As we all still enjoy the delights of our 4-1 win at the King Power Stadium, and I prepare to jet off to New York for a weekend of watching the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, I realised that I haven't posted an article for a while.
My search for a topic didn't take long, in fact, it probably took me about 30 seconds on my drive home to decide what I was going to discuss. There are certain matters that keep coming up as a discussion, or moan, and one of those is the selection of our German sensation Max Meyer. When Max signed in the summer, his arrival brought with it a lot of excitement. Here was a young player, highly rated during his time with Schalke in the Bundesliga, and we had signed him on a free transfer. It was a deal that had no down side. He cost us nothing(essentially) meaning we either gained a long term quality recruit for no fee, or if he would prove too good and leave, it would bring a substantial fee of pure profit. Good business, it is hard to argue.
We have all had high hopes for him though. Losing quality in Cabaye and RLC from our midfield, the hope was that Max would be the little maestro in the middle who would unlock defences and help ease some of the burden on Wilf. It was hoped he would be the anchor between the striker and midfield, or if his final season at Schalke was anything to go by, he would replace Cabaye sitting in the hole and pulling the strings. Here we are near the end of February however, and there are still very much question marks over Max's role within the team.
The general consensus, if social media is anything to go by, is that fans want Max in the team. The moment the team sheet is posted every game, I immediately find myself waiting for the repeated moans and complaints about Max being on the bench instead of in the starting eleven. They normally come within a tweet or two, it is very much a guarantee. So the question is, why is Max warming the bench? For all those who want him in the starting line up, they see it as an easy choice who to drop, with Jimmy, Kouyate and Schlupp all being suggested regularly. Roy though, disagrees with these opinions, and so continues to make other choices. Only Roy and his team truly know the reason why, but I personally have my own theory that I want to share with you now.
I have heard that Roy does not feel Max is strong enough yet for a central role, something that is backed up by the medical team, which is why when Max plays, he plays wide of a central three. It is said they are working on building him up to get him ready. How true this is, I don't know, but I would say it is fairly accurate. If you asked me what role Max is best at, currently I would say that I don't really know. Actually, scratch that, I would say he is currently best as a super sub(not a popular opinion I'm sure). Some of those who champion his regular selection would say he should play in the holding role, like he did in that final Schalke season. The majority though, would say that he should play in the number ten role, just behind the striker. They believe that he will be a creative maestro, and likely a regular scorer. I can understand these thoughts, but I don't agree with them...currently. Ignoring his time with us for a moment, his stats at Schalke do not back up any claim that he would be the perfect number 10. In his first four full seasons, playing in the more advanced role, he finished with the following stats in all competitions.
2013-14: 41 games played, 7 goals
2014-15: 37 games played, 6 goals
2015-16: 41 games played, 6 goals
2016-17: 39 games played, 2 goals.
Now don't get me wrong, I would be happy with those goal returns, but the argument against the positivity of those stats would be that Jimmy has effectively a better goal to game ratio over the same time span, and he is supposed to be a more defensive minded midfielder. In fact, last season when Max played in the holding role, he finished with 1 goal in 28 games. Jimmy finished with stats of 7 goals in 35 games. Could Max be the creative answer? In the future, very possibly, especially with some of the other talent we have around him, but I just don't think he is there yet. Likewise, I don't think he is ready for the holding role in this league. Last season, a Sky German reporter named Dirk Grosse Schlarmann stated that playing the holding role improved Max, because the expectation on him to win games had been removed, giving him time to look and think about the opening pass to start an attack. Time, however, is something you aren't often afforded in the Premier League. Max certainly has the skilled feet to keep the ball, and use it short range, but I'm not sure he quite has the body strength yet to hold off an opponent when closed down quickly, in order to then give himself the time to make that move. We have seen it before. Barry Bannan was well thought of as a skilled player here, but was too easily muscled off the ball and that affected his play. The same was often the case for Jonny Williams. Max though, thankfully, has a better stature then that, and so it is rectifiable. We saw it with Wilf. For all his skill, he used to be very easy to push off the ball. He worked on his core strength, built up his muscle and now can very much hold his own, which in turn has enhanced his game. This, I believe, is what we are doing with Max.
Now, I am sure some are reading this, saying that I am
deluded, or blind to the truth, and who knows, maybe I am. Some will point to
the Burnley game, and the starring role Max had that day, of which I fully
agree was a great performance. The Burnley game aside, and maybe Man City too,
how many other standout performances can you remember? In fact, how about this.
Take a moment, without looking it up, and ask yourself how many games you think
Max has played in the league this season. Then, ask yourself how many of those
games he actually started. While you do that, I will break up the text with a
picture so you can resist the urge of a cheeky glance down to see the answer.
