West Bromwich Albion 0 - Leicester City 3
Slightly strange build-up and it still seems unreal - like preseason with the transfer window quite a while away from being closed.
I felt a bit optimistic which also felt strange given we’ve arguably (not really) begun the season following promotion without improving the first 11.
The optimism waned a bit having seen the starting lineup but I thought we’d be 4-5-1 with Furlong providing cover against Barnes and raiding forward. When I saw it was a genuine 3 with O’Shea on the left I was concerned - Hegazi is simply a better player there.
We actually started brightly and flummoxed Leicester with the formation and big switches of play and in the first 25 we had the better of it with our trinity of signings creating opportunities and Furlong raiding well.
Eventually the Foxes worked us out and began playing through us, with midfield runners (our major weakness last season) giving us problems. They should’ve taken the lead but hit shots straight at the keeper. To our credit we managed to take the sting out of them and managed the last 15 to half time out quite well, even creating a few moments. Enough there to be happy with.
2nd half Leicester upped the gears but it took 3 errors to enable their goal - cheaply losing possession, not tracking a runner, 2 players beaten in the air at the back post.
The reaction was more disappointing. We deflated and I’d say every sub made us weaker with the possible exception of Harper. It felt to me like we didn’t have a centre back or midfielder capable of carrying the ball or keeping it so we couldn’t get any supply into Pereira or Grady and when we did they gave it away cheaply. Once Furlong was withdrawn and Barnes was 1v1 with O’Shea we were ripped to pieces that side and both pens came from there. We were soundly beaten.
Too early to get down about. Given we have no benefactor and in this toughest of seasons for so many reasons, survival rests on other clubs under achieving as much as what we do. If we get relegated without being disgraced and having put together the nucleus of a young squad who’re willing to give it another year and be stronger next time, it wouldn’t be the worst outcome. Certainly not worth slating the players or comparing ourselves to anyone else in financial terms.
I thought the subs were all in the 4-5 territory. It felt like a lost cause for them all.
I really hope we pick a really strong team on Wednesday- it should be a better workout than training.
If Slav needed a reminder of the gulf between the Championship and the Premier league it didn't take long for him to get it. We moved the ball around nicely for 25 minutes, without creating any real chances, but once Leicester shifted out of neutral, there was only one team in it.
The way we chased shadows in the second half must be a real worry for Slav. We completely ran out of gas. The inability of the subs to make the slightest impact demonstrates what a thin squad the manager has to work with. We all know we need at least one proven goalscorer, but I'm not sure that even a Harry Kane could have done much with the poor service.
Leicester are a good side, but if we fade as badly as that on a regular basis, we are in trouble. Perhaps it's unfair to pick out one player for criticism, but Sawyers is just too slow for the premier league. It was his loss of possession in midfield that led to their first goal. Bartley then gave away a cheap penalty and their third goal was a very iffy call. But we didn't deserve anything out of that game and in the end we were lucky it wasn't five or six.
I don't understand the philosophy of Guochan Lai. He spent 180 million to buy the club, but his asset is worthless if we don't stay up. We're not asking him to spend 100 million on players, but he should be doing a lot more to support Slavan Bilic.
Championship Squad 0 v Leicester 3
I know there are 3 weeks left of the transfer window, which is crucial, because basically we still only have a Championship Squad throughout.
If you think about it, we still only have a Squad that just about got promoted, and in a weak Championship Season.
If the Club and/or Slav think otherwise they are either deluded or don't care enough.
The main positive today, is that there are still 3 weeks left of the window. And the result against a slightly under-strength Leicester, made it clear to any deluded or rose-tinted glass people at the Club, we need a lot more PL Standard Players just to beat Derby's 11 point total.
Eyes down: looking for a full house
Presumably, this season's Premier League Managers Association's welcome pack contained, in the wider interests of "developing the English game", a bingo card of formations, upon which each manager is then required to show that he has given his charges a chance to experience the various tactical awarenesses needed to operate in each layout, and Bilic simply chose to tick off his Harford-esque 5-4-1 box in the opening game?
How else can we explain the deployment of three centre-backs so as to marshal the pace threat of Vardy (were they going to operate in some kind of relay format?) and the positioning of our most creative player out on the right wing, ahead of all the other right wing specialists we already have in the squad?
At least Robinson up top suggested some degree of a plan that built on all the good things we'd seen last season, but how five at the back and two holding midfield players through the centre, who always seemed to be more interested in protecting the back five than creating anything, was ever supposed to see him brought him into the game took a bit of the credibility away from that.
