The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Here’s a quick rundown of the last 10 league games, or, as I’ve taken to calling them, “the complete repudiation of all we are and stand for.”
The Champions League played out a little more encouragingly. After losing two games to Barcelona by a combined score of 4-6, we had to beat Lyon at home and Partizan away—and hope that Lyon would lose to Barça—to have a chance of advancing out of our group. We lived up to our end of this with a great 4-2 win over Lyon and a 3-1 win over Partizan. But Lyon held Barça to a draw in the last game, so our comeback didn’t really mean much:
And now we’re stuck in fifth in Serie A and fluttering down to the first knockout round of the Europa League.
What’s alarming about all this is that I can’t see any obvious cause for our struggles; there must be some correctable factor or factors, but when I watch the team, I don’t see what they are. We have noticeably better players than we did last year, they all seem to be doing okay, and yet we’re on pace to score fewer goals and concede more goals than we did last season. I can’t point to a lot of blatant tactical errors I’ve made, and yet we’re losing games late and failing to come back after we give up a lead. Maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board with our tactics, but if I’m going to do that, I’d like to have a clear sense of what I’m trying to accomplish beyond “win more games,” and at the moment, I just don’t have it.
I’ve been trying to keep from overreacting, especially since there’s a chance the team just needs more time to gel. I didn’t bring in any new senior players in January, and I didn’t sell anyone or make wholesale changes to the team sheet. That, actually, could be part of the problem, because I turned down huge bids for some of our best players, and a few of them—namely Sammarco, Contini, and Ibrahimovic—are now unhappy at not being allowed to move to a bigger club. I don’t usually worry when one player is unhappy, but three, particularly when one of them is the captain, could mean a serious drag on our motivation.
Well, Ibrahimovic can sulk all he wants; there’s nothing I can do about it till the end of the season. At this point, the only way forward is to hold on and hope that over the next four months the team will get its nerve back and reclaim its place in the top four. We have the head-to-head tiebreaker secured over Palermo, which could be huge. If we wind up not qualifying for the Champions League next year, that rumble of discontent from players wanting to leave for bigger clubs is likely to turn into a roar.
by Brian Phillips · May 8, 2009