MANUEL PELLEGRINI’S preference for playing three attacking midfielders behind a lone striker is a real problem. The gains made from such a line-up are more than outweighed by losses in defensive solidity given the personnel available.
Don’t believe us? Perhaps you should read today’s report from football analytics experts Statsbomb that confirmed all our worst fears.
Essentially, our defensive expected goals or xG (the odds on us conceding) are the worst in the league. Our attacking xG is a bang average tenth. Not only do these statistics make expectations of a top six finish appear fanciful in the extreme, they point, once things settle down, to a possible relegation scrap with only Newcastle possessing a worse combined xG.
At this point it is worth saying that if Sebastien Haller stays fit there is little chance of the club going down – but that is pretty cold comfort given the money spent over the past two seasons.
On a sliding scale of manager Manuel Pellegrini’s attitude to team selection you might term it idealism, stubbornness or arrogance. Whichever you prefer, the fact is he has boxed himself into a corner.
For various reasons (return from injury and unfamiliarity with the Premier League prime among them) our attacking trio are just not firing. They have scored just three times between them in nine games; all from the left foot of Andriy Yarmolenko. Individually none have created more chances than Watford’s much maligned Tom Cleverley.
Given the alacrity with which we give up chances the obvious answer would appear to be replacing one of the attackers and reverting to a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 with strength added in the middle of the park.
Unfortunately, the three players in our squad capable of playing the role are Jack Wilshere, Carlos Sanchez and Robert Snodgrass. The first has neither the defensive capability nor fitness to fulfil the role with Colombian Sanchez one of the worst ever players I’ve seen in the claret and blue. That leaves us with the 32-year-old former winger Snodgrass as the man to shore up the team alongside fellow 32-year old and skipper Mark Noble in the position that traditionally requires the greatest miles run per game.
As much as we might recommend the club buy one or preferably two fit central midfielders who are mobile and can defend as well as pass, we have to ask why Pellegrini and his Director of Football Mario Husillos preferred buying attacker Pablo Fornals (who is yet to realise his potential) over the summer to replacing the wantaway Pedro Obiang with a player that gives the team better value.
If either Noble or fellow deep midfielder Declan Rice cop a bad injury things could get even nastier than one of David Sullivan’s straight-to-DVD films.