Roll up, roll up, it’s time for something new. With the benefit of some quiet time to mindfully reflect, True Faith has picked out a quintet of things we learned from Sunday’s victory over Fulham. We think it brings closure to our match coverage nicely. First in the chair is Stephen Ord, who grapples with several selection conundrums.
- Small squad size
Despite us being newly rich and looking for additions, the team performance is probably two windows ahead of development expectations. So what can we do about that? The likes of Jamal Lewis, Ryan Fraser, Javier Manquillo – who have all been passable in previous times – seem to be likely to be moved on, but without fees in return it would further inhibit the profitability and sustainability that the club is aiming to improve. In addition, the midfield now appears ultra thin, but do we want a lower calibre player who we regret and need to replace in twelve months?
The Fulham game showed that we still need to improve our first 16 or 17. It feels like at the moment Eddie has 14 or so he rates and the others are ‘break glass in emergency.’
- Reliance on Bruno?
Fulham also showed us a way to play when important players are unavailable: Bruno being removed for the second half saw us try and play a different way. It wasn’t free flowing football, but the introduction of Alexander Isak to play a different formation meant we were able to move the ball quicker. It also felt for large parts of the first half that the squad were still keen to give the ball to Bruno to make something happen. His removal meant that the team needed to find a different way to win, and they did. With him almost certainly missing Palace away, will the manager change formation to give different personnel an opportunity?
- Penalty antics
Clubs are watching for ways to impact penalty takers and their confidence or concentration over the time spent before it was taken. Fulham tried a tactic of moving the ball between two players who aren’t going to take the penalty, meaning Aleksandar Mitrović didn’t spend three minutes or so with the ball under his arm at the Leazes End. The tactic appeared to keep him calm, although it didn’t stop him from slipping!
That slip did seem to be deliberately linked to the actions of Dan Burn, who spent a long time on the penalty spot seemingly intent on standing directly over it whilst his team mates argued the case with the referee. Needless to say if he did, it had the necessary impact.
- Maxi and Willock
The most common substitution that I have seen this season to bring Maxi into the game has been at the expense of Joe Willock. It was nice to see them play together for 25 minutes of the second half. However, what it showed is that both want to play into the same space and that some fluency is missing from Willock’s play when he is moved to the right. We also lose the burgeoning relationship developing between him and Joelinton.
To fix this we have two options. One is not play them together and see if someone else can play on that side. The other, which seems more sensible, is to consider whether Willock could play as a second striker as he did to great effect when he first arrived. Isak did that on Sunday and Willock we know is more than capable.
- Isak and Wilson – together or alone?
The manager has been adamant that the two can play together but so far we haven’t had much opportunity to see it. Isak made his return against Sheff Wed where rightly Callum Wilson wasn’t risked, and the Leicester game saw a straight swap. So first thoughts are that they can play together when they aren’t playing as a direct two, but it appears Isak will be the one to adapt his position. The idea of playing Isak as a withdrawn nine at times is good because players are scared of him when he’s running through, and when he’s got the ball at his feet.
However we need to consider which is the starter longer term in that system. Do we see Isak playing across the front three or centrally? He made some very strong runs from left side to central positions, and yes I’m a big fan so biased, but it appears to me that we might lose something from what he has shown so far if he is to be seen as versatile.