Having been hooked at half time against Woolwich, Dele might have tried to convince himself that it was no big deal. Right person, wrong place. Conservation of his energies. In essence, the general sentiment that such things happen and everything was alright.
However, one imagines him raising an eyebrow or two on being told that he would be part of what was essentially the second-string for last night’s bash; and then, even at his most optimistic, his internal spin doctor would have had a heck of a task in making the case that his removal last night, as part of the operation to up the ante and inject life into a fairly moribund all-round day out, was anything other than a damning indictment of his contributions.
Make no mistake, all is not well at Casa Dele. Now those in the Pro-Dele camp would no doubt spring into life at this point, to hammer home the point that not only did he convert the early penalty, but he also won it, with some very welcome sprightliness in the opposition area. (And goodness knows, that early goal was to be welcomed, because if he we had made it even to the half-hour mark at nil-nil the natives’ restlessness would have been a thing to behold.)
It is true that Dele applied himself with at least the minimal level of diligence, generally looking to adopt suitable positions around Reguilon and Gil that would create useful triangles. This in itself was vastly preferable to the attitudes gaily advertised by one and all in recent weeks, of slumped shoulders and little concern for such things as breaking into a meaningful jog.
Nevertheless, Dele’s on-ball contributions were a thing of concern. Primarily troubling was his now long-standing tendency to dwell on the ball for far too long before shuttling it onwards.
Compare and contrast with young Skipp. Some might say Skipp is a soul of more limited technique and passing abilities, others would disagree; but what is crucial about Skipp in this story is that when he receives the ball his first instinct always seems to be immediately give it to someone else. And in a sense, this is every bit as valuable as beating a man, as it still forces the opponent at least to change his body position if not pick up his bags and toddle off to a whole new spot of land. All because he plays the ball quickly.
Dele, on the other hand, insists on treating the ball as if his own personal plaything, to be dwelt upon for at least four or five touches before any further action is even considered (and as often as not that further action tends to be an attempted nutmeg, with mixed results). The opposition have time to saunter back into position, and whatever momentum there once was is allowed gently to drift into the ether. And moreover, at the end of these ball-based soliloquys of his, Dele’s eventual pass tend to be as often awry as on the nose.
Little wonder then that his recent appearances have ended prematurely and in ignominy, and this particular brand of rot does not bode so well for his short-term prospects either.
If it’s a Number 10 we’re after, then any of Ndombele, Lo Celso or Lucas seem better equipped at present. And if the idea is to play him in this new-fangled central midfield role then he might need to head back to the library and double-down on his homework, because it’s not a subject he has yet come close to mastering.
2. The Change in Formation (4-2-3-1)
Our Glorious Leader appeared yet again to give the formation a pretty forceful yank, dispensing with either the ultra-defensive 4-3-3 so negatively deployed against Palace or the little too front-footed 4-3-3 so bizarrely deployed against Woolwich; and opting instead for 4-2-3-1, with Skipp and Winks sitting relatively deeply.
Now it’s not so much a caveat as an enormous, neon-lit sign in the largest font imaginable, but the opposition were fairly clueless throughout, making it pretty pointless to draw too many conclusions on the value or otherwise of the 4-2-3-1. (Some might claim that the opposition came back into it after half-time, I disagree – their goal was a speculative hit, they didn’t manage another shot on target, and could hardly be said to have laid siege to our goal or overrun us at any point.)
So while the jury is out on the efficacy or otherwise of the 4-2-3-1, what nevertheless did provide a warming sense of reassurance was the notion that there was at least in place a dedicated formation. This might not sound like much, but one week on and I am still trying to compute precisely what formation and strategy was being adopted against Woolwich; so to see in place a nice, clear formation, with little room for confusion, was oddly comforting.
3. The Cavalry
As mentioned above, the withdrawal of Dele simply in order to inject life into proceedings was rather embarrassing for all concerned. While, as also mentioned above, it was hardly the case that we were being overrun, we were certainly rather flat in all we did, and the immediate, positive change in energy levels could not have been more obvious if it had been introduced with fanfare and that American chap who screeches into a mic before boxing matches.
Sonny and Kane were immediately on the money, Sonny buzzing and Kane picking good positions; and bless his cotton socks young Lucas this season looks very much like someone enjoying life, confidence oozing and adventurous gambits pouring forth.
Kane remains a rotter in the eyes of AANP, but stick him in and around the area and he certainly finishes well, and as much as the increased zest and enhanced scoreline, it was pretty satisfying to see three such excellently-crafted goals.
Something of a shame that we had to resort to such things, and dashed frustrating for young Scarlett again to be reduced to fighting for the occasional scrap, but after the dreadful mess being peddled in recent weeks it was simply fun to sit back and watch us play thirty minutes of incisive, attacking football.
4. Lo Celso
Like several of his chums, a couple of years on from his arrival Lo Celso remains a pretty impenetrable sort of fish, one never really being sure where he should be or what he should do.
And for an hour yesterday, he was as bafflingly enigmatic as ever. On the one hand his goal was well taken and he busied himself reasonably well; on t’other he, in common with a few others, failed to dictate the game as one would have hoped against fairly limited opponents.
However, once the aforementioned cavalry rolled into town, things changed. From my vantage point, and in my advanced years, I confess to have been unable to register the exact contortions on the GLC face, but one can only imagine that it lit up with childlike joy once Kane, Son and Lucas bounced on and he himself was invited onto the Number 10 roster. From that hallowed pedestal he suddenly clicked into gear like nobody’s business, appearing to have an absolute whale of a time, in a manner that one imagines would have had Dele spraying curses around the place.
While a couple of young Gil’s touches were gorgeous to behold, the much-vaunted AANP Touch of the Match award is winging its way to Lo Celso Towers for the glorious first-time flick into the path of Sonny, in assisting one of Kane’s goals. You know the one.
Lo Celso’s pass for the fifth was arguably as good and probably more difficult, a nutmegged, reverse pass onto a plate for Kane. I feel legally obliged to wave around once more that neon-lit caveat about the opposition, but nevertheless it was an impressive demonstration from the fellow of what he can do in that position. Which, bizarrely enough after three successive league hammerings, gives Nuno a pretty welcome selection dilemma ahead of Sunday – Lucas, Lo Celso or Ndombele (or, please no, Dele) in the Number 10 role?
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