10 Problems Next Season?

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10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sat Jun 19, 2021 7:39 am

Cast your minds back to the distant past. All the way back to January/February, to be precise. We were all younger and more innocent in those days. There was, presumably, nowt round here but fields – and Ian Evatt was trying to figure out how to make Bolton’s attack work.

These were strange times, when a fairly useless Wanderers side had started to show signs of life and a new raft of hopefuls had arrived to don the sacred white jersey. Bolton’s defence had shifted to a back four, a Welsh whippet (an international, no less) had taken up the left back spot and we were generally looking a lot more solid; but something was still not right. Bolton’s captain and principle attacking midfielder was busy picking up a series of injuries and the manager was left with the headache of trying to figure out how to unleash his side's full attacking potential.

Earlier in the season, when things were altogether more grim, Evatt had tried to employ a traditional ‘10’ in his midfield to extremely mixed effect. Ali Crawford, that most mercurial of Scots, had been cited by Evatt as a playmaker of the highest calibre in League Two – a player to be feared. Wanderers fans, having seen Crawford put in decent displays at a higher level previously, took little convincing. This was the playmaker Eoin Doyle would need to perform to his best….this League Two lark would be easy. As it transpired, Crawford's performances rarely rose above passable and often fell to the level of insipid. The wee man from Lanark simply couldn't get used to the speed with which Evatt wanted the game played in the centre of the park and although his progressive passing was usually one of Wanderers’ only threats, he didn’t come close to meeting expectations.

So it was that in January Ali departed for sunny Tranmere and the aforementioned new boys arrived to varying degrees of fanfare. Many Bolton fans called for a more solid, conservative approach their team’s general play - with an emphasis on getting the ball up the field to a target man as quickly as may be. Never one to be dissuaded by a minor issue like real world results, Evatt saw things rather differently. The arrival of his new signings was a chance to once again try to spice up his advanced midfield play – this time with that most sexy of football beasts, the free-role playmaker.

For Bolton fans, used to the likes of JayJay Okocha and El Hadji Diouf, the sight of an advanced playmaker called Oladapo Afolayan was something to get excited about. Okay, perhaps he was from Harrow rather than more distant climes, but never tell a Bolton fan they can’t dream of recent glories. There existed those fans who would rather have seen a player akin to Kevin Davies gracing the pitch once again; but most were polite enough to wait and see what the fresh faces could offer.

Although the Afolayan’s arrival hadn’t met with the same gasps that had greeted the signing of Marcus Maddison (or even Kieran Lee), a Premier League loanee was always going to be worth keeping an eye on. With wide forwards either side of Eoin Doyle ready to cut inside for the right service, and two deep midfielders providing stability, “Dapo” (as the Bolton fans were vaguely able to pronounce) was given licence to make things happen. Against the likes of the mighty Mansfield Town and Scunthorpe United the young man was expected to be the busiest and most creative element in the Bolton machine. All in all, reviews of the young Hammer’s performances were positive, though through experimentation with Delfouneso in the same role Evatt would find that Afolayan was too effective off the left to play in the centre permanently and Dapo would later make the left wing his own when Sarcevic returned to reclaim the advanced midfield position.

With “Sarc” back to make his trademark swashbuckling runs, Evatt refined the attacking midfield position once again, asking his captain to perform as something akin to a mezzala. For those of you who don’t speak football geek (or Football Manager, for that matter) a mezzala - roughly Italian for “mixer” - isn’t as fancy as it may sound. Mezzalas are essentially box-to-box midfielders who run the channels, rather than the central line, and overlap the wings in certain situations. This slight tweak to Bolton’s midfield opened up a variety of new passing options for MJ Williams in the deep playmaker role and saw Wanderers gain penetration in key areas. Whilst it didn’t always work as fluidly as Evatt would have hoped - often because Sarcevic was forced to stick to running one channel due to issues elsewhere – it was the best we had looked in the ‘10’ position all season. With Sarcevic's energy and Dapo playmaking off the left, we looked to have stumbled upon a good mix.

