Yesterday’s confirmation that Rob Holding misses the remainder of the season came as no surprise; it’s just distinctly unwelcome. Unai Emery’s decision on how to compensate – Lichtsteiner in a trio or four at the back – was already made, I’m sure. Other clubs routinely play a full-back in a back three; why should we be any different?
There are other issues on his mind as well. Mesut Özil returned to training yesterday. Is he ready to return or is it too soon for his ‘backache’? Mind you, if Bournemouth were too physical for him, there’s no hope of him appearing today. No disrespect to Huddersfield intended but they aren’t shrinking violets.
After two intense fixtures in three days, there is bound to be some rotation of the side. Aaron Ramsey misses out due to a twisted ankle which opens up the attacking midfield slot. I wonder if Emil Smith Rowe is the candidate? Although it is the perfect opportunity for the youngster, Emery has other options. This, however, chimes with the oft-stated intention of developing the academy players into first XI regulars.
Emery’s first order of business is the defence. “We are,” he said to press, “conceding more goals than we want.” More goals through errors than we want is the unspoken text. Oh, and offside, divey-cheaty goals not spotted by the officials. We have to compensate for that by not giving goals away cheaply. Yes Sead, I’m looking at you.
That, in part, comes through understanding what is happening. The goal at Old Trafford reminded me of Birmingham’s winner at Wembley in 2011. Poor communication and no-one taking charge of the situation. In similar circumstances, I’m sure Kolasinac will put his boot through the ball. Or Leno will ‘total’ everyone and win a free-kick.
The Bits Before The Pieces
With a rotated side, no-one will be surprised if serve up a disjointed performance. A winning one, but bits and pieces. We just hope the good bits are enough to take three points before we fall to pieces.
On a positive note, Granit Xhaka returns from suspension to resume his partnership with Lucas Torreira. That’s pivotal to Emery’s demand we concede fewer goals. While we score plenty and are the second-highest scoring team in the Premier League, we’ve conceded as many as Crystal Palace and Newcastle.
With that kind of record, we’re going to need Aubameyang and Lacazette to stay injury-free. Which may well see the former rested today, or at the very least dropping to the bench with a view to not being used at all. Should Unai Emery rest him completely and give Eddie Nketiah a chance? I suspect that will happen on Thursday night.
Emery noted that while wonder who is playing, he is constructing tweaks to the way we are playing:
Football happens very quickly, with positive things, negative things, but you need to learn. And you need to create a new victory, a new way every day. We want to create a stronger idea with good positioning on the pitch with the ball, good combinations between us so we can dominate the match.
And therein is the rub. We’re a work-in-progress with more attention needed at the back than in attack. However, there’s a balance required on the pitch and this is the biggest task Unai Emery faces: finding the routines which keep us scoring but conceding fewer.
The XI tasked with that today will be something like:
Leno; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Sokratis; Bellerin, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Lacazette
If it’s a back four, Lichtsteiner out, Smith Rowe into the midfield in a 4-2-3-1.
Is That It?
Whatever the case, it’s a must-win match with City and Chelsea facing each other this afternoon. I don’t expect anything other than a Sarri state of affairs from the Russians so we can put pressure on them with three points and stealing their place in the top four.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.