It’s almost upon us; the new football season is just around the corner.
This week has seen the buildup intensify, the speculation mount around new players and some teams have panicked already. Seriously, Morgan Ferrier? What are Tranmere thinking?
I’ve held off as long as possible on doing my prediction for this season. I chatted through some of the other teams with Ben this week on the podcast and today you’ll be able to hear our review of the Imps’ coming season as well, but I wanted to get my full analysis of our pre-season and League One chances out there.
There are many aspects which make up the season ahead and to try to make it easier for you, I’ve broken my analysis down into several little heading. I suppose it’s a bit like a SWOT analysis for those who have been unfortunate enough to work in the world of corporate bullsh*t acronyms.
Ready? Do bear in mind I have got the last two seasons spot on, 7th and 1st. Can I make it three in a row?
Without a doubt the first thing we must look at is the squad we’re going into battle with. I’ve waxed lyrical about a couple of the new signings, I see where Danny has added and why, but I do still have some basic concerns despite the positive.
It’s not been mentioned much this summer about the business we haven’t done; we haven’t sold Bruno, we haven’t sold Harry. Those players were linked with a move away, as were a couple of others, but we’ve remained resolute in holding on to them.
That’s a huge achievement and a great place to start this review. Last year we won League Two; remember that. We were the best side over 46 games, or rather we were the most effective side. I know fans had grumbling about some of the home performances and the inability to kill teams off who sat back to defend, but we still got more points than everyone else.
It’s easy to say ‘yeah, but MK Dons had a wobble’, or pick another reason it wasn’t the most competitive title race, but whatever other teams did, we did better. We had a great work ethic, the ‘refuse to lose’ attitude was evident for at least 45 games of the season (Colchester can be forgotten) and rarely did we get a tactic wrong. We didn’t go to Bury and try to keep it tight; we went to win. We didn’t go to MK Dons for the point either, but we were more cautious in hitting them on the break.
The squad held up well and that means lots of retention this season. My only gripe in terms of outgoing players would be Matt Gilks, but the club cannot afford three keepers on their books. I have heard Grant Smith has looked really sharp this season and is intent on providing adequate cover for Vickers; if Josh has got through his injury problems then we’ve certainly got a League One quality keeper.
Across the back little has changed but we’re crying out for a bit of cover. I’m not naïve enough to think the squad that’s been numbered today will be the same as the squad that breaks into September; if we don’t get our main targets then Danny will borrow another like James Brown from Millwall or Adam Crookes from Forest, just to be sure. If the rumoured arrival of Ben Coker does happen then we still arguably need centre back and right back cover.
That could be filled by one player though, plus it’s not too pressing. James Wilson was ideal, but he wasn’t going to have another season sat on our bench watching the lads, plus his release helped clear some funds. He was signed as a long-term first team player and is one of the few misses in Danny’s transfer policy.
In midfield we’re light, which sounds ridiculous. If we stick with something like 4-4-1-1, we need a holding midfield and that’s one area I do question at present. Michael O’Connor is the obvious choice but is struggling with injury, Freck could play there but has the same problem. Who else do we have? Bozzy, but he’s needed at the back. Ellis, but perhaps it’s a big role for a young player to be filling.
There isn’t a concern further up the field. Tom Pett is quality if he can shake his injury and should thrive with more time on the ball. He might not get the chance though; Joe Morrell looks to be a Rolls Royce of a player and likely to start 80% of our matches this season. His signing has perhaps been overshadowed by two more (soon to be three) but it shouldn’t be; the boy has class.
On the flanks I’m happy with what we have. Bruno and Harry offer a different option to each other and Jorge Grant make for an interesting trio of wide players. If I know Danny, he’ll be keeping an eye out for one more, a bargain loan as the summer draws to a close. I do wonder if Ben Coker might be able to add value on the left, if he signs. Either that, or he sits further back, and Harry Toffolo is unleashed. Toff could be a big player for us again; he got better and better last season.
I’m going to talk about three attackers, John Akinde, Jack Payne and Tyler Walker. For my money, we’re one short there and if we manage the squad right, Jordan Adebayo-Smith makes up the four. Jack plays in the hole, John and Tyler battle it out to start and Jordan comes in to add an extra dimension late in the game. It’s a fascinating proposition but again, might be a player light. What happens in Jack picks up an injury? Maybe Joe Morrell comes further forward, but then we’re light in midfield.
The squad oozes quality, but not depth. That’s the challenge over the next couple of weeks; adding if we can within the confines of our budget. Ben Coker would bring options, the rumoured move for Mark O’Hara might be important as well. I can see some understated loan players coming in just to flesh out a threadbare, but talented squad.
4-4-1-1. 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2. Who knows what we play? Danny doesn’t get hung up on tactics and I do. Wyscout suggests we went with a 4-4-1-1 for 34% of our games, 4-2-3-1 for24% and 4-4-2 for 22%. If anything, John looked isolated for much of the season meaning we often appeared to be in a much deeper in a 4-5-1. Making your head hurt, all these numbers? It should. If it’s confusing for us, imagine how opposition sides must feel.
I’m not saying we’re tactical geniuses, but Danny and Nicky do know how to implement a couple of different systems and that’s going to be important this season. League two wasn’t all that diverse; the side in 22nd was just as capable of beating the side in 2nd on their day. Budgets were largely the same, even with Forest Green skewing the figures. It was tight and compact and that perhaps was evident in the way Newport shot through the division with a few good results.
League One is different and the challenge varies hugely. One week we’re facing sides like Portsmouth and Sunderland with strikers worth seven figures. The next we’re away at Southend or Rochdale, teams closer in stature to us who will be far more evenly matched. That’s going to test the credentials of our management team to the extreme.
Our new signings certainly point to a different way of playing, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’ll be every game. You know why Wycombe stayed up last season? They mixed it up. They were tough and nasty at times, but they could play in the final third too. Walsall tried one method and when it went wrong, there was no plan B.
We’re going to be the ugly, brutish Lincoln at times, we’ll have to be. Sunderland, Peterborough and Ipswich will want to play around us. However, we’ll need some more guile and craft when we face other teams, those who we would consider equals in terms of stature and size. If we’re going to be the ‘best of the rest’, we need to be able to mix it up.
The early signs are we’ll do just that. Joe Morrell, Jack Payne, Jorge Grant, (hopefully) Tyler Walker; these are not players who are going to be doing the bullying. They’re artists, ball players and people who prefer football played on the deck and at speed. Throw big John into the mix, something solid for them to gravitate around and you have a good mix of options.
It’s not always going to work and I do wonder if we’ve got quite enough in front of the back four. Personally, I think an Alex Woodyard figure would make the group complete, but with our resources at the moment you can’t have everything. I think Danny has squeezed a lot out of the budget this season, giving us as many options as possible without compromising on quality.