I went into the opening game of the season not particularly full of confidence. Big summer changes often create challenges early on in the season, and recent experiences at Griffin Park (see 20 February 2018) made me nervous.
The first 15 minutes didn’t allay any of these fears. Brentford hit the woodwork three times and we looked void of ideas. The home fans were buzzing until Ped Head struck on 18 minutes.
We just about held on to the 1-0 lead until half time, but no way, I thought, could we do it for another 45.
In the second half, it was Brentford who seemed void of ideas. They had three quarters of the possession and 15 shots compared to our one across the 90 minutes. But what good is having the ball for all that time if you’re just passing it along the back?
It reminded me of previous managers that we’ve had who have tried to get us to play a different style of football. Transitioning from determined, defensive and dogged football to a tiki-taka style overnight, and then bragging about how much more possession we had after a defeat in post-match interviews.
Possession for the sake of it is pointless if you’re unable to break a team down. Blues stood their ground in the second half, frustrated the home fans when Brentford could do nothing but pass the ball from side to side, and looked sufficiently organised to get the job done.
As the inevitably-lengthy stoppage time dragged on, Brentford hoofed a few long balls into the box, but to no avail. Amazingly, we’ve started the season with three points away from home for the first time in 20 years, but what did we learn?
The new style won’t come overnight
As frustrated as I was when Monk left, Pep Clotet has been saying all the right things since taking over. When other managers have wanted us to play better football, they a) tried to do it too quickly, b) tried to do it with the wrong players and poor recruitment, and c) ignored what type of club we are.
After Saturday, Pep said that the players “put in that effort that we have all seen last season, as a working-class club, that’s what we want from our players, we want them to work hard.”
I’ll be honest, aside from the formation, it was difficult to see how that performance differed at all from most of last season. The second half was pure Monk, but if the Board want us to transition, that is exactly how we need to do it.
Stick to what we’re good at, and use recruitment to transition slowly, which brings me on to the next lesson from the game.
Crowley can play
I can’t remember the last player we had who looks so comfortable on the ball. On Dan Crowley’s debut, he never panicked, always looked up, and tried to make the incisive pass, whilst never forgoing his defensive duties. These are key attributes that many of our other players don’t possess.
Many were concerned that, coming from the Dutch league, he may struggle with the physicality of the Championship. He more than held his own, and I’m really looking forward to watching him play this season.
Two other players made their competitive debuts for Blues – Seddon and Sunjic. Seddon really impressed me, and I think he’ll more than come into his own this season as his experience increases. Sunjic only came on with 20 minutes to go, and slotted in nicely for a backs-against-the-wall finale, so I can’t wait for him to have more game time to see his pinging in action.
Strikers and pace are needed
Jukey did what Jukey does, and he did it well. But with Vassell seemingly out of favour, it’s clear that further recruitment is needed up top. Mahgoma did well, frustrating the home fans with some time-wasting antics, but one or two replacements for Che in the attacking third are needed, and preferably with pace.
I thought Mrabti had a bit of speed about him, but when he knocked the ball around a Brentford defender, he was beaten for pace with ease.
The unfortunately-named Villalba seems to be on the way in. A CAM/left winger, another player who is good on the ball would be a welcome addition.
The striker saga of Puscas and Gimenez rumbles on, but it’s clear that strikers, preferably ones with pace, are needed. If we could sign all three players before the Thursday transfer deadline, I think our window could be considered a success.
Pep then has the fantastic problem, and one that a Blues manager hasn’t had in a long time, of trying to fit all these great players into a starting 11, whilst also trying to give our exciting younger players some minutes.
Portsmouth v Blues
This is where a bigger squad comes in handy. In all honesty, I haven’t been that bothered about a cup run in recent seasons. Although videos of Barry Ferguson’s slap on Laurent Koscielny in the League Cup final resurfacing with the Arsenal defender’s imminent departure has got me questioning this!
But game time is needed for some of our players. Our starting line up against Portsmouth in the League Cup tonight could be:
Harding, Dean, Roberts, Clarke-Salter, Pederson
The fact that 3/5 defenders started against Brentford shows that we may also need more defensive recruits, but eight changes and still a decent looking teams shows recruitment is heading in the right direction.
Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC