Are We Sleepwalking Into Relegation?
There are all kinds of international breaks. The kind where you are annoyed that you are deprived of a weekend of league football, where you are worried that the break will disrupt the good momentum your club had before the break.
There are also the breaks where you hope the manager will use the time to good effect to work out any little (or big) issues on the pitch so that the team comes back from the break with improved form and hopefully better results. There are other breaks, however, where you are just relieved that the misery of watching your club lose every week is halted for one weekend. That is where I am at the moment.
Although there are all sorts of reasons why we have been losing all our matches, it is hard to pinpoint what could turn things around. Okay, we are coming to the end of a run of difficult fixtures. We have a mini injury crisis, we have not found the missing links to fix the Cabaye and Loftus-Cheek shaped holes in our midfield, our strikers are either injured or seem incapable of firing (let alone misfiring) and that little bit of luck that could lead to a goal at critical points in matches is missing.
The frustrating and worrying aspect is that we have not been playing badly at all. At times it seems like we are on the verge of replicating the superb form and results of the last quarter of last season but it just does not seem to be coming together sufficiently to get any results. It is definitely of some comfort that all our recent losses are against top six clubs, have been by the odd goal (or two) and we have been competitive nearly throughout all our matches so far this season.
What is of less comfort is where this is all leading. Logic and past form would suggest that once our mini injury crisis is over, Roy figures out how to get the best out of our squad and perhaps we freshen it up in January with a new signing or two (loan or permanent). Then the sun will shine on us for the second half of the season and we will get back to the form we had at the end of last season.
But what happens if logic and past form go out the window?
Let’s face it, football is all about that sort of thing happening, for better or worse. Unlike last season, Roy has had a full pre-season with the squad and has had ample opportunity to get the first team and formation drilled in what he expects them to do. So far, things are just not clicking sufficiently to generate the results we need for a forty point season. Yes, we have had some bad luck with injuries but I do not think our injury record is meaningfully worse than any other top flight club and the sad reality is, none of the injured players were doing particularly well anyway.
Whilst we have had some excellent January transfer windows in the past, we also have some duds and the noises from Roy have suggested he is not expecting the sack of presents from Father Christmas (aka Santa Steve P) to be bulging this January. Recent press speculation suggests that another loan move for Ruben Loftus-Cheek is not as dead as we all thought even a couple of weeks ago but it still looks a bit of long shot.
Recent transfer windows have definitely been focussed on long term value and if this holds true again it is highly unlikely that we will be signing another Luka or Mama to help rescue our season.
Notwithstanding our dire results, we have been pretty comfortable in a lower mid-table position with the conventional wisdom being that the teams inhabiting the bottom of the table are in fact so poor that it is virtually impossible for any other team to be in serious relegation contention.
In a perverse way, I have actually been happy that all of sudden these “terrible” clubs like Newcastle, Huddersfield and Cardiff City have started to string some results together. Whilst it was not great being in the relegation zone briefly the weekend before the international break (and currently only being out on goal difference) it was a useful warning that any complacent thought that we can just continue to muddle through as we have done so far this season would be pretty foolish.
Hopefully the up-turn in form of clubs around us will not last too long but will concentrate the minds of the players and management so we cannot rely on the perceived lack of quality of other clubs to save us. It is going to be down to us and the sooner we can start to do this, the better.
If I had to put some money on it (not that I will), I think we will be okay this season but I am not fully confident. If we are going to stay up, we cannot assume that other clubs are going to oblige us by laying down and waiting for the inevitable. I hope the round of fixtures before the international break will have put the cat amongst any complacent pigeons within the club and solutions to some of our problems are found.