If you didn’t read the first instalment of this grand adventure, pre-season, here’s how this whole thing goes.
I have 8 formations
A random number generator (random.org, henceforth known as RANDOM) picks one for me before each game. The idea is that I’m not great at this game anyway, so how much worse can I be if I pick a system out of the hat each week?
Pre-season didn’t go well, winning against the reserves, but losing to Leipzig and drawing with Chaves (second division Portuguese side), Morecambe, and Alfreton.
We start the season against Norwich, a pleasant enough beginning to the whole shabang. RANDOM gives us a 3-4-3 to play with. Sandro gets blisters (seriously?), and so is out for 4-5 days, missing our opener. Sandro is out, but the expectations from the board are in. They want a mid-table finish, 5th Round in the FA Cup, and 4th Round in the League Cup. I am nervous.
Here’s how we line-up.
It doesn’t start well. Norwich go 1-0 up in 7 minutes, Mbokani on the end of a free-kick. It doesn’t continue well either, Mbokani scoring another two before half-time, the latter of which came from Yacob, deep in the right-back position clearing the ball across the field to the unmarked Norwich striker.
The second half is less eventful, their wingers marking ours which is where our attacking outlet is supposed to be. Half an hour has gone… And then Mbokani strikes again (this is his debut, at least we’re giving him a nice welcome gift). This time, a tackle from Pritchatt – the youngster promoted to the first team in pre-season – goes straight to the Norwich striker in space again. Unbelievable. Not exactly a good start.
We play Swansea next, so that should be a decent game to kick-on and fire up our season, in our appointed 4-5-1. It appears taking a screenshot of the detailed formation before the game slipped my mind, so here’s how we lined up against each other.
Well, you can see the score in the picture. We got off to a great start, Rondon pipping in at the back post in the 2nd minute. However, we instantly look vulnerable. Half an hour in I decide to change Rondon’s role from Target Man to Complete Forward, as we were just lumping the ball up to him and it wasn’t sticking. It helps a little, but it becomes apparent that their full-backs have the beating of our wingers, which ain’t great.
By the hour mark we’re really hanging on, but changing things up so that our wingers are man-marking their full-backs seems to help; cut off some options, bring men back. However, in the 88th minute, Swansea passed the ball around the box, us having retreated and retreated, and Mo Barrow found some space in their to take a shot and equalise.
It was probably fair. It would have been a case of stealing a win if we’d held on, but after the trouncing by Norwich a win would have got us out the blocks. This was the shot map, it shouldn’t be hard to tell which side is us and which is Swansea.
It’s a real shame that we could only pick up a single point against Norwich and Swansea, because our next game was against Man City. RANDOM had thrown up a 3-5-2, but injuries decided to keep coming and both Chester and Olsson were ruled out for the game. In slight desperation for some back-up, I move Robbie McCourt from the under 21s to the main squad, to sit on the subs bench.
I wrote in my notes before the game: “I fully expect us to get trashed”.
The game finished 6-1. I probably won’t have to tell you that it wasn’t to us. Bizarrely, it was only 2-0 at half-time, most of the games that had been and would be scored coming from City players losing their men and poking in a shot from close range. Saido “I want to move to a bigger club” Berahino came on at half-time, and actually put in a surprisingly good shift as a hard-working right-midfielder, tracking back very well.
The only positive after 3 games is that Liverpool are bottom of the table on 0 points. By far the least meaningful negative of the game was that we were fined for receiving more than six yellow cards. Ah well.
The League Cup, a draw against Bury, gives the opportunity to take a breather from the league and perhaps get a win that could be vital in giving us some morale. RANDOM gives us a 4-4-2, very West Brom, and here’s what I did with it.
My assistant, David Kemp, is supposed to be good at motivating, but his team-talks have been crap, so I take over. “This”, I say, summoning my inner orator “Is our chance to show the world what we’ve got” – the team respond well. Kemp is off team-talks.
We dominate for the first half, though without getting many or any decent shots away. Finally, right on the stroke of half-time, we get one – Rondon (again) nodding in a blessedly decent cross. In the 66th minute we get a second, though it’s an own goal from a Pritchard cross. It’s disappointing that we didn’t, and didn’t look like, scoring more and the game ends 2-0.
Still, a win’s a win, and hopefully we can take that into the league.
It’s unlikely to come in our next game though. We’re playing Spurs, and not only that but RANDOM has given us a 4-2-4 that we have to line up with. I guess if we have to play a 4-2-4 at any time, why not be in a match where we’re unlikely to get points anyway.
I assign Berahino to man-mark Moussa Dembele, and this looks like it really helps blunt Spurs as the match starts up. Well. For a little while. In the 19th minute Lamela beats Pritchatt at the far post to make it 1-0. In the 36th McAuley fails to shift across in the back line, and allows Son an easy pass to Kane who makes it 2-0. In the 37th minute it’s Son this time who beats Pritchatt at the back post, making it 3-0 before half-time.
We’ve had absolutely no attack whatsoever. This is my fault, but Spurs’ goals have been wholly individual errors, and so Pritchatt is subbed off. We blunt them even more in the second half, but still can’t create anything, not even enough to really deserve a single goal. It’s a slight consolation that 6 of the 9 players who featured in both half improved in the second.
In each game, perhaps the City one aside, we’ve got better as things go on which probably bodes well, in that I might end up actually getting things right from the start at some point.
We come, in a tip of the hat to the series over at thesetpieces.com which inspired this one, to an end of this instalment with a game at home against Everton. However, a brief tangent before we do. In pre-season, I’d sent the best prospect in the under 21s, centre-back Danny Barbir, on loan to Oxford while keeping updated through match reports. While we may not be doing too well, he’s experiencing just the opposite, starting regularly and averaging 7.01 so far.
RANDOM gives me a 4-5-1 to try and I’ve got to try and mash something out of it that’ll work better than the one we used against Swansea.
In something of a theme, we concede early. Barkley gets his head on a cross and puts Everton 1-0 up. It looks like we equalise in the 34th after a really quite great team move, but Berahino is offside.
After half-time, things go from ‘kind of bad’ to ‘we are bad’. McCarthy scores in the 48th minute and then, a minute later, Everton counter-attack and score a third.
This is a screenshot of the goal. And yes, that is 3 Everton men completely unmarked on their right side. It seems we need to work on our transitions.
McManaman misses a sitter in the 53rd minute, but with the little we’re creating it would probably only have been a consolation even if it had gone in. In the 69th, our players decided not to mark men in the centre of the box, drawing across Dawson at right-back and leaving Mirallas unmarked at the far post to put the Toffees 4-0 up.
Things get marginally better when we switch things up to attack more, and in the 81st minute we screw up a counter that could have been a goal, but it ends 4-0. “This is humiliating and shameful”, it says in my notes. Our goal difference is -16. We’re on 1 point in the league, our only wins in my whole tenure against West Brom Reserves and Bury.
Still, 6 shots on target is the most we’ve got in a league match so far (and actually almost matches out total from the whole of the previous four). Our shot stats aren’t pretty. On average, we take 9.8 shots a game and concede 18.4; take just 2.8 shots on target a game and concede 8.8.
I decide to hold a team meeting after the game, to try and convince the lads that things can improve if we kick on. Berahino, who is rapidly growing on me, chips in in support.
RANDOM gives us a 2-5-3 to play against Palace. Find out how that goes, same Baggie-time, same Baggie-channel.