I feel like I’ve written the same report for so many of our European games over the last couple of seasons. Shocking defending, little evidence of fight and being outplayed by a team that is pretty mediocre by European standards. Molde, Maribor and Malmo are all teams that you would struggle to describe as even average on the European stage and yet we have fallen short against them all. At some points tonight we were even making Molde look like Barcelona as they passed the ball through and around us.
As is often the case we started brightly before reality hit once again. Those of us at the stadium couldn’t believe the disallowed goals though I understand these were correct calls. But still, the ball had been in the net twice, so it looked promising. And then Simunovic went off. My heart sunk at this as I think he has made an enormous difference to the whole defence. Apparently Deila thinks so too as he risked him for this game but that is also a comment on his lack of trust in our other central defenders. At first I was pleased to see that it was Blackett and not Efe coming on but I was soon disabused of that idea. Nerves almost paralysed Blackett at first, missing easy balls, making wrong decisions, putting team-mates in trouble and so it was no surprise when he played a part in Molde’s opening goal (as the guy behind me described it at the time!).
A deflection by Commons got us back in the game but by now Molde had the measure of us and we weren’t getting behind the defence in the way we did at the start. A pattern was developing……Boyata would pass sideways to Blackett who passed sideways to Boyata who passed it slightly forward to Johansen who passed it to a Molde player or out of play. I lost count of how many times this happened although there were variations as to who eventually gave the ball away. Molde’s second goal was gift-wrapped for them by a disorganised and shaky defence and there’s no more I want to say about it!
In the second half, Molde started by far the better team and seemed to be going for a third goal. We were so poor at this point that they had stopped being a counter-attacking team and had us continually on the back foot. I was starting to think that this could be 1-3 or even 1-4 but eventually Molde reverted to type. We then had a couple of brief flurries but there was no real belief around the stadium that this team could score. In fact, there was no real confidence in the team at all by now.
Deila chucked on Ciftci and moved to a 4-4-2 removing the hapless Blackett in the process but not much changed. There’s no great excitement when Ciftci comes on as we know exactly what we’re going to get. A lot of running, free kicks needlessly given away and no goals. And so it proved. Forrest rarely saw the ball on the wing after he came on and Armstrong is struggling to find last season’s form (as are Gordon, Johansen and GMS).
As has been reported consistently elsewhere the one bright point was the performance of Tierney. This maybe indicates our way forward……..ditch those experienced players who are too inconsistent and develop youth. I also think as I said after the game in Norway, that Deila needs to choose his backroom staff.
Looking at Deila’s record in Norway it was in his third season that the real improvement was evident. I’ve no idea if that will happen here but I still (just) want him to have that chance. He has without doubt improved Griffiths, Bitton and Tierney. Simunovic could make an enormous difference to our back four if they ever get a settled run of games together.
Our only way to be successful in Europe again is to develop our homegrown players and buy young prospects with potential. We need a manager who can do that and I think Ronny can but it’s hard suffering nights like this in the meantime!