We have long protested that our team has folded on big occasions. Away to the top 5, home to one in particular, in cup matches, especially the later stages and finals. Any time we find ourselves above our customary 7th place, whenever we have wanted a big performance – a breakthrough game and so on - the team can usually be depended on to blow it. But why?
There are global clues and one or two more specific examples. Leicester are performing the perfect example of folding under pressure. Impregnable last season but expectations were high from the start of this season as Champions; the same team and manager have floundered – badly.
These words from Phil Jagielka defending David Moyes's poor start at Manchester Utd 3½ years ago illustrate perfectly the difference in pressure and attitude between a highly successful side and players at Everton:
“At Everton, the pressure was not so big initially, he could grow into the season. You can’t grow into the season at Manchester United. When you look at how Arsenal have started and Chelsea and teams like that, you can’t give them too much of a lead. I am sure he will get the guys moving in the right direction.”
Jagielka is saying Moyes did well at Everton because he was allowed a slower start to the season compared with Man Utd – at Old Trafford, the pressure was on from Day One.
Which rather begs the question: Why don't players at Everton mind getting beaten at the start of the season as much as players at Man Utd? Where does that attitude come from? Does the manager reduce expectations from opening day or before? Is it the players settling into an 'acceptable’ comfort zone. Who decides what is acceptable?
There is a gulf in attitude to bridge here. Man Utd players run out in late August thinking they have to win. Everton players run out thinking "Let's see how we go"!
Times are changing now – that is plain to see. Some current players might have learned to change their attitude, there is a long list who could not and many departed in January. More than a few were the senior pros that set the 'team aspirations’ and Mr Jagielka will join them in the summer.
Koeman is having to buy in winners – how did it get that way?
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