RSC Anderlecht finding their feet

Yes, flying Frank does have a bit of the ‘Jesus Navas’ about him but he does support and provides Anderlecht an outlet where Suarez ghosts around

As I write this, Anderlecht trail early leaders KV Oostende by 5 points with a game in hand.  It is early days in a Jupiler Pro League where far more is decided in the last ten games than the first owing to the love it/loathe it play-off system.  None of the traditional ‘big’ teams have looked particularly convincing – Standard Liege have already sacked a manager – and typing the word ‘Hasi’ into Google proposes the search term ‘Hasi Buiten’  or ‘Hasi Out’.

However, Anderlecht produced an excellent performance on Thursday night against Monaco when many were pessimistic.  It was not flawless by any means but one to give the fans hope. The main differences were the performances of Okaka, Defour, Najar and Praet.  Having Okaka in that kind of form surely says to Hasi that he is the man to lead the line.  He held the ball up brilliantly and was unlucky not to score himself.  The conundrum is how to support him. The diamond/lozenge/distorted square 4-4-2 idea clearly hasn’t worked and its evolution should be filed under ‘failed experiments.’

The decline of Mati Suarez is sad to see.  You can see what he wants to do a lot of the time but his body won’t let him do it and consequently his explosivity and danger is greatly reduced.  The club has supported Suarez throughout his rehabilitation, even when he has been AWOL or recuperating in Argentina but the player who was to be sold for 15 million euros now looks like a player to be freed.  He may still have the odd trick or assist up his sleeve but he looks a spent force.

Defour played in a deep midfield role against Monaco and was back to his best.  This is where he should play every week for me. Harrassing, organising, tackling, motivating and carrying the ball from the defence.  He played like the leader he was signed to be. The question marks over his fitness have not gone away but he pressed relentlessly until his substitution.  Once he went off, the team lost its shape and the match became more of a free for all.

Andy Najar had an excellent game at right back, both defensively and going forward.  I personally feel his attacking potential is wasted there though and he should only be played in defence when the opposition’s left winger is particularly quick (someone like Kebano).  In fact, looking at the defence more globally, Anderlecht have a winger at right back, a midfielder and marauding left back in the centre and a midfielder at left back.  The defence continues to look makeshift and untrustworthy.  While Dendoncker filled in well, he is never a centre back, despite what Wilmots may think.

Now onto the Praet Conundrum: its own little sideshow.  The assist he provided for Gillet shows you what Praet can do.  He works hard and has excellent vision.  However, he really doesn’t have the skill set to play wide.  Football in Belgium seems  obsessed by describing players as a ‘number 6’ or a ‘number 10’.  However, these terms only mean anything when certain systems are played.  So, to put it into Belgian terms, I’d play without a ‘number 10’ and play Praet centrally with Tielemans with Defour behind them.  This would allow the team to play with genuine wide players and stretch the play.

In those wide positions should be Najar and Acheampong.  Yes, flying Frank does have a bit of the ‘Jesus Navas’ about him but he does support and provides an outlet where Suarez ghosts around. Failing that, play Ezekiel or Kawaya out wide, coming in from the wings to support Okaka, who surely would like more cross balls. Hasi has options but needs to have the gumption to use them.

I have no idea how Hassan ‘Trezeguet’ fits into all this.  I’ve yet to see him play and, to be honest, I’m not sure Hasi will know what to do with him either.  Can he play in defence?  No? That’s a shame. From what I read, he sounds like a Praet replacement.

So for the trip to the unhappy hunting ground of Charleroi (surely weakened without Kebano and Dewaest?), I’d line the team up like this:

My Starting XI v Charleroi
My Starting XI v Charleroi

I would have a fit and happy Anthony Vanden Borre at right back but that’s another can of worms that has already been opened. This team though, playing in that setup, should control the match rendering defensive frailties less significant.  Are you listening Besnik?




Armchair pundits saying that they need a ‘Vieira-type’ midfielder to boss the midfield.  Who doesn’t?  Last I checked, he’s called Pogba and he’s not for sale.  Next.

Who remembers ‘Ready, Steady, Cook!’?  The Green Peppers or the Red Tomatoes? Contestants, like real families, had to bring £5 (7€) worth of ingredients and the chef had to produce a meal from it.  The audience voted for whichever dish they liked best. Usually, an appetizing plate of food was produced.  The chefs seldom complained and everybody was happy.

