Having attended the defeat in Sheffield on Saturday, former Blue Pat Nevin is certain the players have learned lessons and will be aiming to pile the pressure on our pursuers with the right result against Norwich tonight…
I am not sure anyone guessed the score correctly at Bramall Lane on Saturday, not even the sharpest Blade in the box could have seen that one coming. To be fair, they beat high flying Wolves the week before and a 3-1 win against Tottenham should have been considered a warning as well, but even so it was still a shock.As is usual, the Blues had more of the possession – 76 per cent - more shots and more corners but I am sure Frank will not be keen to dazzle anyone with those statistics. At the stadium, the most impressive things on show were the home side’s organisation and their incredible work rate.Impressive though it was, Chris Wilder’s men cannot do that every single week. A couple of 3-0 defeats themselves against Manchester United and Newcastle tells another story. Every team has off days and in the middle of such a strenuous run of games, the odd one will catch the team out. We had a bad day at the office and we turned up looking less than sprightly from the first minute. It looked jaded with limited sharpness throughout.
It partially answers the question why the opposition looked fitter and stronger; all teams don’t hit the proverbial wall at the same time. It only takes two or three to be below par at this level for it to affect everyone else around and we had at least that number, maybe more.Does this mean we have run out of gas? Is the rest of the season going to be a shattered slog? I am not convinced. For a kick-off, Frank has a few players waiting in the wings ready to take their chance, especially in the midfield area. Tonight’s team sheet will make interesting reading not just regarding those chosen but the system used.The 4-3-3 has served us well most of the time but against the 3-5-2 at Sheffield, we got closed out in the creative midfield area. Frank spotted this and changed to 3-4-3 before eventually matching up with something closer to United’s 3-5-2, but by then the deal was done.It did however show that the boss was willing to learn and change quickly, in fact his post-match comments underlined he had learned a good deal in those 90 minutes, not just about systems but about personnel in difficult circumstances. I will not be surprised if he opts for something closer to a 4-2-3-1 tonight, but all these numbers are secondary. If we perform well enough as individuals then we will get the three points however we shape up.
For all the thinking Frank and his staff will be doing, I do not think there will be any panic. Tonight is a perfect opportunity to right a few wrongs and I suspect the already relegated Norwich City will have to be at their very best to hold out against what I expect will be an onslaught from the first minute.They are a team that tries to play open football anyway and they no longer have anything to lose which might suit us down to the ground. Those packed defences are still a problem for us just now. Yes, we know Norwich can finally play without fear of losing, but that doesn’t work to the advantage of relegated teams as often as people suggest.Frank will have already moved on from our weekend defeat, without ignoring the lessons, but something else was very noticeable actually being at the game. Unusually many of the players were slipping and sliding like they were playing on a Christmas ice rink. Right from the first minute Tammy Abraham, Willian, Ross Barkley and even Christian Pulisic were tumbling each time they tried to change direction quickly. Andreas Christensen went over on his ankle in the worst spot when he was under very limited pressure. It looked very weird and even though you might have spotted it a few times watching on the TV, at the game it was happening regularly off camera as well. Why was this the case?
Before the game the pitch was saturated by the sprinkler system. Actually calling it sprinkler seems odd, they were hosing out water like an entire brigade of fire engines. The same happened at half-time and it negatively affected the players whose games rely on turning at speed. I am not saying it was a deliberate ploy by the home side, but even if it was, it is well within the rules anyway. The pitch was still very playable, but the rock hard surface just underneath the saturated top few centimetres meant when you dug in to turn, the studs just slipped away below you. It is something the modern player doesn’t have to deal with as often as those of us from a different era had to.
Most weeks they now play on a perfect carpet, even when there has been a bit of rain, but this looked very different and maybe it is something else that has to be learned.Back in my time, the only pitch that sometimes played like that was Anfield and I had special extra thin metal studs that could break through that hard crust. I sent away for those studs that were only made in Italy at the time and I am pretty sure no one else in the English game had access to them.My entire game was based on twisting and turning at pace and if I couldn’t do that, I had to adapt my entire game. At half-time this week I wanted to run down to the dressing and have a word with some of the lads, but I was in the amber zone and the red zone with the players inside was understandably well off limits in these careful times.It was definitely not an excuse for the scoreline, but next time I suspect we will be better prepared in the footwear area as well as being ready for their tactics. Tonight will hopefully be nothing like that and as ever, if we win the pressure will be piled straight back on Leicester City and Manchester United. The games are running out fast and no one can afford any more slip ups, so best get the right boots with the right studs on then!
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