- Last Active
Most of our best performances and results under Carvalhal have come when we've pressed the opposition high. The West Ham result in particular was a direct result of this approach. it's not hard to see why this approach bears dividends - because in the likes of the Ayew brothers, Clucas, Carroll and Dyer we have players with the work ethic to close down the opposition. Equally, our midfield lacks the guile needed to unlock opposition defences that are in a solid defensive shape - so we need to create broken play situations by forcing misplaced passes. We look a team when we adopt this approach - as we did at times against Chelsea - and it gives a reason for the crowd to get behind the team.
Will we give it a go against Bournemouth - unlike most away performances under Carvalhal? I can't see anything other than another dispiriting defeat if we don't.
Here's the league table after 27 matches last season
The table is broadly similar to this season's after 27 matches - in terms to the average number of points garnered by teams in the bottom half. The big difference is how much closer things are this season. The gap between the team in 11th and 19th places was 12 points. This season the equivalent gap is just 5 points. There are so many more teams involved in the relegation battle this season. Last season at this stage Watford in 13th place, and 31 points, were 9 points clear of the relegation places, and virtually safe (although they make a pretty good fist of nearly messing things up). This season, Bournemouth, in 10th place and 31 points, are only 5 points clear of the relegation zone. A relegation zone that includes two clubs, in Southampton and Stoke, that shouldn't be there on paper...
Squeaky bum time ahead for a lot of PL team's supporters methinks...
Last season, after our 27th game of the season, we'd just beaten Burnley 3-2, which put us in 16th place on 27 points. We were at an end of an excellent run following Paul Clement's appointment, which included a win over Liverpool.
We now sit in 16th place, on 27 points after 27 games, having just defeated Burnley and previously Liverpool in our run of form following on from the new managerial appointment around the turn of the year. The similarities are uncanny. Not only that - if you look at the 6 fixtures last season that followed on from the 3-2 win over Burnley 5 were against teams in our league and one against a top 6 side. Our forthcoming 6 fixtures likewise comprise 5 games against our fellow strugglers and just the one against a top 6 team.
The big question is can we avoid history repeating itself further? We managed a dismal 1 point from those 6 games last season, and it took a huge turnaround in form at the end of the season (and Hull losing to Sunderland at home) for us to stay up.
I'm confident that we can avoid Clement's mistakes from last season. The hard thing to explain about Clement's tenure is how he managed the good sequences rather than the bad ones. He's obviously a smart, intelligent coach, but also conservatively minded, leading to over-structured performances with little freedom of expression. Perhaps the good runs we had when he first joined and at the end of the season were down to him giving the team a greater freedom to express themselves when our situation was looking desperate. Perhaps it's a mentality to only come out fighting when you're cornered and all seems lost.
The omens for Carvalhal are more positive. Yes, as under Clement, we've been disciplined and organised, but he's injected a positivity and adventure into our play, which he's alluded to in his press conferences. He could do a Clement, and take a "what we have we hold" mentality, but everything points to a continuation of the approach that's reaped dividends to date.
So far this season we've averaged exactly a point a game. Continue that and we'll almost certainly stay up. So the odd win here and there, even if accompanied by twice as many defeats, should get us over the line. I'm sure there will be poor results ahead, and nervous times, but fortune favours the brave. Clement didn't understand that. I bet that Carvalhal does.
It's frustrating that we haven't seen many players break into the first team in recent times, but we do need a sense of perspective. As Colin points out, the academy has only achieved Category One status in the last few years, and it's too early to judge it's performance, given that it could easily take nearly a decade for a youngster entering the younger age groups to start to make appearances in the professional game. What is evident, is year-on-year progress of the age grade sides as measured in league table positions - with both the U23s and 18s in the top half of the highest level leagues available to them.
If there are questions about the talent available to us locally, then perhaps we need to consider ways of broadening the base of the pyramid - by close co-operation with the FAW Trust, Welsh Government and local authorities to professionalise coaching from the earliest ages to as wide a range of kids, from the earliest ages. You only have to look at what has been achieved in Iceland to see what is possible - with mass participation in youth football that many may consider unthinkable here.
If we do go down, the number one priority should funding the academy. Southampton did so even when they went down to League One - and they've reaped the rewards of their long-term thinking. Now that the capital investment of developing the facilities in the first place has been made the net running costs are relatively small - not least because Category One academies receive a sizeable grant (I recall this being around the £1 million a year mark a couple of years ago). So, let's see an end to all this nonsense about scrapping the academy. Short-termism of the worst kind.
Perhaps the most important question of all Cadleigh is whether or not the original shareholders agreement gave the Trust veto powers over any proposed deal. I'm not clear or not whether that was the case. If it is the case then this would go a very long way towards explaining why the Trust was excluded from dealings until a late stage.