Nextpectations Too


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So do I start my latest post apologising for not writing for a while? It’s probably not worth noting my lengthy absence as usual, as if you’re reading this, you’ll most likely not even known I hadn’t written owt for some time. But it feels like a long time (cos it is), and one or two things have happened in between the last time I made the efforts.

Why haven’t I been drawn to write about them?

A multitude of boring reasons.

But why are you bothering to bore us now?

It’s raining and I’m inclined, and some of examples of exaggerated hyperbole from both fans and corners of the media have encouraged me to share my observations of our current situation.

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I always try not being a reactive, trying to see the context, see the long-term strategy, and hopefully understand the steps being taken to achieve those long-term goals. I don’t always manage that, but I’m going to try lay out how I see our current situation as best I can, and I know that some of you will disagree, and question how I’ve come to my conclusions, and wonder why it’s a hap-hazard prose, full of typos, and structured like a drunk blatherer. Well, that’s because I rarely get past a first draft, and haven’t got time to do much other than freestyle my thoughts, for better or worse.

So feel free to be critical over my musing, and comment on why I should or shouldn’t continue posting.

 

Short vs Long term

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Given the overwhelming achievement of last season, it was inevitable that this season was going to be tough ask. With Champions League commitments to manage, and dependent on who we could bring into the team in the summer transfer window, a plan would need to be devised to achieve the club’s priorities.

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When we realised that our Champions League group draw would potentially allow us to get to the next stage, it’s clear to me that this became our number one priority. In order to make this possibility a reality, sacrifices would need to be made. With tough away games just prior to each of the Group games something had to give. Those games in isolation would be difficult tasks if we were not in Europe. I understand some fans frustration that it shouldn’t matter and we should be giving every game 100%, but it’s not possible.

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There are fans who will feel that we shouldn’t be concerned about Europe and should be focussing on the Premier League. I guess that’s going to happen, but whether that’s down to expectation because of last year, or whether it’s just a lack of interest in Europe, or maybe even a feeling that that we won’t succeed in Europe and we should be challenging in the Prem, cos that’s home, I don’t know.

I think that we’ll come good in the Prem, but the owners will want success and for us to go as far as we can in a competition we are strangers to, and as we’ve already achieved the impossible in the Prem, then we’ve ticked that box conclusively for the moment. Whilst we are in Europe, we might as well take it seriously.

 

Stranger Things – The Up Side to the Down

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The start of the season we were ill-prepared. A dreadful, energy sapping world tour of meaningless games against tough opposition started us off on the wrong foot. Our fitness levels were woeful, and we started off games behind where other teams began. Our sharpness and match-fitness was markedly poor, this was going to take at least a month or so to put right. Given that one of our strengths last season was our ability to out run, and maintain, even up our gears in the final third of the game, when the opposition became tired and lethargic; we simply lacked this weapon in our arsenal.

 

Circumstantial Adaptation

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Let’s address this. Without Kante’s ability to intercept, harass and support the CBs on a monumental scale, allowing Okazaki to meet somewhere further up the pitch with the same graft, this enabled our attackers to do their thing, and open up defences, and gave us the capability to feed a hungry and tireless Vardy with through balls, long balls, and/or Mahrez the freedom to utilise his pace, excellent touch, superb vision, and one or two step overs, with him cutting in from the wing scaring the shit of defenders worried of taking him down in the box. With some of these efforts bearing fruitful goals.

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He was our engine, and he fuelled the component parts in simple terms.

As we didn’t bring in the necessary replacement for Kante (I think we did look, but were unsuccessful in the summer) to keep that style of play was something that would prove difficult to manage until the next window.

We’ve resorted to a 4-4-2, however our midfield depth at the moment is a weakness as we essentially have lost Matty James, who has not recovered from a bad injury, and has fallen into the shadows, and since he has not got out on loan, something tells me that it has been worse than it has been revealed.

Speaking of injuries, Mendy, who came in with the hope of at least of supporting the CBs, and on paper had a good record of passing, hasn’t made his mark due to what now appears to be a glass ankle.

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This leaves us inevitably light, and for those shouting that we should be playing a 4-5-1, not the 4-4-2 in our away games, we simply do not have the players to be able to do this. Ranieri isn’t doing this because he thinks that’s our strongest formation. We simply can’t.

 

Back to the Front

 

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We’ve seemingly changed our style of marking at the back. We’ve gone from hands on, close marking to zonal. We’ve suffered from the change in rules about grappling, pulling, and holding in the box. Whilst this can be argued to affect all teams, this is Huth and Morgan’s bedrock style, and given their age, and our CB backups’ style of marking is all about physicality and strength. Given the ages of our CBs this isn’t something that is easily addressable. We clearly are struggling with this aspect, and it’s affecting us desperately when we try to defend corners and free kicks. Every team under the sun should now be aware of this, and be looking to take advantage.

