Matthew Philpotts with our usual reflection on lessons learned from the weekend’s events on Barrack Road.
1. Lascelles goes all Rolls Royce on us
The list of Eddie’s retread projects is lengthy and familiar. Joelinton, Longstaff, Murphy, and Miggy are all players we thought would have been replaced by upgrades by now. On the basis of Wednesday night we can add Dummett and Krafth to that list too. But can there be a bigger, more surprising transformation than that of the club captain?
Not that Lascelles has ever been anything but a fierce competitor and a a combative defender, especially in the air. But I’m sure not even his nearest and dearest would have said that calmness in possession and composed distribution were his strengths. More to the point his teammates clearly didn’t think so either and would studiously avoid giving him the ball.
But yesterday he was a man reborn. Neat and assured in possession, smart and simple in his decision-making. In fact, in the first half I was about to turn to the bloke next to me and comment as much, but didn’t want to jinx him. I needn’t have worried. It’s amazing what training and good coaching can achieve. Now if only Jeff Hendrick had stayed, just think what he might have become…
2. Bruno in danger of becoming a liability
After struggling to reach his usual high standards at the beginning of the season, Bruno’s recent displays have been encouraging. In a team based on pace and athleticism, Bruno remains unique, irreplaceable for his quality on the ball. No-one else can take possession on the half turn like he can. No-one else retains the ball like he does. No-one else has his vision and range of passing.
But off the ball, Bruno’s ill discipline seems certain to catch up with him sooner rather than later. As he accumulated another yellow card and a suspension, he was lucky to avoid a red card for an ugly forearm to the head – not the first time this season that he’s done exactly that. Meanwhile, referees have smartened up to his tendency to collapse under the merest hint of a challenge to try and win cheap free kicks. Eddie, have a word!
3. Arteta plays the Fergie card
Admittedly, it was hardly the cleanest goal you’ll ever see. With the naked eye, I was convinced the ball was out, even if the World Cup taught us how misleading that perspective can be. Replays certainly seemed to suggest Big Joe might have taken his physicality a bit far in his challenge. As for offside, no idea. But a disgrace?
Disgraceful was Havertz’s flying lunge on Longstaff, his leading boot easily a foot off the ground. Definitely not in control and definitely endangering an opponent. If I was an Arsenal fan I might also think it mildly disgraceful that my championship chasing team managed only one shot on target and not a single chance of note against a team running on fumes.
But, no, that’s not what anyone’s talking about after Arteta’s full-blown Fergie tribute act, which of course was dutifully lapped up by the media. Not only that, but the club then followed that up with an official statement. Really? As with Klopp and the other ESL clubs, that’s another calculated action, part of the constant pressure by which they seek to create a more favourable officiating climate for themselves.
4. Eddie goes rogue
Pre-match in the pub, we discussed Eddie’s wonderful sensible unshakeable tactical rigidity. Not for him the wackier selection decisions advocated on social media. He knows what gets from Burn and he trusts him to do his job. Meanwhile, Tripps is most assuredly a right back. No chance of Eddie doing anything crazy like moving his captain to the left to accommodate Tino, our new star, we opined sagely over one of the Wylam Brewery’s finest.
But when BDB’s frantic mid-game pill-popping was still not enough to overcome his back pain, it was time for Eddie to survey the usual full back riches on his bench. Nope, not a like-for-like with Dummett, nor a call to our future first-choice left back, goal hero Hall. Instead, it was Tino and an enforced switch of sides for Trippier. A sign of things to come?
5. A luxury we can afford
Last week at Wolves, wor Callum proved his priceless worth again. The improvised hooked effort for the first was pure goalscoring hunger at its finest. And then there was never any prospect of his thirteenth penalty for United being an unlucky one. His 100% record remains in tact as he hunts down second place on our all-time goalscoring list. Like Bruno, he is unique and irreplaceable in our squad.
And yet, our two matches this week have shown (dons helmet) that we might just be a better team without him. Through no fault of his own, he’s not able to replicate the energy and intensity out of possession that define our game – that’s just not the kind of player he is, especially with those 31-year-old legs. With Isak or Gordon up top, the pace and pressure on the opposition defence is unremitting; our threat on the break can come from anywhere.
Can we play with 12 players at Dortmund?