Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.
These opening four fixtures will feel like a regressive stride for most of us – certainly in terms of performance – but to yield six points from 12 is a haul that should be cherished.
Or to coin a phrase from a magician of yesteryear, time to ‘wipe your gob and take the points.’
Consider Nuno’s gob wiped. In a weird way, this 1-0 slog says as much about ‘the project’ and the places we want to gate-crash as it does the merits of a 3-4-3, a 3-5-2, a Diogo Jota here or a Matt Doherty there.
Even at its very worst, it still suggested that the team that did so well to finish seventh in consecutive seasons wasn’t good enough for the here and now, hence the arrival of Semedo, Hoever and the promotion of Neto, who would prove to be the match-winner.
Smashing through the glass ceiling we did so well to brush on our tiptoes was an achievement to treasure forever. So to retain the exact same XI that got there would be an admission that we’re not going to burst through it again any time soon?
Ergo, we need to evolve and this team is a visual representation of such a train of thought. It’s a work in progress; an unfinished symphony.
A neat linear line graph was never representative of such an ambitious evolution, with peaks and troughs to be expected. That we have six points during what feels like a dip – more than at this stage during the last two years – is an unlikely peak to raise a smile.
So too is a seventh home clean sheet in the Premier League in 2020, more than any other side. With the Premier League raining goals left, right and centre since this strange old season began, it can’t be a statistic to take lightly (irrespective of the opponent).
While it looked disjointed and regularly wretched on the eye, such fare might be something to suck up and get used to for a while, as the finishing touches are added on the training field. With no pre-season to speak of and a gruelling 12 months just gone, it’s hardly a surprise we’d would look like this, is it?
Who knows if we’ll end up where we want to, but for the time being it’s best to trust in the process.
If this performance taught us anything it’s that the first team as we know it – whatever its parts may be – requires time. It might be that an international break arrives at an opportune moment, partly to quell Leeds United’s irresistible momentum and partly to give 85% of our players more minutes under their belts in a different colour shirt.
When the lads reconvene, it is clear that Leander Dendoncker needs to start, such is his work ethic and ability to cover so many blades of grass. In the two games he’s started we’ve won both and while that can’t all be attributed to him, his role is far from inconsiderable. That a squad player of the past two seasons now assumes an indispensable role in today’s first XI might still be a telling commentary on how thinly spread we are in the most critical area of the pitch. Time for an addition before the window closes, perhaps?
And what price Patricio in today’s bloated market? While he wasn’t overly extended in chalking up his latest clean sheet, our keeper continues to keep his head while Adrián, Kepa, De Gea, Pickford and company take it in turns to lose theirs every weekend.
All the above being said, a draw was the least Fulham deserved, with substitute Lookman morphing into a ‘94 Richard Cadette for the visitors late in the day. Unlike a Millwall goalscorer of yesteryear (prizes for guessing the scoreline from a game that still haunts me!), Fulham were unable to capitalise on the momentum they seized in the second half.
Instead, we can all reflect on Pedro Neto’s intervention as the only thing of beauty in a pretty ugly spectacle.
It was a moment of 20/20 vision; persuasive enough to make the present look brighter, if not the distant months to come.