Our king of diamonds has the odd ace up his sleeve
Four days after the somewhat surprising defeat at home to struggling Crystal Palace, Paul Lambert shuffled his pack against Middlesbrough last Saturday in order to try to maintain what remains an incredible record of City not having lost back-to-back games since his arrival at Carrow Road more than a year ago.
The City boss, presumably, temporarily abandoned the diamond midfield formation that he normally favours in favour of an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, and it did the trick as Norwich ensured that another three points were added to the board and that normal service was quickly resumed.
Now insomuch as the diamond midfield is concerned, debate has raged long and often as regards its merits.
But surely it shouldn’t even be on anyone’s agenda?
Granted, everyone knew how City were going to be deployed on a matchday, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the strengths and weaknesses of the particular system are.
Then again, everyone knows that Barcelona, for example, will more than likely be deployed in a 4-3-3 formation on a matchday. Likewise with Spain at international level. But even armed with that knowledge, there’s few who can do much about stopping them from winning football matches.
That was the case with the Canaries. Teams tried to mirror the diamond midfield formation in the hope it would frustrate City. They tried to exploit its weaknesses by getting the ball out to the wide areas as often as possible, or they tried to negate its strengths by packing central midfield. Some even tried marking man-for-man to get some joy. Few were successful with their plans though.
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And when you look at what the diamond midfield has primarily been responsible for in terms of results over the past 15 months or so, it doesn’t really have a case to answer, does it? Promotion as champions in the first season and the team sitting nicely in one of the play-off places at present pretty much speaks for itself.
The key, as in anything of course, is to know when the right time is to make a change.
And last week the changes made were timed to perfection and proved particularly successful.
On the subject of changes being made, it always bugs me when I read or hear that players have been dropped from the team when it isn’t truly warranted. (The actual statement, that is, as opposed to the players actually being omitted from the starting XI).
It irritates the players concerned even more I can tell, as no-one likes to think they aren’t up to scratch even when they know that everyone else isn’t privy to the circumstances of their omission from the team.
Dropping a player as I see it only happens when someone is not selected because he hasn’t been playing well enough, and not because they have simply been given a rest, or missed out due to a tactical change being made etc.
After all, you don’t hear it being said that Ryan Giggs has been dropped from the Manchester United team whenever his name doesn’t appear on the teamsheet, or many key players in other sides for that matter whenever their managers rotate their squads or feel that something different might be required on any particular matchday.
As such, regulars Wes Hoolahan and Korey Smith weren’t ‘dropped,’ as it were, in my opinion last Saturday, they were simply ‘not selected’ due to tactical circumstances.
The two of them have been excellent by and large for a good while now. As such, the word “dropped” isn’t applicable in this case. Sorry, I just had to get this off my chest!
• PERHAPS IT’S TIME FOR JACKO TO MEET BELLAMY AGAIN
Monday night. 7.45pm. And along with probably many thousands of other City fans and no doubt all the coaching staff and most of the players too, I settled down in front of the TV to pick the bones out of the Cardiff side and hopefully watch them being given the runaround by Leeds in the hope that it would send them into tomorrow’s game demoralised and psychologically damaged.
Didn’t really go according to plan, did it?
Not only did the Bluebirds look very competent in virtually every position in their team, score four unanswered goals and were good and confident enough to keep the ball at will for long spells, but they also had a certain Mr Bellamy back in their starting line-up. He of the famous locking-inside-the-toilet incident!
(Just for the record, it was Matt Jackson and I who were the responsible parties that day, and not, as it seems, any one or more of the other players that were on the team bus who have claimed responsibility at some time or other in the time since! Bellars was being a pest – as usual – so me and Jacko wedged the toilet door closed for about 30 minutes (not for the entire journey as the story has been exaggerated to) to try to keep him quiet. (It didn’t work, by the way, because he moaned more than ever when we decided to ‘parole’ him.)
Anyway, Bellars looked very sharp, very bright, very lively and very hungry against Leeds. In short, just like he was as a youngster when he broke through into the first team when he was here. And he was bloody good then, wasn’t he? Watching him on Monday night, little, if anything it seems, has changed on that score.
So I don’t think I’ll be sleeping too comfortably tonight somehow.
...On the other hand, maybe I could give Jacko a call and we could arrange to meet Bellars before the game...?
• BARNETT IS WELL WORTH KEEPING ON BOARD
Selecting a Man of the Match wasn’t the easiest of tasks last week.
The sponsors usually go for someone who has grabbed the limelight and, given his impressive contribution on the right wing on his recall to the team it was hard to disagree with their choice of Anthony McNamee.
Other candidates that must have come up for consideration though were Andrew Crofts who was as good as he always is; Simon Lappin who was very energetic and reliable in midfield and Russell Martin who arguably had his best game of the season and was very impressive going forward down the right flank.
Elliott Ward got my vote on the day for producing yet another solid and assured performance, for reading the game so well and making tackles at precisely that time that they are required, but his central defensive partner Leon Barnett certainly pushed him very close.
Barnett has been excellent since his arrival here and has shown the City fans just what an effective defender he is.
He seems as though he must have springs in his boots given that he jumps so high to win virtually every headed challenge that he contests, and he compliments his aerial prowess by making vital blocks and covering tackles and by generally making himself so difficult to beat for ninety minutes, week in, week out.
Along with Ward, he has added so much steel to the City backline, and it goes without saying that it would be major boost if City get the chance to sign him on a permanent deal.