I am writing this in the immediate aftermath of the Desmond with Ajax. Now, I’m delighted with the result, and aspects of the performance have encouraged me somewhat, especially given the pretty limp and insipid showing against Aberdeen. This offering will probably have a more upbeat and optimistic tone than I had originally planned but that’s one of the beautiful things about football – sometimes you don’t get a proper world class doing when you are expecting it.
Prior to this evening’s game we had been testing the definition of ‘abject’ in two of our biggest away matches – namely Pittodrie and Malmo. The similarities in both games were pretty alarming to say the least. The lack of tenacity from the centre of the pitch, the inability to go and kill the game from a position of strength as well as the well-documented failure to deal with a sphere falling from the sky. Our defending at corners and free kicks is reminiscent of a small child noticing a plane in the sky and pointing in wonder at the silver budgie. I am glad that Ronny Deila claims not to be concerned by this, despite the fact it has happened at least 5 times in recent weeks, so he knows it is a priority and that it demands immediate attention?
Well, in fairness, the defence is pretty much starting from scratch. Simunovic looked decent this evening – understandably he tired and was caught out a couple of times when we went down to ten yet there seems to be a very decent player in there and I’m looking forward to seeing how he does over the next wee while. Boyata is, in my estimation, still very much in the ‘raw’ category. The boy is a good athlete and has shown an ability to make a stylish version of the Colin Hendry ‘aw naw did ah just dae that?’ recovery lunge. He’s a gamble and will probably be a fine test of how well our current staff can develop a player. Janko reminds me of Didier Agathe. If we were to deploy an alternative system, allowing more space for full backs to attack from deep then the results here could be very interesting. We probably won’t but it’s nice to dream every now and then. Blackett is one that I am completely undecided about. I saw him play a couple of times for Man United and thought in one game he was excellent whereas in the other he was terrible. I didn’t think he was too bad against Aberdeen and he did what he had to do when he came on against Ajax.
I think the defence encapsulates where we are at the moment. There is potential in there, as well as some established quality (Lustig-when fit). Recent weeks have rightly attracted criticism and apprehension. Responsibility has been in short supply and some serious lessons need to be learned and quickly.
So, where does my ‘pressure’ angle come from? Well I think two people at the club will be feeling it more than they usually do. Namely, Ronny Deila and Peter Lawwell. First of all the manager. On the face of it we are 5 points behind and, for the second season running he has failed to see us through a Champions League play-off match, from a position of arguable strength. I think he was callous to use the terms ‘scared’ and playing with ‘fear’, certainly in the public domain. He was comfortably out-thought by a mouthy trumpet and displayed a worrying inability to alter the approach when up against it. However, the Malmo game has been done to death and no more should be made of it. Until the Aberdeen game happened. Nah, I shan’t wander down that seagull-ridden path.
In fairness to him he wasn’t initially considered for the role of manager. It’s common knowledge that we were looking to bring him as an assistant and then see if he could develop into the role. We rolled the dice and gave him the big job instead. Following the October international break last year things improved for him. The football was better, Guidetti was working well and there were reasons for optimism. If you get a chance, or fancy a skive, then watch our first goal against Inter Milan again. That’s the standard we should be aspiring to; every player involved, providing options, comfortable and brave on the ball.
Now for Lawwell. Deila was very much his man. The twirly moustache wanted Roy Keane. There is a growing feeling of discontent in the support with how he is going about his duties. He is nowhere near the Defcon Jock Brown status but I doubt that he would be afforded a standing ovation were he to pop in to the Wee Man’s for a glass of lager. In short, he needs Deila to work and soon.
Pressure is an essential factor in the creation of diamonds and, maybe one day, we shall look back at this spell as the start of something truly remarkable. Or we could be gazing in to the past at a pile of ash with the odd lump of coal loitering. Interesting times afoot.