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End of Term Report 2021 – Part 3 24/05/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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11- Adam Masina

I do still wish he was more aggressive.

I appreciate that times have changed, that the archetypal full-back in my head – Stuart Pearce, Robbo, Julian Dicks – doesn’t really exist any more.  To an extent they never did – all three were better footballers than the pastiche in your mind’s eye leaves them, all three would have “adapted” to the changing game.  Indeed Robbo, who only retired three years ago after all, demonstrably did.   Nonetheless.  Adam Masina is a big bloke and I’d like him to be scarier.

In every other respect however, he’s tremendous.  We appreciated this most in his absence, and not just when/because we were short of cover at left back.  For whatever reason this is such a difficult role to fill;  centre-forwards, yes, are precious and expensive, elite players in any position are sought after.  But looking back over the years, how many times have we been caught without a reliable left-back?

Masina ticks every box.  He’s not spectacular, not a star of the side, but he’s strong, quick, honest and reliable.  There are baubles to his game too, an increasingly reliable line in sweeping cross field passes for one, the ability to pull off extraordinarily precise, keyhole surgery tackles like the one that stole the ball off Teemu Pukki’s toe another, the ability to hit the ball really quite hard with entertaining results (Forest, Cardiff) another.  Significant that earlier in the season with Masina out, Ivić desperate for a left-back and his former charge Dimitris Giannoulis (who has just joined Norwich after a successful loan) seemingly lined up, we held fire.  There were plenty of reasons not to spend money that perhaps didn’t need spending of course, but we showed later in the season that we were prepared to do so where deemed necessary.  The passing of time justifies the decision not to do so.

All of which without considering the backstory.   There are player’s you’d root for less, put it that way.

Next Season:  Adam will need competition for his place.  No concerns at all beyond that.

12- Ken Sema

In 2020 there were all sorts of little (and big) things that colluded to get us relegated, but for any one of which… (not that we’ll ever know).  This season it’s as easy to list things that were all, individually, critical to promotion; Kenzema is certainly on that list.

When he left for Udinese after a vaguely but not startlingly encouraging first season you kind of suspected that that was that.  He kept gamely popping up on the left hand side of their Serie A line-up though and when we went down, with Gerry vacating our left flank and Adam Masina injured, he went from being a fringe player in 2018/19 to absolutely fundamental this year. He was a left wing-back when we needed him to be, a left-winger when we needed him to be, and other bits and pieces as well on a less frequent basis.

The nature of his involvement changed throughout the season.  Early on, when we were solid but less than prolific, his ability to dig out one cast-iron chance in the flattest of games by barrelling down the left touchline, his massive shoulder span prohibiting any marker from getting close enough to the ball to nick it away from him, got us out of jail any number of times.

His cross on the final day dropped onto Andre Gray’s head to put us ahead against Swansea… but before that he hadn’t created a goal since the win over Norwich on Boxing Day.  Instead, with Sarr flaming on and leaving scorch marks down the Championship’s right flanks Sema became the man on the end of those moves;  all five of his goals in the League came after the post-Coventry turnaround.

His performance levels wobbled at times, but given that he had a spell out with COVID I think that can be forgiven.  All that he achieved he managed with a grin on his face – and I think it does help, writing immediately post Bournemouth’s tragic demise at Brentford, to have good blokes as well as good footballers in the team.  It’s good to want to root for the guys in yellow without reservation.

Next Season: Ken may not be a first choice in the Premier League, but he’ll be there or thereabouts wherever and whenever needed.

14- Nathaniel Chalobah

Another one of those little bits that combined to get us promoted came at around quarter past three in Cardiff on March 13th.  After the defeat at Bournemouth (snigger) we’d regained our footing through a couple of accommodatingly timed home wins without looking totally comfortable.  Cardiff had been on a thunderous, heavyweight run since Mick McCarthy’s arrival and the match felt pivotal.

Adam Masina’s late free kick got the headlines.  Just as significant was Nate’s involvement.  In the absences of both Troy Deeney and Tom Cleverley it was the returning Chalobah who took the captain’s armband and appeared to revel in the responsibility.  Cardiff took the lead after breaking down the left, but the grim silence of the stadium meant that all of those watching on heard his “stay cool” shout as the game resumed.  Within a minute he was walking the walk, winning his dance-off with City’s defence and planting the ball into the bottom corner.