When Sarcevic was unavailable later in the season, it was generally Kieran Lee who was tasked with making these attacking runs. Lee was originally signed by Evatt as a deeper midfield option and this remained Evatt’s preference when all his midfielders were fit; but the former Owl’s movement is inarguably an asset when in forward positions and he performed the role well enough for Bolton’s attacking play to remain fluid. Where Lee was found lacking was in predatory instincts, unable to sniff out goal scoring chances that Sarcevic may have. Lee was a serviceable replacement in League Two, but arguably not ideal even at that level and lacking in cutting edge.

It’s at this point we finally stumble upon the point of this thread, what will Wanderers do if injuries (or even poor form) striker our Captain? Do we think Crawford may perform better in this side in League One, with more stability behind him and more time on the ball (according to the players and manager) afforded by other team’s desire to play football? Would we ideally see another ‘10’ option come into an already packed midfield roster? Do we risk having to move around our left wing, arguably our most potent outlet last season, to move Dapo to ‘10’ if Sarce is out? Do we persist with Lee as Sarcevic’s cover? Is Delfouneso the answer? Could we even see Sarcevic displace from the 10 position and Sheehan played there instead, as seems to have been the original plan with Crawford and Sarce in the same midfield?

Thoughts and opinions, please.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by Spartan2 » Sun Jun 20, 2021 3:06 am

The deep lying creative midfielder (DLCM) is crucial for Evatt's system IMO, I think that's what Tom White was meant to be but it soon became clear he couldn't do it, similarly Crawford couldn't play the 10. When we had Lee as the DLCM and MJ as DM and Sarce at 10 we were unplayable, that was 3 mids perfectly suited to their roles. But when sarce got injured no-one could replace him, not because he's so good, -he's decent sure- but just simply no-one else could do it, and we lost a goal threat too. Moving Lee to 10 was a mistake as it buggered two positions, the DLCM and the 10. I think like Lee; sheehan will be very well suited to the DLCM role, in fact probably significantly better than Lee, but also like Lee he'll make a poor 10, primarily because he hasn't got goals in his game. If at any point in the season we are playing with Dapo and Isgrove as wide forwards and Doyle and Sheehan at 9 and 10 respectively, our only real goal threat is Doyle, which simply isn't enough, in fact even with sarce at 10 I'd like the wide forwards to contribute more.

A much simpler way of putting it is this: our only real goal threat right now is Doyle and Sarce. So yeah I hope we sign a 10 to compete with him, crucially one who can score, as well as a 9 to compete with Doyle and a wide forward to compete with Isgrove. The problem I feel, is all of them need to have a decent goal scoring ability, as well as IE's mandatory technical ability and we could do with some pace too. So we just need some quick, technical, goal scoring forwards. Anyone got a few million spare?

Realistically we've got the loan market which I'm guessing will be the only way of bringing in the type of quality forwards we need, as well as the unknown quantity of Politic and dare I say Mr Darcy.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sun Jun 20, 2021 7:44 am

Not sure I agree on Lee as a playmaker. Williams was very much that when Lee played. I do think Sheehan will play deeper, though, yeah. Also agree we need more goals, but I would say Dapo was so close to have quite a few last season. If he can improve his heading and just generally grow as a player, I think he'll be a threat next time around.

As to a few million spare, not sure we need that either. Covid has meant a lot of players haven't had their deals renewed who otherwise might and the market at our level is saturated with decent players. There will be strong competition for the best, but we are well positioned. A number of divisional top scorers are on frees this season - as are players who are rated, but failed to cut it at a higher level.

The loan market could be huge for us, like you say. The big issue with operating in the freebies bin is the age of players. Very few U21s knocking around on a free that we could reliably bring in for the first team. With squad restrictions, filling up the edges will likely fall on loans. If there's a top quality Prem youth on offer, all the better. Blackpool landed Ellis Simms last season and we saw what he did. Players like that can make a huge difference.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by officer_dibble » Sun Jun 20, 2021 9:57 am

I am fascinated as to who starts in midfield. I think Sheehan has been signed to compete with Lee, and if he gets in ahead of Lee he is some player. Only criticism of Keiron last year was his lack of goals, a player of his ability should have scored more and made the switch to 10 a bit better IMO - it was league two and he’s a championship player.

