Dean Smith may have only been in charge for two games but it is clear to see there are changes at the club. Already, our style of play is starting look better on the eye. The upbeat interviews, discussing tactics, positives and negatives. The overall atmosphere around the club and fans seem better.
A passing progressive style will take time, but it is clear to see that the foundations for this are already being laid. The defence is being encouraged to take more time on the ball. The passing is to be considered and measured rather than rushed and cleared. It will take time for the players to adapt to this style and it will also take time for the fans to adapt. Yes, it can feel uneasy at times and we have been caught out a couple of times already. A sloppy James Chester pass from the Norwich game comes to mind.
Defence has improved
Regardless of this, the defence still seems much more secure. Perhaps, as others have mentioned on this site, playing players in their natural position helps. Axel Tuanzebe is your prime example. I feel it is a good sign of a good centre back when they are able to intercept or block the ball without making a tackle. Knowing when the right time to thwart an attack. Tuanzebe has demonstrated this during Smith’s first two games in charge. Matching his physical capabilities with defensive nous.
The passing style has put the spotlight on the kicking ability of Orjan Nyland. His short passing is good enough. It is medium to long passing which I feel has come up short so far but again this will improve.
Smith will know this and I feel explains the decision to play Ahmed Elmohamady at right wing. Elmohamady’s greatest asset is his crossing ability already contributing to 4 assists so far this season. He is also better than the average wide midfielder and full-back in the air which is positive. This gives Nyland an option to play past the press and one which works benefiting our overall play.
It is this tactical awareness that has been a breath of fresh air from our new head coach. Decisions such as the use of Elmohamady as a winger is one Bruce used, however, it seemed that was to get one of his favourite players into the first eleven. Under Smith, it makes tactical sense and in the Swansea game had a big hand in the three points.
Post-match interviews were repetitive with Bruce at the helm. The general consensus was the lads tried hard and would continue to do so as they’re a good bunch. Not wrong, however, to hear Smith talk about playing past the press and second phases. Even his awareness to leave players (Birkir Bjarnason and Yannick Bolasie) out ahead of a busy schedule and a game in three days, are all ones we didn’t see under Bruce.
What Smith is enacting will take time. We are already off the pace and have a tough fixture list ahead of us. From this point until January will be about making sure we’re not out of the race. By January, Smith’s coaching will take shape and he will also have the opportunity to add to his squad where he needs to. What is clear to see is that positive progress is being made.