I'm not here to write to you about the scoreline from the game last night; for those who want that type of information please read other blogs or the official PTFC news release.
If you saw the game you know who scored and when - instead what I'd like to do is provide some thoughts on what I saw with respect to this quote by Gavin Wilkinson, from that news release.
General thoughts on the result: Gavin Wilkinson “I suppose every game presents a new learning opportunity. I didn’t learn anything about the club as such. It was about just individuals and moments within the game … And there’s no way that we should be walking out of here having given up five goals at home. It’s just not right. We scored three goals, three decent goals, and I think we’ve had some key players not play as well as they could. Individual errors, we got stretched, the lines between the back line and the midfield allowed Donovan and Keane to drop off and pick up the ball and cause us tremendous problems. It’s something that we covered, but again, I’ll take the blame for this one. There’s been a lot happening within the last week. I think at times we kept the ball well, I think we moved the ball well, I think we had individuals that had amazing games. But key lapses cost us the game.”
So bottom line Gavin Wilkinson takes the blame for this one. Good call from this newly appointed head coach; the leader of this team has to and should, rightly so, take the heat off his players for the overall result. That is the job of the head coach; when a team wins you call out great play by specific players, when a team loses you call out yourself as the head coach.
What isn't said, and rightly so from the head coach, is what individual errors occurred. I'm not sure there is value in me doing that either - it would be like flogging a dead horse; if you saw the game you saw individual examples to call out. These guys are professionals and they know what needs to get done; I am sure there will be video sessions conducted to do just that.
So in considering what to write about What Happened versus my What to Watch For here's what I offer as this team continues to transition and mature under the leadership of Gavin Wilkinson:
System of play (4-2-3-1) (modified 4-5-1 with two central midfielders who defend and control the middle and one who attacks but also defends the middle). Second time in as many games this basic 4-5-1 system of play was selected to start the game; though the previous game it was identified as a (4-3-3) it still operated as a standard 4-5-1 only Mwanga was alone up top last game and Boyd took that role this game.
Lineup Perkins, Kimura, Mosquera, Horst, Smith, Jewsbury, Palmer, Nagbe, Alexander, Alhassan, and Boyd. (notables missing included Chara - red card suspension, and Songo'o - not dressed recovering from knee injury)
To the observations...
1) Crackin set-pieces lead to two goals; I'm not sure how much longer we can go to the well for that set-piece free kick outside the box but it was two-for-two in goal scoring tonight and again works from our strengths - Boyd has power is his leg and both those balls traveled fast; really fast and really hard. We pay Kris Boyd some big dollars and he did what he is supposed to do. Great power strikes - having successful "start-ups" continues to be a strength of this team.
2) The pure strengths of Darlington Nagbe, for this team, at this time in his career, rest with his attacking talent and his ability to generate and create space in the attacking third of the pitch. Great touches in open space and good vision in working forward; in another year, with more experience he slots home that breakaway goal - he just lacked that last little touch to either get a penalty for being brought down or slotting it home as the keeper committed himself. Thierry Henry started his career as an out-and-out striker and he has matured, in time, into a great central attacking midfielder. BTW, Great vision and execution by Perkins to put Nagbe in that position to score.
3) As the second half unfolded we found Nagbe playing as the partner to Kris Boyd as Richards was brought on to substitute for Lovel Palmer. IMHO, this was a very good tactical move, and when considering LAG only scored one goal in the second half it provided us something to build on. Most probably saw, but in case you missed it, Alexander then shifted into a commanding central midfield role and Richards played wide left.
4) As just noted; Eric Alexander, who not only assisted KAH in setting up that early goal scoring cross, took visual and physical command of the center of the pitch. Again, in working towards developing further strengths on this team and a weakness in not having someone step up as a midfield general I would offer that there is a significant amount to build from in seeing what I saw with Eric Alexander. He had a great second half and should only get stronger and better with that type of increased responsibility!
5) We were stretched in the defensive third; needless to say I could call out a number of specifics and names and where we were pulled out of shape - bottom line here is we didn't think and play defense first as a team. LAG put us in untenable positions where we either lacked concentration or found ourselves having the wrong type person defending in the wrong position (place) or no person defending in the most critical space on the pitch (above and atop the 18 yard box). I think I've said the before in another game... We need to get better at rotating and with three central midfielders in a 4-5-1 the rotations in the defending third must get better.
6) Tactically, a very good adjustment was made in the second half by Gavin Wilkinson. There is goodness in being able to adjust between halves. We switched from a regressive and dysfunctional 4-5-1 to a more effective box-to-box 4-4-2; this is the second game running where we have tried a 4-5-1 and not been very successful; something to build from when watching video replays. I imagine when Songo'o and Chara return I can see this team running a more traditional box-to-box 4-4-2. KAH, Songo'o, Alexander and Chara should make for a very strong midfield that is also very good at working to get behind the ball.
7) For some this may have value; for others maybe not - but for me it was very interesting to see that Kimura played a couple of in-swinging crosses from the right side; I had no idea that he was two-footed; this adds an additional small tactical attacking advantage that we didn't have with Jewsbury as our right back.
8) Nothing like the talents of Beckham, Donovan and Keane to make any back-four look bad... there could have been more goals in this game and we were lucky Jimenez missed his sitter early on. I think GW is correct; we do have good defenders but against those three we needed great defending. We didn't get it and we need to build better communication and interaction on the left side - if Smith pushes forward we can't just leave David Horst on his own to slide in and fill that fullback slot alone (especially in a 1-v-1 versus Donovan - I don't believe there is any center-back in MLS that could stop Donovan 1-v-1 that far out wide left.) In the second half we did better but Richards is young and with maturity he will be quicker to respond in a reverse overlap. Great ball movement, quick touches and a perfectly placed cross to Keane had a lot to do with how that goal was scored.
9) I did notice improved ball movement throughout this game; more pronounced in the second half (with Alexander taking the helm) than the first.
There were two particular occasions in the first half where I saw what I would call a 'flood left' (the 12th minute and the 42nd minute).
For me, that is a formation name I define as "creating a ball possession position" that dominates one side of the pitch in an effort to control and create wide open space on the other side of the pitch.
We didn't quite get there as we lost the ball on both occasions but Kimura was open and unmarked atop and right of the 18 yard box... if we do 'get there' what is needed is a 'quick switch' to open up a crossing opportunity with as many as three to four players attacking the six yard box on the left as the cross comes in from the right.
10) It was good to get a look at Richards; these young guys need playing time to learn and grow...
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