With us through to the last 16 of this tournament already and a mounting injury list it was quite pertinent last night to make sure that we protect the first team squad for our trip to Burnley at the weekend. To that end we had a back four of Longelo, Ashby, Baptiste and Alese. Perkins started up front and the usual European stalwarts of Yarma, Noble, Kral, Areola, etc filled out the team. I was not too happy with both Noble and Kral starting. I understand the need to protect an inexperienced back four, but 2 deep holding midfielders at home seemed a little too negative.
For what ever reason, the away support was somewhat small (about 100 ?) so they looked a little odd in the vast away section.
They were in good voice, and that only got better when after 3 minutes Zagreb took the league when Orsic fired in a worldie from way out on the left, which left our keeper flat footed.
And literally the game ended there and then. Both teams huffed and puffed without any end product. We were lacking a push forward due to the defensive nature of the midfield. Benrahma came on for the second half and again was unproductive, which is getting a little worrying. Yarmalenko was poor even by his own standards. I was proved correct with the holding midfield experiment. Both Noble and Kral wanted to almost play sweeper, and the gap between front and back was stretched leaving Fornals and Benrahma covering quite large areas.
But all the youngsters, bar one, played well. Alesi and Baptiste looked very comfortable at the back and seemed to be able to deal with the longer balls coming in, and were good passing out. Maybe they could improve on actually bringing the ball out just 10 or so yards before passing, which would help to push the midfield on. Ashby and Longelo looked like modern fullbacks, full of running forward and not scared to take on the opposition. I thought Perkins was pushed off the ball easily, and will need to toughen up. He was partnered was Yarma for most of the second half but still seemed to give the ball up.
So we round off with a group round loss (and half a million worse off) but happy to qualify. Who’s next? Barcelona ? Dortmond ? Rangers ?
MOTM for me was the Zargreb no 7, Ivanusec. Ran the game at both ends from start to finish.
Just before we entered the stadium I thought I lost my keys. This meant I had to go back through security. Due to the cold I actually had a light jacket under a winter coat. Keys were found in the lighter jacket. Good news ! I re-entered the stadium and met back up with Aussie John. Turns out he had been in the club shop while waiting for me to return and in the process , had lost a glove. The irony was not lost on me, and I did have a chuckle. We are at that age. What happened this morning on my way to work ? Left my gloves on the DLR. Irony indeed.