Against Blackburn we fielded 3 players I definitely think is not up to even being cover:
Spector – handed an extension of his contract this season and I sincerely hope this is the last time we decide to keep him.
DiMichele – I have waited with my verdict as he’s had the odd decent game. But this is it, I don’t want him being even close to a starter in West Ham.
Tristan – I may be a bit harsh here, he’s only got one start, but he shows me no promise.
With these on the pitch and another 2 that I don’t see as starting material (LBM, Kovac) it may be no surprise that we were totally outplayed by a side in 17th place (and mind you also having some important players missing).
So we had 6 (9?) players injured, and another was out due to suspension, but this is not exactly unheard of, most teams go thru spells like this (last year we had 12 sidelined players at one time). Let’s take a look at them one by one.
Ashton – is a player for the international stage when at his best and fit. I refuse to call him injury prone since it’s not repeated strains and that kind of injuries he has suffered. Upson – is a top central defender. Good enough to start in all but one or two sides in the PL.
Collins – has been great for us this season! Could keep his place in a top 5 side as far as I’m concerned.
Collison – is one for the future. I mean, he will be even better next season and may prove to be able to justify a starting position in a very good PL side. Being young he will hardly be consistent for a year or two, therefore we need a stable environment not to be dependent on Jack being on top of his game.
Behrami – has a work rate second to none. Could prove to be a even bigger asset if given a chance to play without covering for Neill. I think, however, that his passing game is not really what we need in that position if we are to “take the next step”.
Savio – could turn out to be just as good as we hope. Not a top team starter yet. Another that should be an addition to a good squad, not one that we should base the game on quite yet.
Dyer –We don’t even know if he still has it in him when fit. Hopefully he will be able to prove himself, or at least show what he’s got in the dying weeks of this season.
Gabbidon – if ever fit enough to manage a game he’s a good backup for starting defenders.
Dixon – I was unsure if I should list him here. Totally unproven even as fit and there are serious doubts that he can still make a career out of football due to his knee cap problems.
We were/are certainly unlucky to see both center halves out at the same time but with Tomkins this good and Neill doing a good job in the center as well means that we should be OK in the center of defense also next season (if Neill decides to stay).
Both strikers we were planning on as starters this season were also missing. Looking at the games lately it seems like they are the only decent strikers in our books, with nothing of PL quality to replace them. Sears may still prove to be great and performed well in some games alongside Bellamy, but to be dependent on Freddie (or God forbid Di Michele or Tristan) is not compatible with a “next step”, or maybe not even a top 15 position.
The rest of the injured, however, are players that are not (yet) exceptional, and thus should not be considered irreplaceable. But the team suffers greatly with Cover Kovac or LBM on the pitch. Kovac may want to win, his attitude is great, but he is not good enough to use in the kind of game plan Zola has in mind. The same goes for LBM, a great work rate but is too sloppy I the passing game. Spector… we need an improvement at the right back, not an inept cover.
The squad is vulnerable in the sense that there is a huge quality difference between the assumed starters and the cover in many positions. This is extra problematic considering that some in the optimal starting lineup are youngsters and cannot be asked to be consistent, control or even start each game.
We are to believe that Zola asked for this situation, but I refuse to believe that he is content with a squad where Spector, DiMichele and Tristan are being played. He may want a small squad to work with, but again I refuse to believe that he wants a squad were the youngsters, that he enjoys working with and developing, are completely necessary to field a decent side.
I don’t even care to imagine what would happen if Ilunga was out!
What our economical position will be in the summer is any ones guess, and therefore what is possible in terms of strengthening is impossible to say at the moment, but I think one of the major priorities in the summer should be to increase the quality of the cover.