Monday, 17 January 2011

The fifth column


1) We're kind of disappointed with a draw against Man Utd, which just shows how much progress we've made

2) They were there for the taking and we lacked the nous, belief and composure to do the job properly

3) Ferdinand and Vidic are the best central defensive pairing in the league - and both played particularly well against us

4) All of the above

I'd go for 4.

It actually wasn't much of a game. We had one great chance (Crouch somehow getting his angles wrong and firing it the wrong side of the near post) and one good chance (Van der Vaart doing something similar, but more forgivably). If Stoke and Blackburn had fought this one out it would have been propping up every media outlet's weekend coverage.

On the plus side, Modric proved to the watching world that he is undoubtedly our best player. (I was going to say 'pound for pound he's our best player', but pound for pound, he'd only have to be as good as Jason Dozell and he'd still be our best player). (Also, maybe 'on the plus side' is a bit rash. A smart manager/chairman/director of job titles would have seen a £30m player/bargain and may be preparing to tempt us/him in the summer)

Bale and VdV have been getting all the media attention and, to be fair to them, all the goals, but Modric is our most consistently impressive performer and, if he sticks around, will join the Spurs pantheon.

The other two show flashes of brilliance, but have off games and quiet periods (both seemed a little subdued yesterday and didn't really influence the game, for instance). Modric doesn't. That's why he doesn't have 'flashes of brilliance'. It's more a sustained luminescence of brilliance.

Up front, it's sustained frustration and mediocrity. Games like yesterday's, against teams like United, highlight the problem. You won't get many chances. So what's required is a centre forward who doesn't need many chances, not one who needs a map, some luck and a pair of callipers.

Between them our three main strikers have scored seven goals in the league. Pav has five of them. And against Chelsea he did exactly what I'm talking about. He had one half-chance and converted it. Brilliantly. He's got that in his locker; the goal out of nothing, or next to nothing. The problem is, he often looks like he's got pissed and forgotten what the combination to the locker is, or where the locker is, or what a locker is, or that he's got sick down his shirt.

Back to Man U and the 'significance' of the result. Well, actually, in terms of pointers and temperature taking, it's on the money. We didn't contrive to lose, we didn't look either out of our depth or like a small team putting in a heroically huffing and puffing performance. But we couldn't close it out and we still looked a little psychologically short. And, perhaps most significantly, it stuck us in fifth.

Significantly because, as previously proposed, that's where we belong. We must be the first team to so securely and solidly lay claim to such a drab position. Because I'm not talking about 'between fifth and eigth' or 'mid-table' - they're drabber places to be, but they're not actual nailed on finishing berths. I'm talking about precisely, eternally fifth. Arsenal, Man U and Chelsea, to varying degrees, are better than us. Man City have bludgeoned their way above us. And below us, well, it's Sunderland, Bolton and some other mediocrities. They're only a few points behind us, but over the season that gap will increase to double figures, surely.

Which inevitably leaves you asking, How much more fifth could we be? And of course the answer is none, none more fifth.

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