Well, Edwin, it seems the answer is war is good for moving a football match to a more geographically convenient location. The Europa League tie in Poltava is now a Europa League tie in Kyiv which is more convenient for the squad, that’s for sure. Not for the fans out in Ukraine already but I’m sure UEFA is taking care of them…ahem.
Will the change of venue make any difference to Unai Emery’s team selection? It shouldn’t; there’s no change to the matches against Tottenham and Manchester United. Knocking four hours or whatever off travel times is great but it’s still a long trip.
We know Emery will pick a team he thinks can do the job but options are thin on the ground if he wants to rest players ahead of the weekend. Questions he must wrestle with concern Sead Kolasinac, the centre-backs, as well as key players such as Torreira.
Whichever XI he chooses, they have been “training to win”. Emery’s philosophy is clear: everything for a reason and let the reason be victory. And development, never forget development. Unai is quite hot on development:
The players that play the most are the ones that seem to have the most scope for development. But I’m convinced that they all have the ability to develop – not just because I’m saying it, it’s what any coach would say. That’s our idea.
So, those who flit in and out of the side know why: they aren’t developing enough. Or showing the capacity to develop. It’s a broad term; Mesut Özil needs to develop his fitness I’d venture.
Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think Emery meant ‘pushy-shovey’ physicality when he spoke about the Bournemouth game. It was more hard work and tackling, neither of which are Özil’s strongest suit.
Back to Basics
That Emery chose Granit Xhaka as his example gives a fascinating insight into the thinking behind this season:
In the case of Xhaka, I knew him before. The first thing was to find his best position and characteristics, but he also wants to improve and that’s the first step – that the players want it. It’s not about training for training’s sake. It’s about training to win or to improve. Today, tomorrow and the next day.
I thought Xhaka’s improvement came from having a defensive midfielder alongside him in the centre rather than being tasked with the role himself. That chimes with finding “his best position” but the trigger was definitely Torreira coming into the XI.
Like most of the team, Xhaka’s form improved as they adapted to Emery’s tactics. While Wenger wanted “clever” players to figure out a lot of the game spontaneously, Emery wants those “clever” players to show adaptability.
The tactics to beat Bournemouth are different to the ones needed to win tomorrow and at the weekend. We”ll beat United only if we manage to stay awake; Mourinho is hell-bent on boring everyone into submission. David Moyes has a point.
Bellerin is the other player to most improve this season, I think. His defensive awareness leaves us looking at the opposite side of the pitch with furrowed brows. It’s also down to the support the Spaniard is getting from players ahead of him.
Emery and his coaches instil the need for hard work, to defend from the front which is a huge positive for Bellerin. He’s not left exposed and probably doesn’t feel like he’s the only attacking and defending outlet on the right.
The mark of his improvement came on Sunday where he had the awareness to see the danger on the left as Kolasinac didn’t trackback.
The Good and the Bad
This season remains a work-in-progress and is likely to until May. Training the bad habits out of players is as much a task as learning good ones. A willingness to learn is key for the squad which must be tough for the fringe players.
However, they can’t complain about not being given a chance to impress in training. There are no favourites under the new regime; everyone, regardless of stardom or wage packet, must work their way into Emery’s good graces.
Finally, there is an excellent piece from Ian Wright. A written version of the Rocky/Wrighty documentary some time ago. You can read it here.