The malaise that has fallen over our team in recent months is worrying, and what’s more worrying is that it seemed to come along just when we were able to play the system the manager most prefers at the moment; the 3-5-2.
So what went wrong here? Has Lennon changed the system itself to suit his own style?
Someone certainly has, because the current 3-5-2 has none of the fluidity it had before.
In some ways this is a good thing; we are less prone to being caught on the counter attack than we were last season … but it really does feel flat and lifeless right now.
We seem to play a more defensive sort of game; for example, we no longer play the high press but defend deep and only start pressuring players when the play is in our own half. We’ve also slowed down in how we play. We no longer move the ball up the field quickly; everything is backwards and sideways.
I understand the concept; keep the ball, probe for openings, try to draw the opposition to you and open up gaps. But it doesn’t work.
What tends to happen now is that that slow, steady pace allows the opposition too much time to get defensively organised … and the rigidity of the system (which is another new, and horrible, affectation) means that nobody is moving.
To draw defenders out requires one of two things; you either hold onto the ball until they come for it or your players move off the ball to force the opposition to shift its own shape to chase them. We don’t try to do the second anymore.
Not only is it horrible to watch, but we’re ineffective. None of this was the case last season.
Have we changed something in coaching? Why has a tactic which bore such fruit become lifeless? So lifeless, in fact, that we can barely get a shot on target?
When we switched tactics last night we switched the style with it; the players seemed liberated to play a more expansive game. We started playing the kind of football which we wanted to see, and which our team does better than any other side in the league.
Whatever changed, we need to change it back. This could be the players not wanting to play that style, but even they known that the current system isn’t satisfying and isn’t working. They don’t seem to be fully engaged with it, so I doubt it changed in the first place because they had a preference.
Neil Lennon has been put under pressure by the performances … he badly needs the team to turn in a big one at the weekend and so whatever new changes he made he only has to ditch them and go back to the way we played at the end of the last campaign.
The thing of it is, we have even more firepower now than we did then.
Ajeti is a penalty box player, and even a 4-2-3-1, which is why I’d probably go for at the weekend since the injuries to defenders makes it tough to justify a 3-5-2, in which he is the front man would still be potent enough to win us the points. Play Rogic behind him and I’d be very confident.
Neil knows what has to be done here; I thought it was interesting that he said during today’s presser that we needed both the result and the performance on Sunday. He is correct. The result comes first, but the performance is essential if it’s to look like we’ve moved forward.