TOO much football is played on paper... or these days predominantly through a computer processor.
Players blessed with lofty reputations, some previous in performing at a decent level, or even positive statistics on the Playstation, can sway public opinion.
Why are these two sides the lowest scorers in the Premier League? ‘On paper’, it doesn’t add up
It must drive managers potty.
They see these players every day on the training ground, yet when results go awry, they get it in the neck for not using the favourites or scapegoats in the appropriate manner.
Why is so-and-so only on the bench?
Why is the manager not getting the best of him?
Why are they sold for such a paltry fee?
In an era where the Premier League is increasingly becoming an Americanised entertainment ‘product’ it will only get worse.
But without wishing to sound too hypocritical, this weekend’s mammoth encounter between Sunderland and Aston Villa does prompt some head-scratching.
Why are these two sides the lowest scorers in the Premier League? ‘On paper’, it doesn’t add up.
Two clubs who could have reasonably harboured hopes of edging towards mid-table at the start of the season have managed just 38 Premier League goals between them. Eight clubs in the top flight have exceeded that tally on their own.
Christian Benteke was a £20m target for Spurs 18 months ago. He’s managed just three league goals this season.
Gabby Agbonlahor has never been prolific, but his raw pace has always seen him get his share, while Andreas Weimann was a genuinely bright prospect in the making a couple of years back.
Like Villa, Sunderland should have a top scorer boasting more than FOUR league goals.
It’s unfair to include Jermain Defoe in that bracket, given he only arrived in January and the service to him over recent games has been largely atrocious.
But £12m Steven Fletcher’s return to form lasted little more than a month, while Connor Wickham has the raw tools to find the net far more frequently, although he has admittedly played much of the campaign in a wide role.
Both Gus Poyet and ex-Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert laid the foundations for their sides to be defensively solid, first and foremost, but still, the respective goal returns are appalling.
Is the problem a lack of service? For a large part, yes.
Watching the sides lumber to a predictable goalless draw at Villa Park in December – despite the hosts being reduced to 10 men – it was obvious why they were both struggling to find the net.
There was plenty of neat, tidy passing, among evidently talented midfielders yet both outfits lacked the dynamism to cut the opposition open or regularly get in behind.
Villa’s last two results have been a contrast to the pattern, although back-to-back derby wins, with the bounce effect of a new manager at the helm, can hardly be classed as an accurate barometer of what is to come during the season’s finale.
But closer to home, Sunderland’s service industry hasn’t been helped by any great understanding in the side. No XI has been together long enough to develop any.
With just 10 games to go, Poyet STILL hasn’t named an unchanged line-up in the Premier League this season. There has been no great cup run or European adventure as mitigation for that chopping and changing either.
Poyet has insisted he is no “tinkerman” – in reference to his former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri – but the evidence hasn’t borne that out.
Does Poyet really know his strongest line-up? Supporters can’t agree on a unanimous one and there has been little evidence to suggest the Uruguayan does either.
Since the signing of Defoe, the team sheet has had a roulette wheel element. Almost each game has brought either fresh combinations or fresh systems.
It was understandable that Poyet wanted to pick the battlers and the scrappers for what was never going to be a pretty encounter at Hull last week.
But Sunderland’s version of the ‘box’ midfield pioneered by Liverpool over recent games spectacularly failed to work.
Players looked utterly confused, and by leaving Patrick van Aanholt out, as well as picking four central midfielders, the absence of any hint of width was always going to leave Sunderland one-dimensional.
One of the key facets of Sunderland’s successful survival last season was a settled team – the same XI featuring in the five pivotal games which secured the Great Escape.
Sunderland could do with some of the same now. Poyet needs to decide on what he thinks is his best available line-up against Villa on Saturday and stick with it.
Let’s face it, the goal return cannot get a lot worse.