Getting beat off Man Utd was inevitable, with Pogba back in the side they had their arrogance back. An arrogance that cost more than our entire squad as we were told through numerous channels, numerous times.
The disparity in price between the two sides was written into every match report before a ball had been kicked. Fans had stats prepared to highlight the gulf should the inevitable happen, and Benitez knew if we lost, he could drop it into a interview giving gravitas to all that used it as the reason for defeat.
Fast forward a week and our side cost more than Watford’s, 9 of the 11 were Benitez signings outside of captain and keeper, yet we were still outclassed, outthought and outfought.
Watford finished one place above relegation last season having lost their last 6 games. They were a bad team, without impetus and desperate for a new manager. In one summer Marco Silva has transformed them whilst we take baby-steps in the hope of a takeover. And yet there is no long-term plan here, only checkpoints to see if the manager has been given the funds he desires and the Watford result was a culmination of every decision made since Benitez arrived, both on and off the pitch.
Last season was a waste of everyone’s time. With a manager of the quality of Benitez and the amount we spent, failure to get promoted out of a league where no one is any good would have been a colossal failure. For perspective Reading finished 3rd despite being one of the worst sides anyone has ever seen, twice.
Signings designed to get us out of the league did their job but did we need Hanley, Diame and even Daryl Murphy. What even was a Lazaar? Benitez over-thought that league and the types of players he felt he needed to get out of it. He lived on the assumption that he could buy a new team this summer.
He didn’t factor in our owner which is understandable, a pathological liar that had just allowed him to pay Matz Sels’ wage in Belgium for the next 5 years, why wouldn’t he assume he had control. As it turned out Mike Ashley was who we knew he was and Benitez has been left to work with a side of players not fit for purpose, his purpose. Quite how Tammy Abraham would have made us better than Watford is beyond me however, because we play the way we do because of who Benitez is, was, and always will be. A pragmatist.
The system is everything. It only fails through human error so when that happens you replace the human. Rafa’s enjoyment of the game has always seemed devoid of emotion to me. Where I once admired his approach to goals as an opportunity to teach the defence, I now tenuously see it as a man who regards goals as those things used to work out who the smartest man in the room is. With better players it might very well be him but is the question then, do we have a tactical genius able to adjust and build a system for the parts available to him? Or do we have a transfer manager that requires better players to fit a system he’s honed and is reluctant or unable to change? It’s probably a bit of both.
The football last year was a blueprint for this season. A gameplan designed to limit chances for the opposition and exploit their failings has left us with no alternatives, when you create an atmosphere of not wanting the ball you’re left clueless when you need it. I Walked out of a 4–0 home win against bottom side Rotherham wondering why our manager hates the game so much as we barely had a shot on goal during that first half. Matt Ritchie was the difference that day, a player too good for the Championship, arguably too slow for the Premier League.
Likewise Shelvey, Gayle and Clark. Players who shone last year have looked mediocre this season. The step up in quality is not proof that they are bad footballers, rather that they lack the physical qualities required to compete. Only Yedlin and Murphy offered us any sense of pace on Saturday and I’m sure Benitez would love to improve that. But in a season where I feel he could have bought young players with potential to grow with the system we find ourselves in a buy to replace situation. Mbemba and Mitrovic for example, found their roles diminished in favour of older players he could trust but they’ve since gone and those two remain peripheral, worse than when they arrived.
Some might argue that it has been working up until the last four games. The school of thought that three points are all that matter as staying up is the only goal. It’s not one I subscribe to as it ignores why the results go the way they go. So when voicing concerns after defeat is met with ridicule by the press, other fans and especially the manager, then my tolerance of the football the manager employs lowers. Bizarre match reports in both papers and fanzines talked about how well we played against Palace yet were critical after Bournemouth. One chronicle writer tweeted about 80 times during the Man Utd match and wrote 3 update articles throughout. So when I read that Benitez has turned Perez into a complete number 10 I’m leaning towards thinking, these people don’t even watch the match.
Benitez joked in the summer about learning Chinese. He’s mentioned more than any manager we’ve ever had about needing the fans support. Sticking Together. Working Hard. Working Hard. We need to work hard. It’s identity politics and the likes of Wor Hyem have seized the opportunity to carry his battle cry. Unfortunately it only goes so far because what happens on the pitch is the one true unifier. I don’t care how hard they work in training if they lose four in a row and score once because those other four teams worked harder, worked better.
If it’s an issue of them having better players then you can’t be upset some internet lads think Perez is terrible. Which is it? Is it bad management or bad players? It can’t be neither when it happens consistently.
Ashley is the overriding problem here and his impact on the club has been far worse than simply results. By drifting aimlessly in recent years as anger turned to apathy we have come out of it desperate and timid. Constantly reminded that we used to have Steve McClaren as manager so we should be grateful.
Where some had pride in the players and oddly themselves after Man Utd, I was more concerned finally playing a team in form where the work of the manager over the past year seems to have had a flaw from the beginning.
Benitez did an interview years ago suggesting football is a lie, all about defending players in public and addressing issues behind the scenes. And so his recent interview was more honest, more emotional than we’ve seen, and he was right. For all my issues with his transfer activity and style of football, without the lies and broken promises of the summer I wouldn’t be writing this. We’d simply be better, because the players would be better.