Our first game of the new year was a huge one, the derby against our city rivals. We had lost the first encounter early in the season and I wasn’t going to let it happen again. I was very careful rotating the squad throughout our December fixtures to have my best eleven ready for that game. And so we set out in a 4-2-3-1, ready for our revenge.
But then, tragedy struck. Marc Cruz, arguably our best player of the season went down with an injury early in the game. I was forced to take him out, and that’s not usually a good sign. But instead of seeing the team crumble, something wonderful happened, our number 7, the glorious Alexis Sánchez who’s been fighting tooth and nail to keep his spot on the right wing, decided to take charge of the game and scored twice in the first half to give us a healthy lead. We ended up wining the game 3-0 with Sánchez by far and away the best player on the pitch.
After the game, the news were grim. Cruz was gonna be out for three to four months. We could still count on Silva but I was disheartened at the loss of our superstar. A 1-0 defeat to Wolves less than 24 hours later made matters worse. (By the way, what kind of scheduling is that? Two league games 24 hours apart? Madness!).
Thankfully, Sánchez hadn’t said his last words. He offered another Man of the Match performance against Blackpool with one goal and two assists, scored again in our 2-1 win over Birmingham, and ended the month with one goal and one assist in a 2-0 victory over Stoke. A phenomenal month for the diminutive winger.
Although the team’s overall performance in Cruz’s absence reassured me for the months to come, we suffered another blow when I learned that Coeff would be out for at least two months after getting injured during the Stoke game.
Coeff is one of the central figures at the club. Not having him puts a massive damper on my plans, not only tactically (Coeff, Vidal, and Rakitić form the triangle that makes the team tick), but also in terms of squad rotation. I don’t like playing Agyei alongside Vidal as I feel that they are too similar. The next two players in that role are Diomandé and Hakizimana, good players in their own right but they haven’t yet shown that mix of versatility, combativeness, and intelligence that Coeff brings to the midfield. The two young midfielders have also been injured several times already this season, so their match fitness is a concern. Can one of them step in the shoes of our beloved French dynamo? Time will tell.