Pre-Season Analysis

Last updated : 04 August 2008 By Rick Skelton
It seems that there are two camps when it comes to pre-season games: One that says pre-season games are unimportant and the results irrelevant, and another that treats the games with the same importance as every other game, complete with the according over-reaction to victories and defeats. I'm somewhere in the middle. I think dismissing pre-season performances completely is foolish. While you don't get the same bite and urgency in pre-season games, lots of the fundamental problems are obvious. Results are relatively irrelevent, but the way the games are played does matter.

For example, we were average in pre-season last year but you can't use that as proof that it doesn't matter. We didn't suddenly become a good team once the real stuff started. It took the signings of Campbell, Folan and Okocha to give us the impetus we needed.

I'm slightly concerned about City at the moment. The Hearts game showed up two huge problems with the team. Firstly, our delivery into the box from open play is awful. That was the case for lots of last season. Toward the back end, Ricketts started to deliver a much better ball, but aside from him, everyone else - Garcia, Barmby, Fagan, Dawson, Marney, etc. - are very hit and miss with crosses. I had hoped that Halmosi would go a long way towards changing that but at the moment he looks like a stranger. Obviously, that is one of the problems with bringing in so many players. I thought Gardner and Turner were great against Hearts, but they had one moment of mis-communication and conceded a goal. We need two really good weeks of work to get the starting XI for the Fulham game working in unison.

The other major problem, in my opinion, is the long ball. Early in pre-season, we looked to pass the ball as much as possible. The mdifield were dropping deep to take control of the ball and we used Geo as a link man. Recently, we've resorted to hitting the ball longer. Yesterday, there was a real lack of involvement from the midfielders and far too much ball played long towards Folan or Windass. The fact that we're in for Kevin Davies just confirms that perhaps Phil Brown feels it's the way to go. I can't believe we've signed footballers as good as Geovanni, Halmosi and Boateng and we're going to miss out the midfield. It's even more insane when you're playing 4-4-1-1. If you're going to go long, you need to play 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 and have players running off the target man. That isn't Geo's game at all. He wants the ball into feet, players making targets out wide and a striker looking to be played in. It smacks a little bit of a couple of games last season where Okocha played off Campbell and we didn't look like we knew how to play them in. The Hearts game possibly isn't the best example because I got the feeling PB was experimenting with a very narrow midfield to try and makes us hard to beat. He'll be very disappointed that Barmby and Marney didn't get on the ball and use it. Both were very poor (but weren't alone) on the ball.

The lack of a goal scorer is worrying, but not as worrying as the lack of chances at the moment. Also, the depth at centre-back is non-existent. I have to be honest: the prospect of Wayne Brown against Premier League strikers terrifies me. I also hope Bernard Mendy is strong enough mentally to overcome the disastrous half at Crewe.

It's looking like set pieces are going to be absolutely vital this season. Gardner and Turner should be a massive threat from the back. Halmosi, Marney, Hughes and Geovanni will have to provide real quality delivery. From open play, we currently look unable to hold onto the ball; that will have to improve, and quickly. Last season, we improved constantly throughout the season, but in the Premier League, if you don't start well, the confidence drains away quickly and the negative press and media coverage gets into the players and the fans. We need to start well.

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