Agree again- I think we could potentially have a better attack than Man U saying all that- but where we might not realise that potential is the mentality we have in attack. Yesterday was promising in that respect, but then games like Villa (as mentioned above) are the exact opposite. Hopefully we'll see more performances like yesterdays though- an attacking strategy that gives a bit more freedom to the attackers rather than shackling them with overly tactical instructions.
To be fair though, there's a world of difference between playin Villa on the back of a run of poor form, press and fans on our back, all the pressure on us to perform, added Barry bollocks, Gerrard injured, and then Torres off after 20 minutes. Maybe we could have been more expansive, but mentally speaking we were clearly nowhere near the level we were against United, where we'd had a bit of time to prepare and in some ways the pressure was far less (maybe not on getting a result, but at least in terms of performance...no-one was going to go ape-shit critical of Rafa and the lads if we'd played relatively poorly and got a good result).
Definite level 3 signs though, and you could see our high intensity pressing game at it's finest. I'm also becoming more and more convinced that Barry would be a great signing for us. I love Alonso as a player, but for me the comparison between his performance and Mash's was very telling on Saturday.
Mash was dominant in defense, and as soon as that platform was achieved he was also stunning in attack. His passing was almost Xabi-like..always spreading the play, but able to chip/play it through with delicacy, vision and skill. Somehow though, and it seems more with every match, he is adding a peak years Roy Keane like ability to drive us forward with some great runs, bursting from deeper and totally changing the complexion of the match, as he did for the second goal.
Xabi, on the other hand, was excellent doing his Xabi-thing, but my worry is that no matter how well he can stay deeper and ping great balls about, in our current system I'd take a hit on that passing in exchange for the stamina, running, mobility, versatility and most importantly the pitch coverage of a Barry or Mash, I really would.
Maybe Xabi seems more mobile for Spain because they play so patiently? For them he seems able to use his skills around the box a lot more, which I am desperate for him to do for us, but it just never seems to happen. I think a problem is that back in the day, teams were not so defensive against us...he always had space to play his long balls into. It's not the same these days. I'm beginning to think that as we develop further, in his own way I wonder if he isn't as hampered by his limitations as Kuyt and Carra, with the fatal blow that he lacks the versatility to be as useful in the squad as those two?
Anyway, sorry about that...he's still a magnificent player, and I should be being positive. Riera was great, and while I'm no wingers freak, I was wrong in previous assesments. Clearly midfield domination was a huge part of the problem, but there's no denying the difference Riera made, even in 80 minutes of one game. I think it's important to note he isn't an out and out traditional winger, but just having a natural there did give us much more balance and threat.
Importantly, and despite his lack of pace, his height and technique and the way he played suggest he could be a very useful emergency outlet for us...we actually now have more than one target to aim at if we want/need to 'hoof' it from the back.
I also loved his passing intelligence. Reminded me actually of what I hoped for from Leto, in some ways more like a second striker with his height and ability to play little perfectly weighted passes around. Great to see how obviously him and Aurelio relished playing together, and also great that from looking weak we now - with Riera, Aurelio, Dossena and Babel - look to have a really impressive diversity of options on that side. R&A, D&B look like natural, balanced pairings to me, with A&B ideal if we want to play narrow, while D&R look potentially less solid in defence, but really threatening going forward.
I'm really looking forward to seeing Degen on the other side too. Just like Arbeloa seems more balanced playing with a Benny, Pennant or even a Keane or Gerrard (namely an out and out attacker) I wonder if Degen/Kuyt might prove similar in terms of the pair bringing the best out of each other and becoming greater than the sum of their parts?
Anyway, it's all really really positive, especially given that we haven't seen anywhere near top form from Gerrard and Torres, I have huge hopes for Lucas if he gets a chance in Xabi's position, Agger should not be forgotten, and a number of potentially very dangerous level 3 type players like Babel, Dossena and Keane should also improve significantly as the season goes on.
Keane in particular is, I think, no more than a goal away from becoming a very, very danerous cog in our machine. I wasn't totally certain about his signing, but there is no doubt he gives huge amounts between the lines, and I think Saturday showed his worth too. I know his finishing was poor, but I think just having that presense of a proven dangerous striker, (with of course the experience workrate and, finishing aside top forward display from Kuyt), meant that unlike in previous years we still carried a big threat without our biggest players, and the rest of the team clearly had confidence in them too. The leadership he so clearly brings to what is still a young side is a massive positive too.
In fact, he and Kuyt were good enough that it looks like we may be able to rest Gerrard and Torres though choice at times this season, and the ability to keep those two fit and fresh for big games could be huge. Gerrard in particular is one who always seems to play superbly after he's been rested...perhaps no wonder given the insane amount of football he's played over the years.