Monk deserves time, but we can't just wait for it to click
Somewhere between fans over exaggerated worry that promotion is impossible to achieve and the unconditionally blinkered belief that it will just click, there’s a truth that the opening quarter of the season simply hasn’t been good enough.
Following the defeat to Norwich, I was one of those who questioned our promotion capabilities under Garry Monk. The words ‘we won’t get promoted under Monk’ left my mouth. Maybe it was a slight knee-jerk reaction to a awful performance. But actually, it was a genuine concern about our performances so far this season. Twittersphere was keen to point out fans who showed concern were ‘bedwetting’ and that ‘they should be more positive’. Now with only 3 points out of the last possible 12 points, this concern is spreading. Something just isn’t right here.
What’s going wrong?
The stats don’t make for good reading. There’s been many different suggestions about how many games we need to win to achieve the points per game target, how far we’re trailing compared to previous seasons etc. They often say stats don’t tell the whole story, but in this case they definitely give a fair representation of how the season has gone so far. We haven’t been good enough this season and that’s why we’re sitting in 11th after 12 games.
But what’s been the problem?
Recruitment in the summer was strong and i’d bet 99% of fans were more than happy with the signings we made. The post-Karanka clear out was ruthless, with most of his Premier League signings swiftly departing the club. Rightly so. We needed new direction and a fresh start. We needed to improve our attacking force and we did with the addition of 4 forward players. But this is where the problem actually lyes. Monk splashed out heavily on forwards before thinking about the formation or style of football he was going to play. The result has been a group of 8 forwards with no real idea of who to play, or how to get the best out of them. 433? 4231? Expansive free flowing football? Counter attack? Solid? We’re 12 league games into Monk’s reign as manager and we still don’t have an identity, a settled system or a style of play. The constant changing of line-ups and formations is showing on the pitch and we look like strangers. Garry Monk really needs to have a think about what type of team he wants us to be and pick a formation to suit. The sheer quality of our attacking players has saved us in recent games. Much has been said about the constant switching in players, but the amount of fixtures means that utilising the full squad is important for success. Middlesbrough’s squad is so strong, that the changes to personnel have still resulted in a very strong team. But each and every player needs to understand and buy into the manager's philosophy to ensure changes don’t disrupt the tactics too much. At the moment it seems that no one, not even Monk, is even aware of what that philosophy is. Karanka left a solid foundation, all Monk needed to do was add the attacking flare.
Whilst I haven’t been convinced by Monk’s tactical know-how and ability to prepare a team properly for a game, it would of course be wrong to place all the blame on him. Everyone is responsible for the success and failure of any team. Silly mistakes and defensive errors have already cost us a number of points: points which would have placed us higher in the table than we currently sit. Following the 2-2 draw at Barnsley, Monk talked about the need to be more ruthless in front of goal. If you score two goals away to Barnsley, you’d expect to take all three points. We know we’ve got the players capable of scoring. But this means nothing without a solid defence. Injuries haven’t plagued us too much, but the return of Martin Braithwaite could prove to be a huge lift. The team has lacked genuine quality on the ball, with too many players relying solely on pace and power. It’s already evident that he has a touch of class about him. If we can get him, Baker and Bamford into the same team, then we’ll start to become a side capable of controlling a game, not constantly chasing it.
There's still time to change.
Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. We’re yet to play anywhere near our capabilities, yet still find ourselves within touching distance of the top 6. Monk has also put together arguably the best squad in the league, so we’ve definitely got the players to put a run together and still gain automatic promotion.
There’s hope. But my main concern is that we just look nowhere near a team capable of the consistency needed for promotion. This is mainly due to Monk’s random team generator. And yes, all new managers need time, but we can’t spend the next 5 months just waiting for it to eventually click. Sometimes it just doesn’t. If we waited for Strachan’s Middlesbrough to click, we’d have been playing League One football. Monk deserves time, but he needs to learn quickly. He can’t keep picking names out of hat. He can’t just keep throwing 4 strikers onto the field and hoping for the best. He can’t blame ruthless.
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He HAS to go back to basics. Build a solid foundation and let the talented attacking players do the business up front. There’s no need to be so open. I really do hope Monk turns it around, but at the moment i’m just really not convinced. I haven’t warmed to him nor have I seen any improvements. Sometimes, things just don’t work.