I’d be happy if Sarce starts every game. Is he injury prone? If so he needs competition. Ronan Darcy? About time he stepped up or he gets loaned out…

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:33 am

officer_dibble wrote:
Sun Jun 20, 2021 9:57 am
I’d be happy if Sarce starts every game. Is he injury prone? If so he needs competition. Ronan Darcy? About time he stepped up or he gets loaned out…
My understanding is that Sarce had his worst ever season, in terms of injuries, last year; but that's only based on what he said in an interview.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:41 am

I think we can view the midfield in two ways.

We lack cover for first team players in terms of like-for-like replacements - but what we do have is different kinds of players to make tactical adjustments game to game.

I suppose it depends whether you think consistency or adaptability is key for a League One campaign.

Certainly we don't have natural replacements for Williams or Sarcevic if they are out for a long period.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by Dave Sutton's barnet » Sun Jun 20, 2021 12:56 pm

Interesting piece, Ghost, thanks. I've been thinking about our front-four firepower. TL;DR: we need more.

Our current front four is Dapo-Sarce-Isgrove behind Doyle.

Doyler has played exactly 100 games in D3 (League One for the kids), scoring 46 and assisting 15. Moreover, this was spread around three different clubs and wasn't too affected by their league position.

True, he got a very impressive 21 in 26 for Chesterfield when they reached the play-offs in 2014/15. But he he got 14 in 30 in 2017/18 for 21st-placed (ie relegated) Oldham, then in 2018/19 he got 11 in 44 for bottom-placed Bradford. Clearly he can score reliably at this level, and furthermore can score a fair few in a good team.

But what's behind him?

Dapo has plenty of headroom to improve, and needs to in terms of goals; he wasn't clinical in D4 but hopefully will improve as he settles.

Isgrove initially looked to have no end product to match his workrate but improved as the team did. Even so he finished a promotion season with 4 goals and 2 assists from 32 appearances. At D3 level he has one goal and 4 assists from 37 games. That's going to have to improve.

Sarce is, IMO, good enough to play in D3, but historical his goal-involvement record there is much poorer: 11 (+14 assists) in 155 games as opposed to 33 (+20 assists) in 134. That's a goal involvement every 6.2 games as opposed to one every 2.5 in the lower divisions. In fact, in the 4.5 seasons he's played at that level, he's never scored more than 3 or assisted more than 3 except when he assisted 6 for Fleetwood in 15/16.

2014/15 Fleetwood (10th) P37 2G 2A
2015/16 Fleetwood (19th) P39 3G 6A
2016/17 Shrewsbury (18th) P12 0G 1A (moved midseason to D4 Plymouth)
2017/18 Plymouth (7th) P30 3G 2A
2018/19 Plymouth (21st) P37 3G 3A

Sometimes he was playing in a struggling team, but not always (14/15 and 17/18). He may also have been playing deeper, as his skillset does tempt managers to play him in different places. But if he's to step up with us as a No.10, then IMO he has to at least match his goal-involvement input last season (7G 5A) or we may need to upgrade.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sun Jun 20, 2021 2:02 pm

My take on it is that we have stumbled into where we currently are.

Obviously Doyle was always meant to be that finisher up top, but aside from him we have Sarcevic who was signed to be more box-to-box with Crawford and then a mixed bag in terms of the wingers.

Isgrove started 21 games, almost all in the second half of the season after we went to a back 4. He was on a one year deal and was clearly intended to allow us to play 3-4-3 when our amazing football kicked in with the 3-at-the-back, but it never did and we could never take the risk of losing the wingbacks. Turns out he is a decent, tenacious winger in a 3, but it was never the plan.

Dapo seems to have been brought in to compliment Marcus Maddison, offering pace when Maddison stepped inside to find runners. That also didn't work and we tried him at a few things before he ran the show in a couple of games stepping in off the left and that was that.

Delf was meant to play off Doyle in a withdrawn role, but was then a bit lost when we changed systems - though that may have been because he had a new baby, which I believe someone mentioned.

