Got back from the tour yesterday evening and I’ve been reflecting on it this morning, so here are my thoughts.
It was the first time for me in this area of Spain and I was highly impressed. There’s talk that the club will be going again next summer – if they do, try and go, it’s a lovely part of the world.
Dave Williams and I stayed in Gerona, with it’s beautiful medieval city centre, and drove down to the rugged coast for the games at Palamos, and into wine country in the foothills of the Pyrenees for the Peralada match. There’s nothing like spending a day on the beach admiring the scenery and taking in a beer or three at the beach bar, before packing up the parasol and walking two hundred metres to the ground to have a meal in the local snack bar full of touring Jacks, then hop across the road to watch a match! Just like being at the Vetch again.
We managed a sweaty afternoon in a baking Barcelona before flying home, just managing to take in the ‘Ramblas’ and the Sagrada Familia cathedral, but not unfortunately the Nou Camp, before having to jet off home.
The games we saw were highly contrasting, the clash with Espanyol on the Friday night obviously being the highlight and the sternest test in football terms. I’m happy to report that our first half team looked more than comfortable against such exaulted opposition and really should have gone in ahead at half time. The ref bottled out of showing their defender a red card when he brought down Gomez from behind on the edge of the area when the Swans man was through on goal and about to pull the trigger. The second half was a different story, when class really told and some indifferent defending let us down.
The other two games we saw were one-sided affairs against clearly inferior opposition, and it was very much a case of how much were we going to win by, although Palamos were no slouches and several times embarrassed us at the back.
So, rather than report on individual matches, here are my thoughts on the players overall:
Doris – he was a spectator against Peralada, was busier against Palamos and looked a bit shakey against Espanyol. His handling of high balls is sometimes not the best, and really needs a good number two keeper to push him.
Bessone – my first time seeing him and I was impressed. Competent in the basics of defending, strong in the tackle and a devastating burst of speed up the wing when he chooses to use it. Another Rangel in the making, and maybe bad news for Marcos Painter.
Painter – fairly competent and made no serious errors, although disturbingly caught out more than once by balls slotted inside him for the opposition winger to run on to.
Serran – another potential diamond, big and strong, very good leap, kept things simple in defence.
Williams – looked accomplished in everything he did, pretty vocal with his teammates which shows he’s growing in confidence, will probably get the nod ahead of Serran at first.
Lawrence – Big Den is just Big Den; did nothing wrong, comfortable on the ball, but has one or two habits which annoy me. One is, he wins defensive headers but always manages to head up tamely rather than back the way it came, does he have a funny shaped forehead? Also, when passing the ball along the back line to keep possession, he always manages to hit it just behind the fullback rather than just in front of him, destroying all the momentum of the movement.
Monk – looked accomplished and a natural leader, very forceful in the tackle, won almost all challenges he made in the air and on the ground. First name on the teamsheet. I was surprised to read he didn’t have a good game aginst Barca B.
Tate – fairly competent but didn’t really shine, sometimes caught out by speed in the Espanyol game, showed nothing in attack in the other games. I suspect he will not play a large part in the season once Rangel is back.
Collins – first time I’ve seen him play. He’s fit and strong but disappointingly lacks speed of thought, even against inferior opposition. He doesn’t see the pass to get his team moving forward and often takes the safe backwards option. Can you teach that football intelligence? I don’t think so.
Midfield selection is going to be very interesting this season; Roberto has so many options.
Orlandi – probably the revelation of the tour. Looks much stronger than last season, and his wing play was oozing class. Tricky and forceful, whipping in crosses and with a rifle shot, he is Andy Robinson’s (who?) natural replacement.
Butler – also showed a lot of class, even against the stars of Espanyol, with his typical twisting, turning runs after taking the ball and pushing it past his full-back all in one movement. Just has the tendency to disappear from games occasionally if he’s not geting the service.
Gomez – a cultured midfielder, very comfortable on the ball whether taking it forward himself and shooting, or raking a forty yard diagonal pass to the winger. Maybe Glenn Hoddle isn’t the exact comparison, but a player in that mould. Definite class.
Britton – was slow to get going and only really came alive in the third game. Found it difficult to make big inroads going forward and I’m beginning to question the conventional wisdom that the Championship will be a good stage for Leon’s skills. Another who needs to up his game in the face of new competition.
