‘Our pre-season games have shown there’s more work to do’

We look at a few of our pre-season games for any clues on who might shine this season

Michail Antonio (WHU) at the Arsenal v West Ham United EPL match, at the Emirates Stadium, London, UK on 11th December, 2021.

We all know that pre-season friendly results mean very little. 

Avram Grant’s disastrous spell at the helm started with an unbeaten pre-season schedule and ended in relegation.

However, fans look forward to them as they offer a glimpse of new signings and new ideas. At least in theory.

Our pre-season kicked off with a visit to Swiss side Servette and a 2-0 victory with goals from now Sunderland player Aji Alese and 17-year-old debutant Divin Mubama.

Manuel Lanzini, playing as a deep-lying midfielder was the standout player, pulling strings in possession.

Said Benrahma notched an assist and there is nothing our fanbase loves more than a young starlet making their first start.

But there was little more for fans to get excited about, save the promise that football-proper is nearly back.

This was followed by two games in a day, as Moyes stepped up the bid for full fitness of the squad. 

Boreham Wood

Half the squad went to Boreham Wood, with Benrahma, Lanzini, Diop and Masuaku featured as the senior players and Mubama had another chance to impress. 

Benrahma scored a good free kick but missed an easy chance shortly after. Lanzini was again involved in much of our positive work and youngsters Forson and Nevers looked lively. Boreham Wood scored after a Roberto-esqe flap from Randolph and the game finished 1-1.

Meanwhile, a more senior-looking side travelled to Ipswich and saw Flynn Downes make his debut following his recent arrival from Swansea.

He played in a double pivot with Conor Coventry, while fellow youngsters Dan Chesters and Harrison Ashby were deployed together down the right. 

Armstrong Okoflex had a chance behind Michail Antonio and it was those two who combined before our number nine teed up Kurt Zouma for the opener. 

Antonio looked his normal handful but his finishing was equally familiar to the post-Christmas version of the Jamaican International.

Ashby looked solid and his parried strike led to Chesters tucking a chance away for 2-0. The game finished 2-1 after Creswell was beaten in the air at the back post.

Reading

We then travelled to Reading, naming a strong lineup in a game that saw our new £30m centre-back Aguerd make his debut. 

Jarrod Bowen tasted his first involvement, Nikola Vlasic started in the 10 role and Vladimir Coufal and Ben Johnson returned at right and left backs respectively. 

Lanzini again played as a deeper midfielder, this time alongside Downes before Rice returned to action in the second half to play alongside the new boy.

Bowen, direct as ever, looked dangerous and set up Vlasic to head home after some good sustained possession. 

The Croat looked more comfortable playing centrally and was involved in some of our better play. However, the game ended 1-1 and could’ve been worse had Reading not had a goal ruled out for offside

Rangers

Rangers were next and saw us name a very familiar eleven, albeit with Aguerd starting alongside Zouma and Lanzini playing alongside Rice in the deeper role he had played throughout preseason.

An even first half of few chances, the biggest moment was seeing our Aguerd limp off. 

This was followed by a 13 minute capitulation at the start of the second that saw Rangers race into a 3-0 lead. 

Tomas Soucek had 30 minutes as he stepped up his summer return to see the game finish 3-1 but overall, it was an unsatisfying display. 

The only bright spark was Bowen and a decent cameo from Vlasic who found room playing at number 10.

It can only be positive that Soucek got on the score sheet and Coufal looked back to something resembling his bombarding self.

As we have said, results are largely meaningless and a defeat, along with a couple of wins and draws doesn’t need to set alarm bells ringing but it’s difficult to see much to get excited about after these games.

Reality

Truth is, we’ve not really added much to the squad that is going to trouble last year’s starting 11.

Downes has looked OK but is unlikely to dislodge Soucek any time soon. 

Aguerd seems a great addition – reads the game well and will be an asset in our build-up, with the ability to play line-breaking passes but we now wait on injury news. 

The Lanzini playing deep experiment helps us in build-up, but will limit Rice, as it did against Rangers, and leaves us vulnerable to counter attacks when we lose the ball, which has been evident in all our fixtures so far. 

Cresswell, a splendid servant, needs an upgrade. Benny continues to blow hot and cold.

Fornals combines well with Antonio and works hard but it is difficult to pigeonhole his role as we look for more cutting edge. 

Antonio

Antonio is still a key player but his failure to score some ‘bread and butter’ chances is a worry.

You still feel Vlasic has something to offer but we need to see more. Nor has there been any significant shift in the way we look to play – either in or out of possession.

Of the youngsters, Ashby is the most promising but is vying for a role in an area where we already have two reliable players.

Coventry is again in the position of wondering whether a few cup appearances for us is better than regular football lower down the pyramid. Mubama is still too raw to be Antonio’s competition or backup.

Essentially – pre-season has acted to remind us that Moyes, Newman and the board have a lot to do in the remaining weeks to inject a new lease of life into a squad that looked dead on its feet towards the end of the last campaign.

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