For the third successive game we named an unchanged team with Barkley at the sharp end of the midfield triangle with Osman and Fellaini behind him in a 4-2-3-1. Cardiff also named an unchanged team from last week’s win against Man City in a more rigid 4-5-1 with Campbell as the lone forward.
For the fourth game on the spin a similar dynamic unfolded with the Blues having huge possession control of the game – with 63% of the ball – just below our average of 64% which is the highest in the division.
As with the other games for large periods it resembled an attack v defence situation with Cardiff holding a rigid defensive shape, seemingly happy for us to have the ball with the onus being on us pulling them out of position to fashion chances.
In terms of chance creation, we created 9 chances from open play and yielded 13 shots, which is fewer than our average shots per game figure of 18.3 – the second highest in the division.
Our control of the game meant we restricted our opponents to few openings with Cardiff fashioning just 2 chances from open play and 4 shots. The 6.3 shots we have on average conceded from our first 3 games is the second fewest in the division behind Spurs which is down on last season’s figure.
The above data shows we are controlling games, being prolific in shooting and are frugal at the back, however we have failed to win any of the games against sides who will more than likely finish in the lower reaches of the table. So clearly we are doing something wrong.
The problem as I see it is twofold; the speed of moving the ball from midfield to attack is too slow and when chances are created we simply don’t have the personnel to finish things.
This isn’t really a new problem.
Looking at the passing tempo first, a look at yesterday’s touches per pass showed we averaged 1.38 touches per pass. This is in fact quicker than the 1.42 touches per pass from Moyes last game in charge against Chelsea but a fair bit slower than the 1.26 that Barcelona – the benchmark quick passing tempo side – recorded in their last game against Athletico Madrid.
If one incident summed this up better than any other it was in the first half with Kevin Mirallas.
Cardiff’s emphasis was on a rigid defensive shape which they delivered admirably. Taking advantage of counter attacks offered us the best chance of compromising this shape. With their heavy defensive artillery up field, we broke with a 3 on 3 but rather than push the ball out of his feet and drive into the space or distribute to a colleague he took a plethora of touches and by the time we got near the box Cardiff had 10 men in their defensive zone and the chance was gone.
The below table shows how quickly the outfield players distributed with Mirallas clearly the slowest. I guess the problem is that players like Fellaini and Mirallas were brought to the club because they are effective players who can impact games, but they are not the kind of players whose attributes extend to one touch fluid passing through the middle of the park like Martinez wants.
Mirallas was equally crud in front of the opposition goal – in fact he’s been rubbish in all 3 games this season – and he spurned a couple of decent openings in either half particularly with his head as Cardiff appeared pre occupied with picking up Fellaini.
Ross Barkley played a lovely through pass for him in the second half which rather than finish first time he took too many touches and the opportunity was gone. Barkley had earlier played a similar threaded ball for Jelavic too but the Croatian again toiled. Our number seven is simply beyond help now with just one deflected goal to his name in the last 22 hours of football. When he receives the ball its often painful to watch and he can appear incredibly awkward – often asking more questions than he gives answers – a bit like Jamie Carragher on Sky.
Yes, Kone’s finishing in midweek was equally laughable and he isn’t the answer to the 15-20 a season conundrum either – his own lack of anticipation was laid bare in the final minute of the game when Deulofeu drilled a cross along the Cardiff goal line with the Ivorian ball watching. However, if you had the choice of the 2 of them I’d go with Kone just on the basis he is much better outside the box as a linkman and getting the ball out of his feet quickly, certainly more so than the laborious Jelavic.
Three games into the new regime and we are still looking for our first win of the campaign, albeit we are still undefeated.
On the balance of play we deserved the three points but our profligacy in front of goal was again our un-doing. This was aided and abetted by some comedy officiating from a referee who has already been demoted once this season for his antics.
For their part Cardiff had good shape throughout and despite being on the back foot for the most part achieved their objective of eeking out a point.
Off the field, the next 38 hours or so will have a big say in how the campaign takes shape from here. If the worst case scenario unfolds and Fellaini / Baines both join Moyes evil cabal than we have big problems in the short term.
The £40m should be more than enough to find long terms solutions to fill the void of a midfielder who only turns up every other game and a brilliant if ageing fullback. However, in the short term as Baines and Fellaini both showed in their first seasons at the club it takes time to embed and hit top form and thus we could be in a situation where it gets worse on the pitch before it gets better. But let’s hope that’s not the case readers.
The fact that midfield players Barry and McCarthy supposedly have their bags packed and are ready to move once Fellaini signs would indicate that this deal will happen if we get around £25m. Equally so, the fact that no left back is on the club’s radar and the fact that Oviedo physically is not ready would make you think that even Everton with their previous for crumbling under the pressure of big financial offers wouldn’t let him go.