Evatt gets credit for adapting and finding a way to win, but if this 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 (or however we want to phrase it) is the future then we definitely need to switch things up in attack. Given that Maddison was supposed to be the big signing to make this system work, maybe we will look for a similar style of wide man, I don't know. It may be that Dapo has changed the equation there by playing as well as he has in the "Diouf" role. I rather like Dapo and Isgrove as "BTEC Diouf and Stelios"....BTEC Anelka and Okocha would be very welcome.

I still say that this system will work best if we have some proper pace up there, either through the middle or on the right.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by Dave Sutton's barnet » Sun Jun 20, 2021 5:59 pm

Pace will help. Power will help. Upgrades will help.

Whether by personnel, tactics or a combination thereof, I suspect we'll need more goals than I can currently see from that front four. We scored 59 last season and got promoted. In the room upstairs, Rochdale scored 61 and got relegated.

To be fair, Blackpool scored 60 and got promoted, but they only conceded 37; the only EFL teams to concede fewer were Norwich and Watford, who aren't EFL teams any more, and Salford, who owe a lot to their statistically impressive goalkeeper Hladky. As for us, we conceded 50 - the most of any EFL promoted team - and although we tightened up after Christmas, clean sheets might not come along as often as they did in the lower tier. For all the fascinating talk of systems and players, it's still about scoring more than we concede. The defensive pool has been deepened and, we hope, strengthened (particularly with Johnston) but we need the attacking end to have an even more notable makeover.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sun Jun 20, 2021 7:03 pm

I honestly feel Sheehan will make a big difference to the number and kind of openings we create. Williams can spray passes from deep as a pivot and Lee is tidy, but we didn't have a proper playmaker last season.

If we can stretch teams more and Sheehan can have the impact I hope he will, then we will be much more dangerous.

Recruitment is king, but I think it's about how the recruitment benefits the system. When you look at this side play (say over the last 10 games of the season) the obvious issues are not being able to hold a high enough line due to the lack of pace between Baptiste and Gilks, the creativity in midfield and pace and retention up top.

The defensive line will have to wait for next summer. Creativity in the midfield will hopefully improve. So we're looking at the top end.

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by Dave Sutton's barnet » Sun Jun 20, 2021 7:42 pm

Yeah, I can see that. To keep it simple: get a nippy winger/forward, get Sheehan pinging the ball around, it stretches the game and we take advantage.

In that case it'll be interesting to see what happens in terms of our defence – whether we play a high line to keep the game compressed and to make it easier to hunt in packs, or stay relatively deep to compensate for lack of pace and Gilks staying at home. But right now that's a secondary consideration to the top end.

As an aside though, I'm just subbing a piece on Slavisa Jokanovic and his promotion-chasing Fulham side. Pep-influenced training, high press, not necessarily the fastest striker but pace out wide, full-backs pushed on. It sounds vaguely familiar. They scored 164 in two Championship seasons - two because they conceded a fair few too.

Mind, he also took Watford up mainly playing a back three...

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by GhostoftheBok » Sun Jun 20, 2021 8:29 pm

There are many ways to skin a cat, as they say.

If we push up another 5-10 yards it will close that gap Williams can leave in behind when he trieds to press; but then we are open to runners behind the defence, as Gilks can't sweep. It's exactly the same issue Italy face, even with top class players.

Where Jokanovic's sides have us beaten hands-down is that press you mentioned. Ours was.....erratic. We too often went in ones and twos and players failed to recognise the triggers. Some were better than others, with both wide players being really good towards the end of the season (Dapo's work rate is exceptional for a winger). As you suggest, that is a result of not being able to push up enough as well as bad decision making.

I'll read that piece when it comes out. Is it for the Athletic?

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by Dave Sutton's barnet » Sun Jun 20, 2021 9:03 pm

GhostoftheBok wrote:
Sun Jun 20, 2021 8:29 pm
I'll read that piece when it comes out. Is it for the Athletic?
Aye

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Re: 10 Problems Next Season?

Post by TonyDomingos » Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:01 pm

I got 99 problems, but the 10 ain't one.
Às armas, às armas!
Sobre a terra, sobre o mar,
Às armas, às armas!
Pela Pátria lutar!
Contra os canhões marchar, marchar!

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