The issue we have is that should be revert back to our old tried and tested ways is that we risk giving away penalties, and potential suspensions, which we cannot afford given our already discussed European challenge.

As we look at our midfield weaknesses, it would seem that we aren’t putting the miles in like we did last year. Without the ever-ready bunny hunting down the opposition, the two midfielders both Drinkwater and Amartey are having to do the hard-work to make up for this. Well they aren’t doing it say some! Again, can’t afford to burn out the two midfielders we have available. That goes for all our players.

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King has earned a new contract but is he the midfielder that defends or the midfield that links up to feed the strikers? I like him, but I am struggling to see him play more than a part-time role, as he isn’t the player to come on and change a game, but more of a player to come on and be an extra body in the midfield to maintain a lead. Whilst he has on occasion come on when we were down and push for the winner, he can be inconsistent and doesn’t feel like the player we need in the 1st team, as his passing can be erratic, and his tackling is simply not good enough.

I’ve noted that even though we are now all mostly match-fit, we are not pressing hard, and chasing everyone down, closing players like last year. This seems to me to be a strategic effort to reserve energies. Certainly against the tough away opposition we’ve seemed lethargic, but I see it as deliberate. In our European games, we’ve played to a degree a much better pressing, and energetic style of play. I also believe that once we’ve got this difficult number of tough away games out of the way, followed by European encounters, we will then push on a gear or two. Fans who are saying that we look like we are not bothered are burnt out or are suggesting the passion is gone (new bumper contracts?) perhaps don’t want to believe that this is part of plan.

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I always felt that when there were rumours abound about Slimani, that it was key that his transfer might tempt Mahrez to stay for that little bit longer. Whether or not this actually was one of the reasons he has, I don’t think I’ll actually know. But something tells me it might have.

So far, Slimani has proven his worth and quality. Statistically he has hit the ground running, and certainly he looks the part in our European adventure.

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Vardy isn’t making the impact he did last year, as he’s not getting the service he used to, and teams are prepared for him. Slimani in theory should be complimenting him, holding up the ball, and offering an extra bit of quality that Ulloa had offered.

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I have read people questioning Musa’s cost and why he’s not regularly making an impact or playing in the Premier League, and asking whether he is a waste of money, but again he hasn’t looked out of place in Europe and has that experience.

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We have not had years upon years of pumping money into our 1st team and second team. We’ve invested this year sure, but it’s only the beginning, and it’ll need to be incremental over time. Last year’s success, has rocketed our plans forward by at least 3 or 4 years, and adjusting to this is going to be difficult, as we need to both take advantage of this, but also remain pragmatic about how we build upon this for the long-term without destroying the ethos we’ve built to achieve that success.

 

Love You Long Time

The season is a long one. We were never ever going to defend the title. A 10th (or perhaps higher) place finish with a strong European campaign is obviously our club’s goal. Ranieri keeps dropped in remarks about Europe, specifically the Europa League. He’s no fool. Getting out of the group stages should be considered a fantastic achievement, something a number of so called top four UK clubs have failed to do over the last few years. Should we drop out of the Champions League and again do well in the Europa, this should be considered massive progress for a club of our stature, and this should help us with our long-term aims, strengthening us financially and building a solid base for our reputation, and future.

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I believe that we will be back to our pressing best, closing down, and harassing the opposition in January/February. Whilst that feels a million months away, and there will be plenty of games where I will inevitability feel disappointed, I think there is a strategy to what seems like a tactical madness. But I still believe that there is logic and forethought behind the way we are playing.

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It doesn’t excuse individual errors or bad days on the pitch, but we’ve yet to see ourselves at full throttle. I think we will, and when it happens the naysayers will disappear.

 

Every Cloud has a Silva Lining?

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So we were linked with Silva from Sporting Lisbon, a highly rated midfielder who has an eye for goal. Is he the player that we’re missing? He’s played with Slimani, and no doubt helped him achieve the success he had at Sporting CP. Would he help Slimani and Vardy?I don’t know the definitive answer to that question, but I think it was more than a rumour this summer, and think that they wouldn’t sell to us, as they didn’t have a replacement. The January window could well see us bringing him in, and with Mendy, er back on the mendy, then we should then have the midfield to push on both in Europe and in the Prem. It could be the missing piece of the jigsaw.

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AFCON

With the loss of Slimani and Mahrez, and Amartey for the AFCON in January, we need an additional central midfielder, and perhaps another winger for good measure, though Musa will still be with us, and with hope he will have settled and replace Mahrez, though my instinct tells me that we might dip in the market should our young Pole-wonder, Kapustka, not be ready to step up.

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So there you have my ramblings, you’ll probably disagree with some of my assessments, but happy to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave some feedback. And before you bother to comment, if it’s going to be, ‘So you think we’re being deliberately shit as a tactic.’ No I don’t, is the answer.

I’ll be looking at the future prospects, and want to ramble about year to come in the next post. So I hope that this isn’t in another year’s time…

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