FORMATION DANCING AND GEORGE BUSH 2
Mickey Blue Eyes
There are few trivial pursuits more surreal, mildly fascinating and outright funny than listening to footy fans waxing inelegant about the game. At times it is the equivalent of stumble-bum Texas Bush 2 and his air of uncertainty when he read a speech in English that included difficult sentences like, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Proletarian common sense in the proverb is swamped by giggling as you wonder how he managed to inhale haha sherbet and talk afterwards. At such times you exercise your patience, smile politely and quietly ream a new orifice in the more fatuous notions. It helps to pass the time and can even allow you a brief glimpse of the more byzantine areas of the human mind.
Take this question of football team formations. Now, the world and his wife know we have no effective strikers. We haven't had for nigh on two years. And without new money we are unlikely to acquire one; so we hope one of the kids come through. In the meantime David Moyes has to work with the clay he has, and survive. He also has to oversee a transition from older players to new younger players and all the trials that entails. So far, so ordinary...and not much different to how you have to deal with your life. You might wish for a twenty million pounds yacht but you aren't going to get one. You have neither money nor wherewithal. You get on as best you can, which is also common sense. Why, then, do some people talk like utter idiots when it comes to "attacking football" with our present squad? Reasonably informed fans know perfectly well Louis Saha is, sadly, a busted flush, Apostolos Vellios is still learning, Denis Stracqualursi is probably an unsuccessful gamble and Vic Anichebe is injured. Each may spring an occasional surprise, but likely that's all it will be. Even Tim Cahill's high energy game is in its final year or so and will only provide an occasional goal, if that. Meanwhile, the team's football up to the final third of the pitch is as good as anyone's in the league. That it goes no further is truly maddening and irritating, but it is also inevitable in present circumstances. It is like trying to hammer home a nail with a marshmallow hammer head: dispassionate science tells you it won't happen.
However, some fans are not scientific or dispassionate. Hence some of the mind boggling nonsense you get about us playing a 4-4-2 or even 4-3-3 formation, the equivalent of loony numerology or religious superstition. You get the feeling that some people think making a mantra of the numbers will improve matters. Such mantras are, of course, complete bollocks. Start out with either of those formations from our present squad and we would be slaughtered. In fact Moyesy tried 4-4-2 several times last season and it was a disaster. Playing it as an established formation from the start is something open only to a great team with a similar bench of substitutes, and we have neither. We have a good team with intriguing possibilities and some really promising youngsters, all of it in transition. That's the reality, and all the ale-house spluttering in the world isn't going to change it.
So does Moyesy make the best of what he has?........Answer: yes he does, occasional aberration aside. No manager is free of mistakes anymore than you are. It's his job to keep them to the minimum, and by and large Moyesy does it very well from a relatively limited choice. In that respect you only had to compare bench substitutes for the League Cup game V Chelsea. Fact is, team formations are fluid, not fixed. Every manager varies them throughout a game depending on the way things are going and how individuals are performing. Generally, a formation adapts to suit circumstances. If you manage to get on top you press the advantage as best you can. It follows if you haven't got the players you can hardly force circumstances unless you have a reasonable measure of good luck.
During a match your best chance for improvement comes when you make substitutions. In our case this has to be husbanded as carefully as a doctor's prescription. So what about Moyesy's efforts on that front? I checked it out for all fifteen games we have played, League and League Cup. In every game all three subs have been used, a total of forty-five substitutions. In only two games has Moyesy sent on outright defenders, Chelsea at home and Newcastle away. Nine substitutions have been made as like-for-like, striker-for-striker. (The only slight complication in this is Tim Cahill's role, which I have defined as "striker.") Virtually all the other substitutions have been like-for-like midfielder for midfielder, though naturally there has also been some team shuffling involved. Plainly, these are not the actions of a "defensive" manager, particularly one with limited resources.
The reality is, like it or not, every manager outside Chelsea, the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal has to think first of staying in the Premier League. The economic consequences of relegation are too dire for anything else, never mind the threat to his job and CV. This ensures a cautious approach, of reducing the chances for mistakes by playing "keep ball." In our case this is wildly irritating because we are rather good at it up to the enemy penalty area. Then nothing. And of course at home that leaves us open to quick counter attack even by the most modestly talented opposition. We can all think of examples where a team has been out-possessed, out-territoried and sometimes out-played......but have walked away with a draw or a win. At times like that you want to lash your Bovril into mid-air. Or worse.
No, Moyesy isn't "defensive." As I write, we have scored fifteen league goals; six teams have scored less, two have scored the same, two teams have scored only one more, and two of the teams who have scored more are in the bottom three. This shows how narrow the margins are and how well David Moyes manages both his limited resources and the necessary transition from older to younger players. That is the reality. It has a neat way of pricking fantasy bubbles. But don't expect pie-in-the-sky fantasists to understand that.