Allen – looked way out of his depth against Espanyol but was more lively and much more involved against the lesser teams, as you’d expect. Time is on his side, but he needs to keep improving if he is to break into the first team.
Bodde – the Evil Genius was his typical self, class one minute, sloppy the next, and with a nasty streak which is going to get him into trouble this season. I predict more red cards to come, but also plenty of sublime moments.
Pratley – exasperating is how I’d describe Prats. He has the ability and a non-stop engine, but he so often runs and runs without getting anywhere, and often takes the backwards option instead of showing a bit of adventure to put himself in dangerous positions in the last third. Can’t remeber seeing him shoot once in three games.
KOL – was surprisingly neat and tidy in midfield, keeping it simple and keeping the ball moving with short, effective passes. One classic mis-timed tackle when he kicked an unappreciative Spaniard four foot into the air in the centre circle, but apart from that did nothing wrong.
OTJ – along with Orlandi, the stand out player for me on tour. I’ve had my doubts about him in the past, but he looks as if he really has got over his injury woes and is coming into his true form at last. He is ahead of Pratters in the midfield ball winner stakes for me at present. He kept the passing simple and effective, and when he stuck those long legs out, he often retrieved a lost ball or broke up an opposition attack very effectively. Add to that his obvious aerial ability, and I’m hopeful he is going to make a big impact this season.
Gower – hmmmmm….not impressed so far, I’m sorry to say. Looked like the pace was too much for him against Espanyol, and was caught blowing once or twice. Looked better against Peralalda and showed some useful footwork, but of course he had more time against the amateurs. Early days for him, but he needs to up his game.
Macdonald – another who seems to be coming on leaps and bounds. A real trier who gives 100% in every game. He chased down lost causes, bust a gut to get the ball back if he lost it, and was very strong on the ball and in the tackle.
Finally, the strikers.
Bond – anonymous and did nothing to suggest he’s on the verge of breaking through, although it was very difficult for him to impress as lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation.
Pintado – was looking forward to seeing this guy for the first time, but again he did nothing to suggest he is special. In fairness, he was quicker than I expected and looks strong and brave. Early days for him.
Bussy – still improving, always wholehearted in chasing down defenders, not great at holding the ball up, it’s not his natural game, but seems to have the knack of getting into scoring positions and putting the ball in the back of the net. Number two choice behind Scotland at present, but only on Jason’s exploits last season.
Brandy – only saw him for ten minutes but he looked lively despite the close attention of a Palamos defender who spent most of his time riding him piggyback style and who should have been booked. I was impressed with the Man U man’s toughness – he refused to relinquish the ball or get riled despite being knocked over, often getting to his feet again and coming away with it.
Morrison – not on long enough for me to form an opinion.
So, a lot of food for thought, and no doubt the Barca B game I missed provided a lot more. Based on what I saw, here’s how I’d start against Charlton, in a 4-5-1 formation, assuming Scotland’s fit and Rangel isn’t.
Tate, Monk, Williams, Bessone.
Butler, Gomez, Bodde, OTJ, Orlandi.
Subs: pick any five from Painter,Serran, Pratley, Britton, Macdonald, Gower, Pintado, Brandy. I wouldn’t like to!
I’m not happy having to rely on Tatey in that line-up, especially after his mad first minute against Oldham on the opening day of last season, but what option do we have, unless we play Painter out of position?
I’d have Butler on the right wing, even if he prefers the left, before Gower. And as I hinted above, OTJ has done enough for me to start before Pratters. Can we/dare we have no sub goalie on the bench, and have the luxury of an extra outfield player instead, relying on Tatey between the sticks if the worst happens?
No doubt Roberto will surprise us all by lining the team up nothing like that! I think he may be a bit more conservative and stick with the tried and tested players until he’s sure about the new Spanish boys, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lawrence, Britton and Gower starting on August 9th.
Just a quick thank you to Dave Williams and all the other travelling Jacks who made the tour experience so special – Richard and Alison, Dai Smith and family, Len Margetson and mates, Dafydd and the ‘seals’, the list goes on. Great to meet up with all those friends, old and new. Here’s looking forward to a memorable season.