The weekend’s defeat at Bournemouth once again exposed the very real problem of Bilic using players in positions that they are neither used to playing or indeed capable of doing so.
Kouyate at right back is the most obvious of these. Without doubt one of the best players at the Club, Kouyate is a box to box midfield player, not afraid to take on his man, he provides a real thrust and energy in the centre of the park. At right back, he is ill disciplined, often woefully out of position and lacking in even a basic understanding of a four man defence. Without the safety net of a fellow centre midfielder he has been hopelessly exposed time after time, drifting in and out of position he forces other players to lose their discipline and shape giving the opposition space to exploit.
In the Bournemouth defeat Kouyate was not helped by the lacklustre display of Feghouli on the right wing. A player in whom Bilic appears to have a blind faith, keeping as he did Robert Snodgrass, a recent £10m signing on the bench. Feghouli offered Kouyate very little support or protection, often allowing him to find himself two against one and being dragged out of position, forcing our centre backs to cover across. The decision to select Feghouli over Snodgrass is baffling. Our game plan was clearly to hit Carroll with crosses from both flanks, something which Feghouli failed miserably to do. All too often he squandered possession and then showed little desire to redeem himself and regain it. Rarely tracking back he seemed content to play in almost a free role, drifting in and out of the centre at will.
With Carroll alone upfront, we need wingers who will take on their fullback, delivering accurate byline crosses that the big man can attack. His game really is that one dimensional. Provide the service and he will at least involve himself in the game. Deny him that service and we lack any real goal threat. With Carroll as a lone front man the opposition manager’s tactical prowess is rarely tested. Stop balls into the box and Carroll poses you no threat at all. Once it becomes apparent that this is happening, as it did against Bournemouth, then the manager needs to make changes, something Bilic often seems reluctant to do.
Although level at half time, our first half performance was well below par and changes were needed. We had toiled for 45 minutes, hopelessly exposed down our right hand side, we needed to inject some pace into attack and play our way through midfield rather than both Reid and Fonte bypassing them with a lofted ball forward to Carroll. In Andre Ayew we have a player who possesses tremendous pace and the ability to run at defenders. Whilst Carroll can undoubtedly bully defenders in the air, there are few more terrifying prospects than a player running at you with pace, especially into your penalty area. All it takes is a mis-timed challenge or a poor defensive decision and your opponents will be placing the ball on the penalty spot. Equally, Ayew is the type of player who can run beyond a back line. We have some terrific ball players in our side, all capable of picking out a precision pass to a forward working the line, on the shoulder of the last man. And yet we continue, when fit, to persist with Carroll as our best option.
Bilic clearly lacks faith in Byram at right back, but is a position that he has grown up playing and has, even at his tender age, vast experience of. He has never been given a good run in the side and with safety almost within touching distance surely now is the time for Bilic to allow him to make that position his own in this season’s concluding fixtures. If he still falls short then at least we will have afforded him the opportunity he deserves. This would also allow Kouyate to once again take his natural position in midfield. And this is where I believe the real issues exists. Pushing Kouyate into midfield leaves the manager with a decision to make. Obiang or Noble to partner him? A decision I believe Bilic is too fearful to make.
It is difficult not to conclude that major investment is needed in our squad this summer but equally perhaps just as importantly we need to allow players to play in their natural positions, building a team around a world class number 10, much as Chelsea have done with Hazard. With Payet gone, I believe with Lanzini that player is already at the Club. When pushed into the middle against Bournemouth he showed, in flashes, what he is capable of. He is one of those rare players that can just make things happen, often with what looks like little effort.
The Club need to bring in a goal scorer, one with pedigree, who possess all the attributes needed to score 20 plus goals in a season. I believe our young defenders such as Burke and Oxford need to be bought through, eventually to replace Reid, Fonte and Collins. If our medium term ambition is to compete with the top four then we can no longer place square pegs in round holes.