It seems like we are extremely fragile at the moment. Not in the sense that we get injured, no, the Collins injury is normal for any club during this period of the season.
What I mean is that as soon as the starting lineup that turned out that winning streak is altered the machinery breaks down.
Yesterday Tomkins played in the center of defense. He is a good player and may turn out to be a great player and can certainly not be held responsible for the collapse of our defense. I think that what we saw yesterday, however, emphasizes the importance of Collins, or maybe the vital importance of a rock-solid pair of center backs.
The games Collins and Upson has played together has been a fine-tuning process and we have seen them getting better by the game.
Tomkins in the team creates 2 problems. One is of course that we field a lesser player, but the disruption of the center back harmony and the effect it has on Upson (who seems to be too aware of his young apprentice to be at his best) is a bigger problem.
This is amplified by the style of Ilunga and lack of speed of Neill. Both these “traits” require the other defenders to adapt.
When Ilunga is missing, after his attacking adventures, the central defenders, with the help of the defensive minded midfielders, need to fill his abandoned area. It takes a fine tuned defensive machine to avoid confusion and un-covered areas in the box in those situations.
Ilunga, one of my favorite players, abandoned his defensive duties and left it to be solved partly by a 19 year old, far too often last night!
The problem on the other side is of a more “structural” type. Neill just isn’t quick enough to keep up. Collins and Behrami have bailed him out a number of times, or rather they adapt their game to his lack of speed. Tomkins should not really have to cover for the shortcomings of our captain, but should (at worst) be left to take responsibility for his own game.
The midfield is also affected by the insecurity a new young player in a vital position creates. Kovacs with his defensive qualities was, I believe, fielded to cover for the loss of Collins. It seems however that this change also disrupted the game of the midfielders. On the left we had, I’m not sure, Parker? Or Ilunga maybe? The mid-field had no width what so ever (even though I am reluctant to bring this up as the pundit kept nagging about it until I screamed!) However, it meant that Neill was left without a midfielder in front of him - good luck with that...
The defense need to go back to basics, as it did to halt the last run of bad results! It will also be the best way to break in Tomkins.