Squad depth; Lingering questions
Following our match against everton earlier today Jose had the following to say amongst other things;
'Regarding Oscar, today he was saying he could cope with the pain, it's not a dangerous one, just a painful one. He said he could cope with the situation, clearly he couldn't.
'We have three days so let's see. With Mikel and David Luiz, I don't know if they can recover. It's important we have at least one of them because we don't have Matic for the Champions League.
'Ramires had a similar situation to Oscar, I tried to protect him and not play him but the game demanded I play him. Clearly, though, he could cope with the situation.'
I don`t know about others but these comments give me serious cause for concern.
It was apparent to anyone and everyone that Oscar was not right today. He was easily the worst player out there on the pitch today and that was why after the first half Jose pulled him out post hence. The serious question that needs to be asked is that with a crucial away champion`s league tie against Galatasaray in Istanbul just 3 days away is our squad so thin that we had to start Oscar despite the fact he was injured and in pain pre game? Are our options so limited and poor in the area he plays to warrant such a gamble and risk?
We are all very happy now that we managed to escape with a 1-0 victory but we all know we just escaped with the skin of our teeth and none of our rivals at the top failed to win this week..we just barely pulled it of..good fortune can only carry one so far.
It is also telling that one of the subs called in by Jose was Ramires. As it turned out that was an inspired call as Ramires seemed back to his usual energetic self after having several poor games recently. However the question again needs to be asked. Jose revealed that his (Ramires's) situation is similar to Oscar meaning he has been injured for some time and dealing with ongoing pain. Jose even indicated that this was the reason he didn't start. This begs the question that are our options so limited and poor that with our performance clearly flat jose had to lean on an injured Ramires who was at the time still dealing with ongoing pain rather than anyone else in the squad? For example we had Salah who is definitely not playing mid week available and as far as we have been informed fully fit and uninjured. Is he so poor that he could not offer anything of note to the attacking third in the final 20-30 minutes of the game?
In essence Jose`s starting picks and subs suggest that he feels a ~ 50% Oscar and maybe 70% Ramires offer more value to the team than 100% fit Salah and Schurrle. This is a very telling proposition.
The same line of reasoning could be applied to our strikers. I don`t even remember how Ba looks. It has been that long since I last saw him play for us. Eto O had good movements in the match but has clearly lost a step. The predator's instincts, hunger and desire are still there but the body can no longer do what he did so well with Mallorca, Real, Barca and Inter. As the saying goes for Eto O it is a case of the mind being willing but the flesh being weak. When he was subbed of, Jose preferred El nino who is just coming of recovery from injury and was essentially anonymous in a similar role at the Etihad last week. As far as we have been informed Ba is 100% fit and not nursing or recovering from any injuries and yet Jose elected to put on a just recuperating Torres who was again essentially anonymous. This again suggests that Jose rates a rather tepid, just recovering Torres more than a 100% fit Ba even for a short 20-30 minute stretch.
The implications of these observations are concerning. Forget all the names we have listed on our squad roster. Jose`s starting picks and subs for the last few games tell us that effectively our squad in his eyes is about 14-15 strong. There are several players on the list we have submitted to UEFA and the FA who he rates so low that he would rather play injured, out of form and underperforming players from his band of 15 than even risk any of these guys for even limited minutes.
This can only have negative effects on those outside the inner circle; the outsiders will feel progressively less relevant to our cause and will likely get more and more rusty, more and more disenchanted and less and less effective on those few occasions when serious injury and or suspensions force Jose to have to call one or more of them up. It is a very different mind set to be called up to play because the manager feels you can contribute something unique to the collective in a particular game or setting as opposed to being picked to play simply because there are absolutely no other options left.
The other implication of this is that if these other players are rated so poorly (and/or are in fact so poor) then come summer we should not be looking at just the much mentioned 2 new faces as signings. We are going to need much more than that (we will need to get a set of back ups in critical positions that Jose can trust) because if the declaration that next season we will be close to the finished product ready to challenge on multiple fronts is true we will need real squad depth to make it a reality.
Right now whatever the total number of names, Jose`s choices speak eloquently that we have a thin squad and this will need to be fixed at season`s end while in the meantime we must hope and pray that this real or perceived lack of depth does not end up costing us the chance of stealing the BPL title this season and advancing far in the champions league. KTBFFH.