Tranmere Preview: Tactics, Players to Watch and More

Courtesy Graham Burrell

With the podcast featuring a live interview with Michael Appleton this week, we’ve struggled to do a full preview of the weekend’s game.

To not do so would be a travesty, especially as the game is of utmost importance. I know all games are ones you want to win, but this is huge; with five tough games coming up (or four and Sunderland) we need three points to ensure the gap between us and the bottom four is kept at an acceptable level. Tranmere are one of the sides in and around us as well, making it even more crucial.

When you look at our fixtures, the second half of the season presents some good opportunities to bring teams we should be beating to Sincil Bank. Wimbledon, Gillingham, Rochdale, MK Dons and Bolton all spring to mind, as well as Burton. Win those sorts of fixtures and our League One survival chances are massively boosted and that all starts this weekend with Tranmere.

One of the things I find we struggle with, both now and before Michael arrived, is breaking teams down and that’s what we’ve got to do this weekend. Mickey Mellon used to play a 4-4-1-1 and that hasn’t changed massively since he got them promoted last season, although he tried 4-3-3, 3-5-2 and other variations in recent weeks. What has changed is the choice of main striker; Morgan Ferrier played with Connor Jennings behind him this week against Accrington.¬†They’ve got Rushian Hepburn-Murphy who offers an injection of quality when they switch to a 4-4-2, so there is a threat going forward, but for me they’ll come to the Bank happy to grab a point.

Against Accrington they managed a 1-1 draw, but the xG data suggests that was very lucky, with them getting 0.6 and their visitors 2.26. They defend bravely and aggressively and in Manny Monthe have a behemoth at the back who impressed me last season. Sid Nelson didn’t get the full game against us last time out, if you recall it was a 0-0 draw and the day we clinched the league. They were arguably the better side that day, defending well and having James Norwood in attack to pounce and create.

I’m certainly not saying that they’re a weaker side, although Ferrier is certainly not Norwood despite his hattrick against Chichester. They’ve had a couple of decent results, winning 1-0 at Coventry sticks out as well as a win in the relegation battle with MK Dons, but their recent victories have come in the FA Cup and the EFL Trophy. Since getting pumped 5-0 by Sunderland they’ve lost three games, against Wycombe (2-0), Salford (2-0 EFL Trophy) and Fleetwood (2-1). They’ve certainly become more solid since the Stadium of Light humbling and their recent run is firm if unspectacular.

Away from home in League One this season they have picked up a couple of wins, but that Coventry win was the definition of smash and grab, with the xG rated at 0.38 to 1.98 – in other words the chances suggest they should perhaps have lost 2-0. Overall, they’re xG away from home is 0.78, with 2.22 against. 2.22 is a big xG to concede away from home – for instance, ours is 1.11 v 1.2. Our xG at home is 1.43 against 0.8, so in truth, we should expect relatively few ‘clear-cut’ chances for our visitors. They’ve done well to stay out of the bottom three when you consider their form in front of goal, but let us not forget they have smashed a Bolton kids team 5-0; that helps.

I feel they’re going to come and set up to be solid, pretty much the same as Shrewsbury did, but look to play neat, possession football in the build-up to any attack. There are a couple of players I feel could be key for them, who I’ll now go on to look at.