I’d say injuries have certainly played a big part in our failure this season but we can’t just blame injuries. Pardew’s tactics, a lack of investment in the summer and the extra games we have had to play are all factors as well as our incredible bad luck with injuries.
The tactics Pardew has played for large parts of the season are absolutely baffling. He’s the only manager I’ve seen who can set up a team to have the defensive line too high but the rest of the team too deep. Teams with pace can easily exploit high defensive lines and they have done all season. You could perhaps understand the high defensive line if the rest of the team was playing high up the pitch as well and we were playing an attacking brand of football but we aren’t. Cisse is totally isolated up front by himself, he gets next to no support and we certainly don’t play attacking football. The wide player in Pardew’s 4-2-3-1 or his 4-3-3 are too deep, they have to be up there supporting Cisse but they aren’t. In reality Pardew plays a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-5-1 but he just tries to pass them off as more attacking formations when clearly they aren’t. We play a defensive formation, we play with negative and defensive tactics, we often revert to hoof ball and yet Pardew still persists with his suicidal high defensive line which totally contradicts the rest of his defensive tactics.
The only time we don’t play a high defensive line is when we manage to nick a goal and take the lead or if we are playing for a 0-0 draw from the outset. Then Pardew normally drops the defensive line back too deep so we are playing on the edge of our box, the midfield and wide players are dropped back further as well and Cisse is left even more isolated upfront, so we have next to no chance of getting another goal and we are inviting pressure on ourselves which more often than not will eventually result in conceding.
Its just crazy beyond belief that any manager would ever set a team up like this. Why would you have your centre forward, who is a poacher, totally isolated by himself without any support? Then what’s even more stupid is we hoof long balls up to him. He’s not the big physical striker who’ll win everything in the air and even if he does there is no one there making runs beyond him to knock the ball on to because he’s isolated.
For me that is our main factor for the failure this season but other factors have also played a part.
After Pardew’s tactics, formations and desire to play people out of position I’d say the next biggest factor was our lack of investment last summer. That is linked in with the injury factor and the extra games we’ve had to play. We qualified for Europe at the end of last season, that meant we would have to play extra games this season. That alone should have been enough of a reason to invest in squad depth but we didn’t for whatever reason.
However for me what is more alarming is the lack of ambition. If I was making the decision I would look at it and say “Wait a minute, we’ve just finished 5th, we are in a European competition now. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to move the club up to the next level, perhaps get a good run in Europe and challenge for the top 4. Yes it’s going to cost, but now is the perfect time as the club is more attractive to bigger names on the back of last season and by being in Europe.”
I would have made the decision to take the club to the next level, up our transfer budget, up our wage budget etc. I know the where is the money going to come from argument would come into it but if you succeed in taking the club forward to the next level, getting into the top 4, getting to the Champions League and maybe even winning a domestic cup, then you are going to get that extra revenue. Personally I believe you have to invest to see growth and improvement and that it was the perfect time to invest.
In fairness to Ashley and Llambias they haven’t been in that position before and it’s a learning curve for them, I think Ashley is slowly starting to realise that you can’t run a football club like you run a normal business, you have to take greater risks especially when it comes to investing in the team. I don’t for one minute blame them for being more cautious, they run the club incredibly well, our transfer policy is great etc, but hopefully they will have learnt from that and if we ever get into a scenario where we are knocking on the door of the top 4 again they will learn from this and do what is required.
As for the extra Europa League games I think they had an impact as well. Part of it is down to not having enough quality in depth throughout the squad which goes back to the point about investing in the summer. If we had the signings we made in January from the start of the season would things have been different? I’d say yes they would have been, we’d be higher up the league table and we wouldn’t have had a relegation battle in my opinion but we’ll never know that for sure.
I think a big part of this is down to a psychological problem which stems from Pardew though. Pardew says after near enough every game that we can’t play well in games 3 days apart. Nonsense, I’m sorry but it is. Michael Laudrup said it’s all in the mind, he said at Getafe they had the UEFA cup with a very small squad and they managed to do well in that and in the league despite the extra games. He says he thinks Swansea will do well with a small squad and extra games next year as you just have to make sure the players you do have are fit enough to play 2 games in 4 days. Pardew just tells everyone it’s impossible, you can’t play 2 games in 4 days and the players start to believe it when really it’s all in their minds.
Look at Chelsea this year, the record for the most games in a season and yet they have improved their league position from last year and they are in another European final. Obviously they have a bigger and better squad and a manager known for getting the best out of a team on a squad rotation basis, but you never hear them complain about it, they just get on with it. Personally I think the Europa League has had a negative effect on our league campaign but not for the reasons Pardew would have you believe.
The final factor for our disastrous season is injuries. We can blame them to a certain extent and they have had a big impact, not as big an impact as the tactics but still a big impact. We must surely have the record for the most injuries in a season, we’ve had loads, nearly every player has had at least one and most have had multiple. It can’t just be down to bad luck though, no one is that unlucky.
Did we not get the players fit enough pre season? Did we over work the players pre season? Do we over work the players in training? Do we not have the correct after match recovery procedures in place? Are our doctors and physios up to the job? Why have we had such bad luck with the injuries? I remember a while back it was said that we were investigating the site of the training ground as over the years we’d had an incredible record with injuries and Shearer when he was made manager asked for the training pitches to be tested. I don’t know if that has anything to do with our current injury problems, but there has to be some explanation for it. Nobody is this unlucky.
This summer along with signings of players I’d like to see us sign a few sports scientists who can work with the players to help look into why they pick up the massive amounts of injuries. I think we should be looking into the technology advancements in the sports science side of things. If we can get the right people in I think it will have a big, positive impact. As well as sports scientists I’d want some sports psychologists in as well, we really could do with them and again I think it would be for the better and massively benefit the squad if we hired some. My summer shopping list would include a couple of sports psychologists , a team of sports scientists, an investment in sports science technology, a new coach to focus on set pieces, a new coach to focus on the technical side of the game and of course some new players to add quality and depth to the squad and suitable replacements for players who are leaving. Possibly a new manager as well but I’m still undecided on that.
Back to how much we can blame injuries though. Pardew saying we’ve got X, Y and Z player injured after every match as an excuse is getting boring now, but I see where he is coming from and I share his pain. A lot of the time injuries haven’t been to blame, we’ve had players capable of getting us points in games fit and still not got points, but obviously when you are missing players and having to chop and change every week it’s going to have an effect and I sympathise with Pardew about it. Its certainly been a factor this season and we can blame our poor campaign on injuries to a certain extent, but it hasn’t been the only factor and I believe there have been bigger factors as to why this season has been poor. And the biggest is Pardew and his tactics.