“You must be happy?”
The number of times I was asked that question at work on Monday morning!
Then there were Arsenal fans who thanked me for doing them a favour by beating United. “Me”? Yes it’s as if I’ve suddenly taken on the appearance of Luis Suarez or Dirk Kuyt over the weekend!
Of course we had to do it as clearly Arsenal weren’t good enough to beat Sunderland? However, one should not mock as it is a point that they could easily fire back at us, namely the charge of inconsistency.
If you look at the top four clubs we more than hold our own in term of points gained in matches against them. The full max against Chelsea, a win against the Mancs and a draw against Arsenal. If there was mini league between us and the four we would be second behind the Mancs.
Fine stuff but add to into the mix defeats by Blackpool, home and away, Blackburn, West Ham, Wolves, Stoke and two draws with Wigan and an entirely different picture emerges. That’s twenty two points dropped! I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to suggest that we should beat these sort of clubs however, if we had played at say of 75% of the way we played on Sunday I reckon we would have picked up half the points we dropped. Add those eleven points to our current total and we would be sitting third in the Premiership.
So many people attribute our demise to lack of strength in depth or lack of investment in the squad however as we can beat Chelsea and The Mancs yet not do the business against so called lesser clubs do those excuses always add up? Behind the scenes issues are a factor but surely the players have also proved through results like Sunday that part of our problem must also be down to the way we are organised, the way we play and quiet simply if the players are up for it! Perhaps football is more of a mind game then we believe?
Anyway, I’m being negative. There were of course many positives to take from Sunday which had been bubbling under for some time. For too long we’ve been accused of being a two man team namely overly reliant on Fernando Torres for goals and Steven Gerrard for seemingly everything else. However, Gerrard was virtually anonymous on Sunday whilst others took the limelight. Stevie seemed happy to take a back seat in midfield whilst Moreiles forced the pace. Up front the absence of Torres does not appear have been felt. Kuyt and Suarez continue to offer different options which will of course increase once Andy Carroll finds his feet or perhaps, more pertinently, his head? So whilst Torres continues to fire blanks for his new club we now appear to have a lot more than just “Plan A” or “Plan Fernando”
Of course this is nothing if it doesn’t translate itself to form on the pitch and the latest opportunity is Braga in the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup, sorry Europa League. What a stupid name it isn’t even recognised by my spell checker!
I found it a bit of an effort to get too motivated for this competition in the group stages however, for this tie, interest for many will be heightened by the prospect of another Andy Carroll appearance as he slowly gets back to fitness. Our head of sports medicine Peter Brukner gave an interesting insight into his recovery process
“He spent the first couple of weeks in the gym and on the treatment table. Then we were able to get him outside and start him running. Gradually we introduced him to ball drills. He had full training last week and had his 16 minutes on Sunday. Unless anything goes wrong between now and Thursday, we’ll expect him to play for a longer period of time”
The other big news surrounding this game is the absence of Gerrard who doesn’t even travel with the team, suggesting that his recent injury isn’t fully recovered or that, as we don’t play until a week today (in the second leg), he will be given an opportunity to rest? With Suarez cup tied presumably we still feel the squad is capably of getting a result? Braga sit sixth in the Portuguese league having lost three of their ten home games so perhaps we can be fairly confident of getting something?
Prediction? I really have no idea about Braga and of course we will probably be fielding a weaker version of Sunday’s team. To be honest I’d be more than happy with another repeat of the draw we achieved in Prague however, hopefully we might exert ourselves just a tad more, when it comes to the football, than we did in that game? 1-1