Now is the Time for Leaders
As the mauling at the hands of Brendan Rogers` decidedly average Reds ebbs away into a painful, embarrassing memory, the daunting prospect of a not-so-average Chelsea approaches.
Last Saturday, whilst the boys in yellow were chasing shadows (and doing their best to help those shadows score), Roberto Di-Matteo`s revitalised Blues were gleefully leaving The Emirates Stadium with 3 points, imparting Arsenal`s first loss of the season and going top of the table in the process.
The Chelsea team sheet last week was frightening, however they managed to change it around totally midweek and record a 4-0 victory away in the Champions League - a win that has caused some of the best journalists around to proclaim that "there is no better team around at the moment than Di-Matteo`s Chelsea". Great.
So where on earth do we go from here? Void of confidence, bereft of ideas, with a defence that has shipped 5 twice already and with strikers missing hatful`s of chances. What we need now is leadership.
We need strong leadership from Chris Hughton, we need brave decisions, we need players willing to put themselves on the line, and we need above all, leaders on the pitch. If we don`t have all of those things, I believe the result on Saturday will rival that oh so famous one of ours just over 3 years ago.
The first decision Hughton has to make is the most important - who to play across the back. Our only ever-present defender in the league this year, our most reliable player this season - and the last 3 is a given. However, I believe that our vice-Captain, Russell Martin should be pushed into a central defensive position, allowing his confidence and positive outlook to flow through the team and hugely increase the spine of the team.
Last season Martin had his best games at centre back and has the useful knack of being in the right place at the right time. Against Liverpool he was our standout defender, our standout player and in my view it`s a waste to place his qualities at right back - let`s put him in the thick of it.
Clearly this leaves a bit of a gap on the right of defence. Well for me, this is the brave decision part - I believe the energetic Elliott Bennett could come in on the right side, operating as a wing-back, a role that is not as alien as you might think given that he played excellently as an attacking right back against Doncaster in the Capital One Cup.
With Garrido on the left, and 2 other centre backs joining Martin, I believe this would give us our best chance of absorbing the relentless Chelsea pressure. I also believe this would provide us with an opportunity to start with a tight midfield, with a 3 of Fox, Tettey and Howson keeping hold of the ball, supporting Wes Hoolahan who would be operating just ahead, and just behind our other leader, Grant Holt. A 5-4-1 formation, not dissimilar to that which was so successful in the early 90`s.
Granted, Holt does not normally perform at his best as a loan striker, but Wes operating just behind Holt would make the whole thing tick and provide the confidence and arrogance that we need across the pitch, allowing Howson a more attacking role. Howson and the full backs would need to offer secondary support for Holt and Wes, perhaps trying to nick a breakaway goal.
It`s been great to read about Grant Holt talking about the England set up today and great to hear his sense of humour regarding the comments he`s had recently about not being on his game. The Grant Holt with a point to prove that we all know and love is still there, the hunger is still there and that gives us hope. His goal last week could prove the catalyst to his and our season.
"If you`re going through Hell, keep going" is one of my favourite Churchill quotes, and it certainly feels like we are going through Hell at the moment. As fans, we have to keep going, we have to keep believing and we have to believe that this is the time when Hughton, Martin, Holt and Co prove to us that they are the leaders to get us out of this. The alternative is almost unthinkable.