Right, are you ready for the answer? Max has played in 20 league games this season, and of those 20, he has started 10. On top of that, he has started all 6 of our cup games. Now, when I saw that stat, I was stunned. I did not think he had played in 20 games this season, and I most definitely did not think he had started 10 of them. I asked the same question of my Back Of The Nest colleagues, and the answers varied. Everyone thought he had played less than 20 games, and generally the answers were around 3-4 starts at most. I would imagine that most of you reading this, would be surprised by the actual figures too. So why is it, when Max has actually played a decent amount of games, do people keep reacting like he has played barely a handful? Well for me, it would be because he hasn't been very noticeable in a lot of those games. The Burnley game stands out, so people remember that, but other performances haven't been so outstanding and so haven't really stuck in the mind.
The thing is, Roy likes a solid base. People complain about our approach, but Roy has made us very difficult to beat. When playing a striker with two wide men, you need a tough centre midfield to do the dirty work, which then gives the likes of Wilf and Andros more freedom to push forward. This is why Roy was using Luka/Jimmy/Kouyate as our midfield three, because all of them are defensively very sound. When Kouyate got injured, Roy opted for Schlupp, because while it is not his natural position, he too is more defensively solid. It may frustrate people, but it works. Schlupp gets criticised, but he has put in some decent shifts, with four goals as his return. Jimmy has been criticised lately, in fact on Saturday a lot of people were begging for him to be dropped, and were angry that he hadn't been. He then went on to get two assists. He is that kind of player who constantly snaps at your heels, but he also gets into the box a hell of a lot. Roy trusts these players, and so he uses them.
On top of that, Roy doesn't rush people unnecessarily. It
would be easy to put players back in quickly, and then actually do them more
harm than good. When Benteke returned, Roy eased him back in. Given all of
Benteke's struggles, to throw him in at the deep end straight away could have
undone any positivity towards him generated by his absence. Roy took his time,
making sure Benteke was ready. He didn't rush Kouyate into the team, giving him
time to settle. The same, I believe, qualifies for Max. When Max signed for us,
he had not played a competitive game since April. In fact, because he fell out
with the Schalke owner, he was booted out of training, so he hadn't trained
since April. He joined us in August, meaning he hadn't trained for four months,
and had no pre-season. It is no wonder that Roy took his time before putting
Max into the starting line up. Four months of no real training is a long time
in this day and age, it will have an effect. On top of that, he was having to
adjust to a new league which plays very differently to the Bundesliga. In my
opinion, Roy doesn't dislike Max as many seem to suggest, he has instead been
protecting him. For me, that has been a wise choice. Our support at times has
been a bit toxic this season. It started with the poor transfer window, and
built momentum with the whole singing section drama that caused fans to rip
into each other. Roy, despite all his hard work, has been torn apart by fans
unfairly. Luka was getting slated earlier in the season. Benteke within one
game was getting abuse from some fans. Ayew has been ripped apart, so has
Schlupp. In more recent months, even our talisman Wilf has been on the end of
some awful abuse on social media. So what would have happened to Max had Roy
just thrown him in at the deep end and he had failed? I dread to think, but it
could have killed off the player before he even had a chance to settle in. Roy
has avoided that, in fact, while he takes the brunt of abuse, Max is seen as
the all conquering hero, despite doing little to justify such high praise. Roy
is actually to thank for that, because he has protected Max.
I wrap this up, let me do so by saying this. On Wednesday, or Saturday, when
Max isn't in the starting line up, before you rant, ask yourself this. How did
we manage to get such a highly rated player for free? When the likes of
Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool were linked with him, how did Max make it to August
without being signed up, and then end up at Selhurst? I love our club, but
surely if bigger clubs had come calling, we wouldn't have had a sniff? Also ask
yourself if Max looks unhappy. Many say he will leave in the summer. If he is
so fed up though, why has there not been a single story in the media saying
that Roy is overlooking him? Why have there been absolutely no stories saying
he wants away, or linking him with a move to other clubs? For me, the answer is
because he has sat down with the entire staff and likely understands what they
are trying to do. Playing a lesser part in his first season, while working on
his physical game, could prove to very beneficial for his long term future at
this club, and in this league. Is one season playing a little less, worth the
sacrifice if it leads to you becoming an integral part of the team? I would say
so. I think Max has it in him to be a star for this team, he just isn't ready
for it yet. Roy is making sure that he gets ready, and I can understand that. For
the moment, I would rather see him come on and run the show for 20-25 minutes, then
start a game and fade without really doing much. Both of those have been the
case this season. So calm down, take a deep breath and think about the bigger
picture. Max's time will come, and when it does, Roy is making sure that he is
truly ready to be the Meyer of South London.