How often does a glimpse of a star remain just that?  We saw a hugely promising seventeen year-old on loan nine seasons ago, but four years away, three years back, a knee injury and an England debut later the jury was still out at the start of this season.  Hell, halfway through the season I was being accused of being too kind to Chalobah in reports on this site.  The question wasn’t whether he could, but whether he would

By the time Nate was ambling down Occupation Road in the wake of the Swansea game, tipping his head back and bellowing “yoooorns” to the heavens (as we all have many times…) he’d ended all debate.

Next Season:  Nate can be a leader with the captain’s armband.  We need him to be a leader whether he’s wearing it or not.  He’s our physicality in the middle of the park in the absence of Doucs and Capoue, the one midfielder who can do anything.   We need him to do it all at once.  But in case this wasn’t clear, I think Nate’s bloody tremendous.

15- Craig Cathcart

Craig Cathcart is only (just) 32.  He’s a lot older than that in my head.

Perhaps because ever since his return on a permanent basis (one of four in the squad to have done so after a loan – none of whom loaned from Udinese…) he’s played like a veteran.  Always in the right place.  Always calm.  For all that there were widely perceived deficiencies in our defence prior to relegation they were just that – deficiencies, things the unit was missing rather than problems with what was there.

What the defence was missing was something big, ugly and Sierralta-shaped, and whilst Cathcart’s role became less prominent after his hamstring injury coincided with the Chilean’s emergence he was still absolutely reliable when called upon whether at centre back or, in extremis, on the right.  What’s not to like?

Next Season:  Although the evidence isn’t entirely convincing (three starts together in the middle, two defeats albeit Bournemouth and Brentford away), you wouldn’t rule out a Cathcart/Sierralta partnership entirely.  It fits the organiser/doer blueprint nicely, and the retention-of-possession concern with WTE isn’t an issue with Craig.  If not, one of the first names on the bench.  Hurrah.

Comments»

1. Luke Fairweather - 24/05/2021

Re- Craig Cathcart. It was said of Paulo Maldini that he only made a tackle every other game simply because his positioning was so good. On the rare occasions that he did tackle he took it as a personal insult because it meant that something was wrong. I see something of this in our Craig. Mostly in the right place at the right time, never spectacular but just, there.
Great reports Matt. Thanks

Matt Rowson - 24/05/2021

great analogy. Yeah. I’m sure Maldini modelled his game on Craig. Or on the anticipation of Craig.

2. Ben - 24/05/2021

Yeah, I’d say Cathcart will be the new and improved Mapps next season (as well as being the older wiser Craig Cathcart).

Matt Rowson - 24/05/2021

That comparison had occurred to me too, agree

3. Tim Wells - 24/05/2021

Another good summary . Pretty much articulating what most of us think .l think Chalobah was one player who actually benefited from us going down , with the departure of ,capouet and Ducuoure he grew dominating the middle of the park in the latter games. Sema was one some of us had forgotten but his performances quickly changed that. He. Was a big contributor to us going up Cathcart not the force he has been but still excellent when called on especially the Norwich game where he shifted to right back . You’d hope all three get some action in the prem .of all Chalobah should be the most essential COYH.

4. davidfishermusic - 24/05/2021

Chalobah has been superb. It felt to me that a big factor in his improvement was the return to fitness of Will Hughes (though I admit I’m inclined to credit Will Hughes for just about anything. If lasting peace in Palestine is achieved I’m sure I’d find a way of explaining how it was an indirect result of Hughes’ excellent range of passing).

My biggest issue with Nate was always that he could be a little cumbersome in possession. And that really stuck out when playing as a deep lying midfielder in a cumbersome, Ivic-y system. But give him more of a licence to roam with WH behind him pulling the strings and he comes into his own. A fabulous player.

Kristoffer Vad - 25/05/2021

If you establish the Will Hughes Appreciation soceity, sign me up!

5. jtbodbo - 24/05/2021

I am so delighted for Chalobah – for him personally. I thought his injury would finish him at this level. Sensibly, he took his time getting up to the standard he always promised , and will comfortably replace Capoue for several years.

6. Roger Boon ( Hopemole) - 24/05/2021

So pleased Chalobah is well and truly back. He was playing so well under Silva before that injury and seemed really lacking in confidence when he returned. Even in the first part of this this season according to TD he wasn’t fully injury free despite playing. However I think David Fisher is spot on. Hughes move into defensive midfield has freed him to play a position he seems more naturally suited to and I expect more goals even in the Prem.

7. Fez - 25/05/2021

Sema, Chalobah and Masina were arguably our three most improved players last season. Chalobah’s complete grasp of what is required of a Captain was a very welcome addition to our armoury especially as I’ve been quite critical of him in giving the ball away too cheaply… I swear to god that if I shouted “yellow to yellow” at the telly once more during the season my head would’ve imploded!


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