It would be nice to think that Harvey Barnes felt obliged to do us a few favours for helping him develop during his time with us, in missing the first-half chances he did, although I doubt that, during that time with us, he was afforded as much space by second-tier opposition as our two holding midfield players seemed happy to give him.
The opening goal was awful, with Gibbs at fault twice, first is heading ball back towards the centre of the edge of the box rather than out on the wings (unless of course there was a plan to always head the ball towards an area congested with our three centre backs and two holding midfield players) and then failing to jump against the player he's tracked into the six-yard-box (unless of course there was plan to leave all contesting for headers in congested areas to our three centre backs and two holding midfield players).
Clearly though, despite going a goal down, Bilic wasn't going to risk not being able to mark the 541 box on his card by changing formations too soon, and so, on the hour, merely did a straight swap of Robinson for the newly re-capped international striking prowess of HRK, although how continuing with five at the back and two holding midfield players through the centre, who always seemed to be more interested in protecting the back five than creating anything, was ever supposed to see HRK brought him into the game only served to highlight just how poor the formation made us look, and perform.
The two penalties seemed a bit soft, although correct, but also ask the question as to why, when we were behind, the opposition were in our box anyway? After all, surely our three centre back and two holding midfield players would have been looking to ensure that the Leicester forwards got crowded out if we gave them the ball, rather than keeping it for ourselves and trying to score, or creating a goal-scoring chance towards, an equaliser.
Considering where Leicester finished last season, I actually thought that 3-0 flattered them, although when you're away from home and up against nine men behind the ball, maybe there's more to their performance than met this eye.
I do hope that there is a 4231 box on Slaven's bingo card, so that we can have a go at playing in the way that helped us get back into this division.
By the way, did I remember to pose the question as to how five at the back and two holding midfield players through the centre, who always seemed to more interested in protecting the back five than creating anything, was supposed to help a squad overcome its inability to score all that many goals?
And I forgot to say that second set of substitutions, that did at least appear to try and change the formation, made it all seem even more chaotic in that even more players then looked as though they weren't sure where they were supposed to be, or be running - so maybe they'd only trained for a 541 for the whole of the off-season?
It was a great first 20 minutes.... and then it all went Leicester's way.
The high tempo pushing game worked for a while but then we stopped and Leicester took a grip. Leeds seemed to manage it for the full 90 against Liverpool, but we only managed 20 mins although it was a very hot day yesterday. Pereira was absent on the right and the Gibbs / Diangana link up which has been so good previously didn't come off on the day. Furlong did well getting forward for the diagonal balls but that appeared our best outlet. Sawyers looked off the pace and he got robbed after turning to face his own goal which led to us conceding - he has to improve on this performance to succeed at this level. O'Shea was turned inside out by Barnes in the second half - we all know what Barnes is capable of, but this league is a real step up. It really is a shame we lost Ferguson as he would have been great looking after Barnes. Whilst Robinson tried hard and played fairly well, we are lacking a centre forward and some business in this area is needed quickly. I also feel we lacked the soft feet and forward link that Krovinovic offers and that deal also needs concluding. My only other comment would be on bringing Edwards on instead of Grosicki. I am not sure Edwards is quite up to this level yet - he could do with a run in the Championship for a full season in my opinion.
We also need to learn Premier League gamesmanship. Bartley has to stop the off the ball shirt pulling. He got away with it in the Championship and needs to learn that with better Refs and VAR you don't. Vardy went down easy as soon as felt the hand and shirt tug. The second penalty was where a player had lost control of the ball heading out of the box and was already halfway to the ground when contact was made. The Leicester player left a trailing leg knowing the player was coming. We need to learn that any contact in the penalty area is a penalty - a shift change from the Championship. This is obviously part of training in the Premier League to gain penalties and we need to quickly learn and do the same. Darnell Furlong was fouled just outside the box with a goal scoring opportunity at the other end and a split second delay could of achieved another result. I hate it, but it's part of the game. I also noticed Ajayi conceded a free kick where the player stopped suddenly to prevent him getting a head to the ball and because Ajayi was in his back the foul was given. We again need to learn this art in both attack and and how to defend this as set pieces into our box will cause further threat. I remember when we went down and we played Bolton first game in the Championship. Our players were on the floor appealing for fouls all afternoon that were never awarded and we had to adapt quickly to different refereeing. We now need to adapt quickly to the Premier League.
We'll no doubt add a couple of faces and we'll learn much from this match. We have the best manager we have ever had, so I'm keeping the faith for now, although if it continues without improvement, it will be a long season. Our battles will be with the other 10 clubs who will be at the bottom of the table. I don't think Leicester will be one of them.
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