Now, imagine one of the contestants – let’s say the Green Peppers – had £50 but the Red Tomatoes still had a fiver.  Everyone starts getting excited about the ingredients the chef may get to use.  Will he use lobster or venison?  If the chef doesn’t win with those ingredients, should we immediately say he can’t cook?  Surely that’s an unfair advantage?  Or maybe, better ingredients don’t always produce the best dishes.  A more expensive meal isn’t always a better one.  You can’t just throw them together in a pot and expect the meal of your life.

Substitute the words ‘Green Peppers’ for ‘Manchester Utd/City’ and ‘Red Tomatoes’ for ‘just about any team outwith the Premier League’ and you have a new TV show: Champions League Football. AA Gent will rock up to Ainsley Harriot with potatoes, mince, carrots and gravy.  They will however, produce a well made shepherd’s pie.  Manchester United will chuck lobster, scallops, caviar and beef into a pot and see what happens.  Then, when the meal doesn’t taste right, they’ll complain the scallops weren’t hand dived and that if they’d used Kobe Beef instead of Chateaubriand, maybe it would’ve been better.  Fergie would’ve known what wine to have with it, that’s for sure.

In a way, I’m glad the transfer window is over.  With the new found wealth, clubs and fans have become spoiled and expect to cherry-pick every ‘foreign’ team.  For the top Premier League Clubs, they have certainly been able to buy whatever ingredients they like (except Thomas Muller) but can they cook?  And, importantly, will they remember that just because something is new, it doesn’t mean it is any better than what’s lying in your fridge.  Arsenal fans – well, some of them – would do well to remember this.

Wenger has delivered a marquee signing in each of the past three summers (Ozil, Alexis, Cech).  The team completely dominate games. They cruised to a 2-0 win against a decent Stoke team and yet, from reading the news, watching Match of the Day and reading through Twitter, you’d think they’d lost.  All of the talk was of how they needed a striker.  Benzema or Cavani, for example.  Shopping is over folks, it’s time to cook.

While I understand Arsenal fans’ frustration with Wenger over the years regarding certain positions in the team (they’ve needed a decent goalie since Seaman retired), I think they have excellent options in attack.  Walcott, if given a run through the middle and avoiding injury, would be top scorer in the Premier League.  Yet, he’s not fashionable.  He’s not new.  Welbeck, if played centrally, is also an excellent option and he brings others into the game fantastically well and would score goals given a run in the centre.

While Giroud blows hot and cold, he’s a good sub to bring on if things aren’t going right.  For all the talk of Walcott not being a striker, he is averaging a goal a game when he starts.  He scored on Saturday, yet you’d think he had a howler.  Alan Shearer’s criticism that he is ‘too nice’ is completely ridiculous, especially given his proximity in the studio to former Golden Boot winner Gary Linekar. Would he rather he was cursing, swearing, spitting and elbowing, like he would? Not everybody has to be a hacking beast to play up front and especially not with Walcott’s pace.  Ian Wright, on the other hand, finks Feo is da man. He could be.  Or must he be called ‘di Walcotta’ or ‘Walcottinho’ or maybe even, to steal the Wrighty brogue, simply ‘Feo’? England could really do with him – you don’t win International Championships with Jamie Vardy up front.

All this talk of Arsene not spending is missing the point that Arsenal have a large squad.  Armchair pundits saying that they need a ‘Vieira-type’ midfielder to boss the midfield.  Who doesn’t?  Last I checked, he’s called Pogba and he’s not for sale.  Next.  They have nearly as many midfielders as Chelsea have loanees.  Why would they need another?  He bought Gabriel as cover for Koscielny and Mertesacker.  While they are not my favourite centre backs, the defence is covered.

The Champions League kicks off tomorrow and, for all the new excitement, some old certainties remain.  Arsenal will get through, as will Chelsea, without breaking sweat.  Walcott, if he plays up front, will probably only be outscored by Messi and Ronaldo.  They will probably disrespectfully rest players for the ‘tough game at Carrow Road on Saturday’ for some of the group games and complain about the number of games they have to play.  But they can.  Such is the money they have spent. However, the insular ‘Rule Britannia’ Twitterati consumers don’t recognise this.

If Arsenal didn’t think Walcott was over his injury problems, they wouldn’t have extended his contract.  He looks hungry, he looks fit and strong, he has a point to prove and he’s going to score a bucketload.  He might not be a flashy new signing for the fans but, in reality, he’s like one for Wenger and with Ozil, Cazorla and Alexis behind him, he’s going to run riot.  He not be a flashy new lobster, but sometimes fish ‘n’ chips tastes better anyway.