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Benfica: How far we’ve come and still got to go

By Selby Wells :  06/11/2009 :  Comments (9) :
When reflecting on the Benfica games, I feel they are microcosm of how far we’ve come in the last 5 years and how far we’ve still go before we get to the stage where we are consistently challenging for Champions League places and trophies.

Let's start by looking at where we were 5 years ago when we finished 4th and qualified for our first taste of European adventure for a decade.

In all fairness to the team who worked miracles to finish so high (given that they were written off before the start of the season), it was a team of ageing, willing players who were lacking in technical ability. Let's face it, how many of that team would even get near the current team?

Since then Moyes has reduced the age of the squad, increased its size and technical ability albeit at a gradual pace over the last 5 years. Over that time-period we’ve slowly but surely changed from being plucky underdogs who the pundits expect to be battling relegation to a team that expects to qualify for Europe by virtue of their league place.

As a result, we’ve gone from being an easy three points to a scalp for other teams.

Admittedly a good deal of the football played by us over that period hasn’t been of the highest calibre, but slowly but surely we’ve got players that can retain the ball beyond three passes. As much as the scorelines didn’t reflect it in either game, we held the ball for significant periods of time against Benfica.

However, what the games against Benfica showed us was to compete at the top level you need two things; pace and ruthlessness in the final third and the ability to defend against them.

Admittedly we still had a host of players missing from the team last night but looking at the 1st team squad how many of our players have pace? Or ruthlessness in front of goal? To my mind we only have four players with any pace (Yobo, Baines, Pienaar & Vaughan) and possibly two with any ruthlessness in front of goal (Saha &Yakubu). This isn’t enough to consistently compete at the top level.

Therefore, we need to add pace to our squad in the final third. Now the crunch is fast players cost money (and lots of it!) and we’re not exactly known for having loads.

There have been several arguments why we’re skint and I’m not going to go over that ground. But I’d hope that Moyes is aware of this and is trying to identify players within his budget to address this problem area.

The other area (of being able to defend against players with pace & ruthlessness) requires exposure to teams with those qualities. Is it any surprise that the Sky Four hardly concede any goals in the Premier League when they regularly play top quality teams in the Champions League?

With this in mind, the games against Benfica were probably the lesson that we needed to be taught in Europe (let's face it, we weren’t torn apart in the final third when going out against Fiorentina & Standard Liege in the last two years!).

As much as we’d all prefer not to learn these lessons, it's not all doom and gloom.

Once we get our better players fit and into some form over the coming weeks (Jagielka, Neville & Pienaar to name but three) and if we can make one or two good signings with a bit of pace in January, I believe that we’ll be eyeing a top 7 finish and a decent cup run.


Reader Comments

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Liam Reilly
1   Posted 06/11/2009 at 17:19:33

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I would suggest that even more important than pace, we need players who are comfortable on the ball and posess the ability and the confidence to hold onto it.

Each time we play against a decent team, we spend the majority of the game chasing the ball and that’s the difference between an average side an a top side.
John Andrews
2   Posted 06/11/2009 at 22:44:16

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What Liam said !
Jamie Crowley
3   Posted 07/11/2009 at 03:03:37

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Read Liam - exactly! Hold the damn ball!

The hoofing is getting comical - and really depressing.
James Stewart
4   Posted 07/11/2009 at 04:19:45

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i would suggest we need a competent manager for starters!
Derek Thomas
5   Posted 07/11/2009 at 06:34:06

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Viva, viva Bill and Dave

Viva, viva Bill and Dave.

Viva, viva.

Viva Bill and Dave.

Bill and Dave and his funk machine now

Ev’rybody gonna see a sensation....etc etc

2nd verse:

Bucharest to Benfica Baby,

In next to no time Baby...etc etc

With all due apologies to the Equals.

Sensation, Funk machine , My Arse
Neil Steele
6   Posted 07/11/2009 at 11:12:17

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Groundhog day.

Benfica are the new Villarreal, decent but blown up out of all reality by the excuse makers, and Moyes is where Moyes always is ’one or two players away’.

Maybe if he hadn’t wasted £25m on two players who have added absolutely nothying to the team then we would be in a batter position to compete?

I’m sick of hearing excuses now. I dont care about the injuries, there is enough talent on the pitch and enough money spent to expect more than we are getting.

Maybe if we coached players to pass and move and be comfortable in possession then we would look less clueless when we lose the two players who can simply manage it off their own backs??

Not good enough, nowhere near.
Alasdair Mackay
7   Posted 07/11/2009 at 12:08:41

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I disagree with Liam et al and agree completely with Selby.

We do have players that can pass the ball. Admittedly Piennar, Arteta and Osman are all out at the moment, but they are still our players and are all capable of ball retention and picking out a key pass. Billy has shown he is capable of this as well and Rodwell’s ball retention in central midfield is maybe his biggest asset at the moment. Our defenders are good at ball retention too (Hibbert aside (sorry Hibbo)). Yobo is prone to mistakes, but capable of bringing the ball out of defence. Distin and Baines too. Neill’s distribution has impressed me in the games he has played so far.

What we lacked against Benfica was pace up front. When you have no pace in attack you rely on guile and creativity too much and we couldn’t unlock the door through the middle. (No Arteta and Fellaini not good enough at carrying the ball.) This meant that all our attacks were being built slowly and from wide areas. Very predictable - good sides will defend that kind of perdictability all day!

What we need to sign in January is cover for Mikky and pace up front. Also a back up left back in case Baines gets injured again.
James Stewart
8   Posted 07/11/2009 at 23:59:26

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Neil Spot on! Agree with every word.
Mark Pierpoint
9   Posted 08/11/2009 at 23:59:46

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Neil. I apologise for my ignorance but who are the two players who add nothing? I am presuming you mean Fellaini as one but who be the other?

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