Six games gone and still no wins. Not a terrible start given that we have picked up five points, but the lack of victories sees us sitting in 17th place, just two points ahead of bottom placed Burnley. Whilst I am generally happy with the possession football we have shown thus far, the distinct lack of a cutting edge going into the final third would frustrate even the loyalest of keep-ball aficionados. The biggest disappointment so far this season for me has been the performances of Jack Rodwell.
Now before I get into the meat of my criticism, I'm aware he's only played six league games for us so may not be 'match-fit', especially considering that he's struggled with injuries in the past. That's no excuse at all in my eyes. We're going into October and he has started every game, at what point am I allowed to stop 'giving the lad a chance' and take him for what he is? If he isn't match fit then he shouldn't be on the pitch, and definitely shouldn't be deployed in this box to box role which he seems to have been playing, or trying to.
Now let's analyse our performances logically, Swansea and Stoke (still fresh in the memory) as prime examples. We like to play the ball out from the back now, but a lot of the time we find ourselves with extremely limited options trying to work it into midfield and end up giving it back to the keeper. It can be very difficult at times trying to edge the ball up-field with a 3 man centre midfield, it requires a lot of leg work and space making, which is why Lee Cattermole generally sees more of the ball than anyone, he is more than comfortable dropping into space to pick the ball up then trying to find someone who has returned the favour, he'll usually find Seb Larsson or John O'Shea.
My issue with Rodwell is how rarely he gets into passing positions. He seems to root himself in front of Catts and Seb, intent on getting forward, only by doing so he forgets that without getting into space and sacrificing his higher position, we will never get the ball out of defence. With the ball at his feet, Rodwell does not see the killer pass and does not possess the trickery or pace to make his own space ahead of him. He's not at all the player you would want pulling the strings on the edge of the box.
When faced with attacks, he also leaves a lot to be desired, especially on counter attacks. When on the back foot, you will see golden boys Catts and Seb breaking their necks to get back goal side, whilst big Jack leisurely trots back. He appears comfortable to be merely a passenger of the game he was recruited to be a driver of. Fitness issues? Again, irrelevant. Whether you're Mo Farrah or Big Mo off Eastenders, if you're not blowing out of your arse trying to prevent a goal then you're not trying hard enough. Not at this club anyway. The huge gaps he leaves in midfield in a normal phase of play is extremely frustrating as well. Cattermole sitting in front of the back four can simply not compensate for the space left in the middle by Larsson (who will be ball chasing, which he's good at) and Rodwell (who resembles a lost child in a supermarket).
My problem is not with Rodwell personally, but rather Rodwell in the current role he's playing. He is playing as a box to box midfielder, but why is he spending so much time up the field? Surely Larsson or Gomez would be far more competent in that role? My understanding of Rodwell before he joined Sunderland was that he was a holding midfield player once touted as a man who would eventually end up playing centre back given his impressive defensive attributes. Why is it now that he's trying to dictate play 20 metres up the field from where he should be? Is he even supposed to be there, is he stepping on Seb's toes? If it's a tactical decision from Poyet, then sorry Gus but you've got this all wrong. Wherever the blame lies, he shouldn't be playing there. I'd much rather see Cattermole and Rodwell as the two holding players and Larsson given that area of the pitch to try and create something.
I know football isn't always a game of statistics, but they don't read well for Rodwell either. He has made 118 passes in the league this season, creating 2 chances in the process. Compare that to Cattermole's 195 passes creating 2 chances and you have a problem, considering Jack is a player supposedly in a creative role. Most of Catts' passes are backwards you say? Nope. 65% of Lee's passes are forward passes compared to Rodwell's 55%. Seb Larsson takes the biscuit by completing 207 passes, creating 13 chances in the process. I know Rodwell generally plays less minutes than Catts or Seb, but to reaffirm my point, Jordi Gomez, who Rodwell is keeping out of the team, has created 3 chances in just 119 minutes of game time this season.
Is it that Rodwell isn't fit enough, or is it that he isn't good enough? Against Burnley he dropped deeper and had a much better game. Creating 2 chances in 6 starts in an advanced midfield role though is simply not good enough and I believe that changing the midfield three is the key to scoring more goals. He should either play deeper or be dropped, but persevering with the same set up will continue to cost us points. The burden of expectation fuels my gripe. We needed a creative midfielder, we got Jack Rodwell. He's a perfectly competent and promising player, but not in that role. He isn't what we needed, and just because he's what we ended up with doesn't mean he should be playing in the role which we should have filled. That's no good for the team and it's not fair on him either.
I feel this assessment maybe is a bit harsh, it's not his fault if he's playing in a role he's not comfortable with, but there's nothing to suggest he does feel that way. Maybe he is still struggling for match fitness. Do we continue to play him in the advanced role to let him gain match fitness, but suffer in the creativity department in the mean time as a result? This is the Jack Rodwell paradox, and one which should be addressed immediately.