1. Ange’s Selection
You’ll be pretty relieved to hear that the drill today at AANP Towers is to err on the side of brevity, what with the need to spend the midweek daylight hours earning the monthly envelope rather than nattering away about our heroes. As such it’s just a couple of the standout points of discussion, but they don’t come much fruitier than what the daring amongst us might term Big Ange’s First Wrong Move.
Hindsight, of course, is always flawless, and it would be pretty easy to clear the throat and spend a goodish amount of time chirping away about how ill-considered was Our Glorious Leader’s choice of personnel in the aftermath of last night’s limp old showing. But I can at least look my fellow lilywhite in the eye and state with all sincerity that AANP has never bought into this business of mass changes in personnel. Never liked it at international level, don’t like it at club level. In fact, search long enough and you’ll find one or two souls who received a bit of a lecture from me making this point immediately before kick-off.
The principal objection is that for a fringe player to take a deep breath and deliver a performance that has the paying public rising to their feet and strewing the place with garlands, he really needs those around him to be regulars in their roles. Put another way, if we want to see what young Skipp is made of, then throw him in alongside two of Sarr, Maddison and Bissouma, rather than instead of. Or to get the real lowdown on Manor Solomon on the right of attack, make sure that the usual suspects are patrolling that flank alongside him. And so on. The principle generally applies across the team, and as mentioned, can be mimicked in national colours – if for example one wants to assess the cut of Ivan Toney’s jib in attack, or gauge the ticks and crosses of Trent in midfield, one keeps all (or most) other things equal, and lets them off the leash amongst established company.
This business of changing nine of the eleven, by contrast, generates precious few useful insights. They can be the best players around, but if they’re all new to their surroundings then they all rather stumble around the place in pretty rudderless fashion, not quite knowing who’s in charge and at what precise hour to unleash hell.
As it happens, I rather fancy that a Skipp-Hojbjerg-Lo Celso triumvirate would, after a few weeks of working together, function well enough to hold their own quite competently against someone like Fulham. But it would be a dickens of an ask to expect them to start purring from Minute 1 of their first appearance together. And the odds lengthen considerably when ahead of them they have Perisic and Solomon making their first starts, and behind them four more fresh faces out of five.
AANP would much rather have seen one of two of the usual midfield three in situ, and similarly one change in each of the defence and attack. The flow would not have been too wildly disrupted, and those brought in would have enjoyed more becoming conditions in which to peddle their wares.
The counter-argument, of course, is that Maddison and Bissouma in particular are the sort of fellows whose health and wellbeing for the bigger pond of the Premier League is just too bally important to go frittering away in the Carabao Cup. And one certainly understands the point. It is loaded with merit. Should Maddison have bounded around from the off and then twisted a limb at a right-angle half an hour in, a few pitchforks would have been grabbed amongst the faithful without too much delay.
Nevertheless, some sort of balancing act ought to have been achievable without too much strain upon the grey cells. Much like I understand is the case with the Royal Family, one wouldn’t shove the whole lot of them aboard the same aircraft – but that doesn’t mean forbidding any of them from flying at all. Which is to say, perhaps Maddison could have been rested, but Sarr and Bissouma started; Romero wrapped up with slippers and a bourbon while at least two of the other defensive three were readied for action. After all, playing twice in a week, once in a while, ought not to be too much of a stretch for these fine young specimens.
However, Our Glorious Leader presumably had his reasons. For a start he would have expected, reasonably enough, that even if they did resemble a bunch of strangers speaking in differing tongues, the eleven selected would at least each show the individual acumen to win their own individual battles and make more of a fist of things than they did in the first half in particular.
He might also have seen this as a rare chance to give as many as possible of his troops as close to 90 minutes as possible, there being limited opportunity for this sort of thing in the coming weeks without the benefit of European jollies. And with the transfer window looming rather awkwardly over proceedings, he might have considered this whole exercise a necessary precursor to a spot of September 1st culling.
Whatever the reasons, the dice has been cast, recorded and put back in its box now, so there’s no turning back. In truth it’s not really too great a blow, and frankly I struggle even to pretend to be particularly upset; but it is a dashed shame to toss away quite so casually a fairly straightforward opportunity to challenge for a trophy.
On the bright side, at least Richarlison pocketed some winnings. Considerably assisted though he might have been by the curious incident of the Fulham bobbie whose absence was temporarily enforced by a boot in a state of disrepair, one does not shrug off gift-horses when they rumble into view. One does instead precisely what Richarlison did, and loop a header back across the goalkeeper and into the net.
At kick-off, the list of wants from this fixture was pretty short and free of frills. Win the thing; have one or two of the reserves catch the eye; and by hook, crook or a penalty rustle up a goal for Richarlison. And one out of three will have to do.
It’s a good job that the wish-list did not extend to Richarlison delivering an all-round performance that blew the minds of all in attendance, because once again he stomped around the place looking like he didn’t quite belong. No shortage of effort, but whatever he tried, be it linking up the play or racing onto forward balls, it didn’t really work.
Even after his goal, which I rather bobbishly expected to stuff the lad full to bursting with confidence and brio, he continued to bump into others and generally bang the old loaf against a brick wall. For what it’s worth, I remain happy to keep giving him time, and remain confident that the goals will at least trickle, if not flow; and more to the point Big Ange seems similarly inclined, at least until such time as another striker worthy of the name is yanked into the building. Nevertheless, his overall performance was a bit of a non-event, punctuated by one isolated cause for cheer. Rather summed up the whole thing, what?