I’ve been toying with the idea of when I should recommence the blog for this season. It’s all very new to us – no Molineux friendly, a pre-season friendly tournament in a far-flung country, a first competitive game on 25 July. Last season feels like it has just blurred straight into this one, especially given how Raul Jimenez and Romain Saiss only just finished what would be considered the previous campaign.
So I just thought sod it – there is no time like the present. I have some time, some thoughts and a medium via which to present them so here goes. Just what can we look forward to over the next 10-11 months?
There’s an easy place to start of course and that is European football for the first time in 40 years. Yes, in theory it could all be over before we’ve even dusted off our passports (as far as I’m aware we won’t need them for Northern Ireland), but the chances of Crusaders taking victory are as slim as them turning up in full medieval battle regalia, in a nod to their forefathers of the 11th Century. Even now we know our opposition in the next round, it doesn’t give me the feeling that we may be on the verge of upset at any given moment. I think many a fan is genuinely forgetting how good we are. The fabled XI that ended the season so strongly – Patricio, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny, Jota, Jimenez – is still intact and proved on a number of occasions that it is a match for anything this country has to offer, and by extrapolation, most of what Europe has to offer.
Any talk of concern for who we draw should be batted away in the wake of our performances at the back end of last season. Even more recently, despite it being a friendly tournament, the players seemed to slip seamlessly into their formation, with little change required and with two clean sheets to take home from China, we can at least comfort ourselves with that familiar mean streak at the back.
Yes, there are concerns about depth and beyond Adama Traore, John Ruddy, Ruben Vinagre, Romain Saiss and Morgan Gibbs-White, we really are down to the kids – some of those named no spring chickens themselves of course. But there is a delicate equilibrium that has coursed through our success, a sense of responsibility to each other that can be as delicate as a West Ham bubble floating through the air, waiting to be popped. Nuno is clearly uncompromising with this, happy to work with a small squad to maximise squad harmony and minimise the impact of any bad eggs who aren’t involved.
Lest we forget as well, much of this team was reared in the Championship, back when again we were considered to be ‘short on numbers’. They not only survived the old ‘Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday’ slog, but stormed the division entirely, making a mockery of any suggestion there might be fatigue through the winter.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that we’re not in bad shape at all. Now that’s not to say I don’t think we could do with an extra body or two. Our ridiculous injury record can’t last forever, and it only takes one or two of such injuries to make us feel like we really are stretching ourselves thin. But this remains a considered approach – we’re not just going to bring in bodies for the sake of it. Transfer fees and modern day wages are huge outlays and there is risk attached to everything in football – why create more than is necessary by gambling on someone without doing due diligence. To date, the biggest gamble we took in terms of signing someone was probably Leo Bonatini, a player who we had actually already seen for a season and who cost us no more than £5 million – this is not a regime who are ready to just plunder cash in search of success.
Nuno himself has spoken of his own confidence that we will be drafting players in by the start of the season though. Aligned with most people’s thoughts it seems a striker and a centre back are high on the agenda. I’m loathe to comment on the recent rumour mill as this could render this blog entirely out of date in 24 hours time, but from what we’re reading we are certainly shopping in the ‘Finest/Taste The Difference’ aisle at the moment. And why shouldn’t we/ After all, we house a quarter of freshly crowned Kings of the UEFA Nations League. It should also be considered that this is an extremely difficult side to break into, not only for the quality of the personnel, but the demands which Nuno places upon his charges: just ask Leander Dendoncker.
I realise I’ve probably said a lot without saying too much over the past few hundred words, but it’s worth reiterating – we are the seventh best team in the Premier League and the vast majority of what got us there is still in place. We also have one of the most coveted management teams in world football right now, a team well versed in European competition who we have entrusted and who have delivered so far.
So relax, it’s all be alright on the night.