then my I venture the following: drop him back to midfield and put Di Santo and Rodallega up front to play off each other. From what I’ve seen of this so far, it’s gotta be better than lumping the ball up to an unsupported lone front man and hoping the three defenders make a mistake. Though he hasn’t scored for a few games (and that’s through no real fault of his own) Di Santo is in the best form of his Premier League career, and if Rodders can practice keeping his shots down we might begin to taste some much-needed success.
What would you change? Is Bobby missing a game-winning strategy or is the current lineup the best possible configuration in your eyes?