Can you put your finger on what’s going wrong for us this season?
Meirion Williams: There are a number of things wrong this season. Firstly, we seem to have a number of players either out of form or having read their own press cuttings and believe they have arrived. Secondly, I have to point the finger at Moyes who seems inflexible and has been pretty much found out as we have become predictable. We are also lacking a leader; Be it on the field or in the dressing room. Rice, for all his ability, is not a captain and we are missing Noble.
David Meagher: There’s no doubt that despite the good feeling around the club that we have not been playing well for most of 2022. We ran out of steam in last season’s run-in but right now, we lack cohesion going forward due to having so many options and our new attacking options not arriving until late in the transfer window and are still bedding in. In addition to that, Tomas Soucek has not been playing as well as he did in his first year and looks persistently ‘leggy’. Add to that our lack of impact at set pieces – Everton was a prime example where we had a dozen or so corners and created only one decent chance.
Lucy Farrell: I agree with bits of Meirion and David’s points – we’ve been found out, run out of steam, Rice isn’t bossing it as he needs to, and that many new signings will take time to settle. I’m still not convinced Moyes made those signings, I sense some board meddling. I don’t like the phrase ‘overachieved’, but perhaps we did and we need to be more level-headed about this season.
Bradley Holland: I agree with the consensus here. Our poor form is a collective of things gathering at the same time. RIce is the best player but without Noble providing the extra structure, he’s probably overwhelmed playing both roles. Moyes is focusing on reliables of the past without adding into it new energy. Soucek, Coufal, and Bowen all made huge impacts because of a new energy they brought – now they have settled, the team needs to have some players with spark driving the others back into form such as Benrahma, Cornet, Scamacca, Downes.
With games coming up against Fulham, Southampton and Bournemouth, how important will these games be for our season?
MW: These games are huge and could decide our future. We could pick up all nine points but we all know how difficult it is to go to the south coast and also to beat Bournemouth at home. Three tricky games for me.
DM: We need points and some results to boost morale. There is a sense that we are close to clicking into gear but that needs to happen soon or we will be playing bottom half football for the season. That said, this is a strong squad, so I wouldn’t rule out a late surge into the top six whatever happens before Christmas.
LF: They’re undoubtedly important, we need to pick up points. But they’re not the be-all-and-end-all. If we can put in performances that deserve wins and come away with at least five points, it’s progress. It’s a very stop-start season, so it’s hard to tell how momentum will swing.
BH: It’s said in the Premier League that no game is an easy game, but really looking at the table there are only three or four teams that seem winnable, and this is the next run of matches. If we don’t capitalise on the points from these fixtures, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Hopefully we will start to settle and bounce back the way Arsenal and Spurs did last season.
Do you think Moyes’ job is under threat right now?
MW: Our board has a history of not liking managerial changes at this time of year but it cannot escape them that they have spent a shed load of money to be in a relegation battle. He has to be under pressure, if not he is as deluded as Antonio thinking he’s an out-and-out striker.
DM: No, I think Moyes has bedded in a philosophy that will endure and will come right with time. I have little regard for the scaremongers who want immediate success, that’s simply not the Moyes method.
LF: Totally agree David! Is Moyes under pressure? Sure. Is his job in doubt? Not at all. And if it is, it’s ridiculous. This club needs stability, which it seems to have found with Moyes. And with Nobes coming back to the club, the two could work well together to restore harmony well before the end of the season.
BH: Moyes and the team should have time to resolve, collect, and build, but that will come with a term limit. Soon we’ll have to get wins or even a variety of results to show that his method is still working for us.
And whilst we’ve struggled in the Premier League, we’ve got two wins out of two in our Europa Conference League group. But how do you think we’ll get on against Anderlecht?
MW: Anderlecht is going to be the toughest of all the teams in the group. The London Stadium last year for European nights was a fortress, but sadly it’s been decided this year to milk a fan base that is already struggling for cash. The price of tickets has lead to a half empty stadium. Even the recent season ticket offer only saved us £2 a ticket. With no atmosphere that home leg could be really tough. I have a feeling that we might finish top but it’s going to be tight.
DM: I disagree. I think we have almost nailed down the group already and that should allow a bit of breathing space between games to get our Premier League form up to speed. Anderlecht have history but the gulf in resources is immense and I can’t see us struggling too much against them. If we win either game we have control of the group and can use the remaining games to blood new and younger talent.
LF: Anderlecht will be a tricky fixture, but I think the form we’ve shown in Europe and the desire to win the group will see us through. Yes, maybe we’ll only win one of the ties against them in the group stage, but that would be OK. Moyes’ European picks have points to prove, which stands to our advantage against difficult opponents, I think.
BH: I think the team feels less pressure with Europe and this allows them to play more freely after they get their heads together following the usual opposition goal in the first 45.
Could the World Cup come at a good time for us?
MW: If we lose to Leicester we are doomed. The World Cup this year is a distraction we simply don’t need. If we are in the bottom three after Leicester and depending who is available, I can see us making a change.
DM: It’s hard to find anything to like about this World Cup apart from a chance to grab a breath from the torrent of games. The difficulty is that most of our better players will be away at the competition which limits Moyes’ opportunity to grow our cohesion in the squad. As stated, I think Moyes is not under any real pressure in terms of his job.
LF: I’m on the fence here! On one hand when games come thick and fast it may be nice for the majority of the players and staff to take their foot off the gas a little. But we could be gaining momentum by then, which won’t be helped by missing a few key players in training for international duty. Moyes will still be in charge in January…I hope.
BH: If players are not in the World Cup because of poor form, then actually playing behind closed door friendlies versus Championship sides would be a great team cohesion builder. I think we really have to mix up the teams, and see what players naturally gel and respond to one another and in what form. I’d also like to be able to try out different formations like a 433, 442, or 352 with the new players – the window was good but late so they’ve had no time to gel.