I managed to see the Sheffield game and the City one, but didn’t see the Brighton game. I look at the team and currently feel contrasting emotions. It still feels like something is missing but at the same time I feel we don’t look far away either. Maybe a couple of vital cogs in the wheel still need to be addressed.
My over-riding feeling still seems to be that we lack dominance in central midfield. They are the shield to the back 4 and the link to supplying the attack. They are vital in the recovery of possession and in retaining possession and making dangerous use of it when we have it. In other words, dominating the central midfield
Both the use of the ball when we have it and the recovery of it when we don’t, seem to be a tad under par, but the latter still feels like the most deficient. The lack of dominance in midfield still seems to be our long running Achilles heel. We have had many different decent central midfielders recently but seem to have gone a long while without finding the right combinations with these midfielders. It never seems balanced
I noted with interest that the most damning stat from the Brighton game was how our central midfielders compared to theirs in successful tackles and ball recovery. Our stats were very low compared to theirs. It was suggestive of us losing the midfield battle and maybe, once again, the combination wasn’t complimentary. I think Torreira is the current key player that would make a difference and he seems to make any of the other central midfielders play better alongside him in a way that the others can’t do for each other.
I have often wondered whether we lack the pace and athleticism in too many of our central midfielders. This is perhaps why we need a player like Partey so desperately, but I also wonder (Torreira aside) if we have another solution right under our noses. This time I am not talking about Luiz because it seems he is not destined to be used in this role but I am thinking along the lines of a player that has more pace and athleticism than our other current incumbents.
A brief foray into the overall defensive stats of all our central midfielders vs Ainsley Maitland-Niles sees him coming out near the top in most defensive areas including tackles, tackle success rate, interceptions, recoveries, and duels won. He has strong stats in all of those defensive areas whereas the others (Ceballos, Douzi, Xhaka, Willock) seem to have decent stats in some defensive areas but are weaker in others. In other words he looks to be a more rounded defensive player than those others and his stats sit favourably alongside Torreira and partey himself.
I know he has played in a different position recently, so it is hard to fully compare stats with other central midfielders, but I wonder if his stats might even improve further if he was in the thick of the midfield battle. He has more pace and athleticism than the others so is it time to give him a run of games as a deeper lying midfielder whose primary job is in ball recovery but also with the ability to bring it forwards from deeper areas?