The switch back to 4-4-2 from 4-5-1 resulted in a comprehensive win and plenty of goal attempts as we defeated Blackburn 4-2. We might not be able to stick with this formation in every game, but it seems clear that it’s in our best interests to change to it from time to time.
I would not like us facing Arsenal away next week with Van der Vaart leaving a big gap down the right as he drifts infield, but for home games against beatable teams like Blackburn, 4-4-2 is probably the way to go for the time being.
Pavlyuchenko certainly looked happier with a partner up front, even if he and Crouch didn’t exactly work as a tandem. It was a mixed afternoon for the Russian, as he missed both a sitter and a penalty, before scoring our second goal. He certainly looked a lot livelier then when he’s expected to do the donkey work of a lone striker. It was also nice to see Crouch finally get the league goal that all his hard graft deserves.
Defoe should be back imminently and he can combine with both Crouch and Pavlyuchenko pretty well. How well the little forward will do in a 4-5-1 away from home or in Europe is open for debate, but if we can play him in a 4-4-2 at home and win most of those games, it seems as if we’ll be able to stay within touching distance of the top four, considering the way that everyone else is dropping points. There’s also always the (forlorn?) hope that we’ll sign a striker in January to ease all our tactical worries.
The game was also notable for Gareth Bale’s return to league form. While other teams have nullified his pace of late, Blackburn just didn’t have anyone who could live with his speed. Salgado and Chimbonda both came off second best, as Bale caused havoc down the left.
What’s so unusual about Bale is the quality of the final ball when travelling at pace and the cross for Pavlyuchenko’s goal was fantastic. When you consider what a player he could become when he improves certain aspects of his game, it truly is frightening. The headed goal was very well taken and with his size he could become a real aerial threat around the opposition box, just as Cristiano Ronaldo is.
Unsung heroes for me were Alan Hutton, who had another good game and Jermaine Jenas, who worked hard and showed plenty of energy. Although he had a decent match, I’m unsure of the Jenas/Modric pairing away from home or against more ambitious sides. With Huddlestone out for a while, it’s time for Palacios to recover his form or for Sandro to step up to the Premier League pace.
It’s encouraging and also frustrating that we are now only three points off Manchester City in third place, as we could easily have earned another 5-10 points this season. I’ve always taken the view though, that as long as we are in touching distance by the time that we are eliminated from the Champions League, then we’ll have a decent enough chance of finishing in the top four and so far we’re hanging in there.