Often Partisan

Men in the middle

(originally posted on Joys and Sorrows)

With the new season almost upon us, the transfer window is starting to explode into a frenzy of speculation as fans try and work out who could come into the Blues team to improve on our best finish in the last fifty years.

Whilst many people have been talking about improvements to our forward line, or additional cover for the back line, I think it’s important to look at our midfield situation. The midfield is the engine of the team in itself, and I think is core to our success last year – possibly more so than the heroics of Joe Hart.

What we have at the moment is an excellent passing unit. Barry Ferguson was just astounding in central midfield, giving assured display after assured display; always ready to receive the ball and then to give it to someone else a bit further up the pitch. Lee Bowyer next to him was the engine room; full of running and ready to try and win the ball outside of his own box, and then to get into the box at the other end to offer another option to try and stick it in the onion bag.

For me, however, where we lacked often was on the flanks. A lot of Blues fans talk about a lack of pace in the team, and it’s true, we are a little flat footed in midfield, but I do not see it as the be-all and end-all. The problem we had is that often we played with no width; McFadden would drift inside from the left looking to get the ball further up the pitch; Fahey isn’t a winger by any stretch of the imagination although he tried his best to hold is position. Gardner tried hard, but he admits he’s not a wide man either, and Seb Larsson (who is one of my favourite players normally) had a very up and down season, as pretty much our only wide outlet.

I think it’s important to have a plan A, a plan B and so on. With this in mind, I think one of the things we need to look at is bringing in one, maybe two pacy wide men to give us another “out”, another option to McFadden (who I think should be up front), and Larsson (who could possibly leave us as he isn’t signing his new contract). Thankfully, I think McLeish agrees, as we have been linked with Charles N’Zogbia of Wigan and Moussa Dembélé of AZ Alkmaar amongst others recently.

I think it’s important we get at least one of these players; more important maybe than signing another striker. A wide player (if they’re any good) can normally chip in with 5+ goals a season, but more importantly they can provide the balls for the men up front to stick in the onion bag. As much as people think Cameron Jerome isn’t a great player, I’m sure if he’s given five chances on goal every game from wide positions he’ll make the keeper work for at least two of them, and maybe he could improve on his decent eleven goal haul from last year. I think Nicola Zigic will thrive with good balls to feet and to head in the box; even Gary O’Connor showed in Hong Kong if he’s given a decent chance he knows where the net is.

I have to admit, I’m not sure of others we could get in if N’Zogbia or Dembélé don’t come off. Anyone who we do look at needs to fulfil the following criteria for me: pace, crossing ability, good feet (two-footedness would be a bonus), and maybe a bit of guile so that they don’t always go for the “run to the byline and whack it in” approach of a Jermaine Pennant.

Without pace next year we could be in trouble; I suspect teams have sussed out our tactics from last season and it’s time to push on. With a bit of luck, we can better our points and goals tallies from last season, and maybe sneak into the top eight.

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