This post has nothing to do with Bastian Schweinsteiger nor the Carling Cup game against Man Utd. Sorry.
It’s not been the best of starts for Ipswich Town, as they look to improve on or replicate last season’s play off achievement. However, after a sea of optimism in the summer, things aren’t looking as optimistic as this summer felt for many of the Blue Army.
The Tractor Boys started the season by letting a 2 goal lead slip to Brentford in the last 10 minutes of the game, and not being able to close the game out has been the Achilles heel of many of the Ipswich games this season. Though Ipswich are sitting in the top 10 of the table, many will feel that the team could and should be doing better, with the performances not really giving reason for optimism.
I’ll be doing a separate post on the striker problem for Ipswich, but firstly I’d like to talk about the midfield. The summer saw the departure of the likes of Ambrose, Anderson et al who had bolstered the squad, and the introduction of the exciting young talents of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and the electric Ryan Fraser. Whilst both have truly excited the Ipswich fans, it has been Fraser who has shone in the first few weeks of the season, whilst the youth and raw talent of Maitland-Niles has been shown (though, it can be argued that the relationship with Chambers and on occasion, Josh Emmanuel hasn’t quite clicked yet)
A point I made last night was the relationships between the wide(r) midfielders and the full-backs. Last year, the left hand side was a nailed down Mings/Tabb relationship – which worked perfectly as it combined Mings’ tenacity and guile getting forward with Tabb’s work-rate and simple play.
For much of last year, Ipswich operated a flat 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 – The license for Mings to roam forward and join the attack meant that Tabb, often deployed on the left of the midfield (which I didn’t mind *because* of TM’s attacking talent and marauding runs), was able to tuck in and support the midfield two in a 4-4-2. This meant that Chambers, who isn’t as adept going forward as Mings or even Jonny Parr, was reserved but also had the insurance that either his right-midfielder (often Anderson, or during the later stages of the year, Luke Varney) would cover him or have the energy and nous to track back. The style of play Parr, Anderson and Varney brought down that right was similar to the left – working hard up and down the pitch, covering Chambers when he got forward. This worked so well last year, but Mick seemed to wanted his proper wingers.
Now he has Fraser and Niles, I feel the relationships haven’t quite clicked yet; for me, particularly down the right hand-side. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is something that Ainsley Maitland-Niles does, which often leaves him exposed and allows teams to break down the left. Knudsen has fitted in well (ish) and is still getting up to speed positionally and physically, and has generally allowed Fraser in front of him to wreck a little havoc. On the right, I feel Niles drifts in often, exposing Chambers and occasionally leaving the skipper with the uncertainty whether he has the license to drive forward – Against Huddersfield, knowing Sears’ runs and the way he plays allowed Chambers to get up and down (he also gained the coverage of both Douglas and Skuse when needed)
A random piece of blogging/visualisation I did over the summer saw that left-backs, in particular those who were left footed left-backs were more likely to overlap and cross the ball over. This could be due to a number of reasons, one of which being the new ‘trend’ to have inverted wingers (see, Ryan Fraser), or having a right footed left midfielder with a penchant of cutting in. This allows, I guess, more talented attacking midfielders to have a spot in a team – What isn’t helped, however, is when a right-midfielder isn’t able to effectively track his man when this situation arises. And I’m still not sold on the effectiveness of Larsen Toure, however much of a cult hero he is for throwing his shirt into the crowd and then asking for it back.
Secondly, central midfield. I love Cole Skuse – I really do, and last season was a joy for me personally as so many Ipswich fans became sold into understanding how pivotal the role he plays is. Protecting the back four, being a king of intercepting the ball, slotting in positionally when others were out of shape and generally playing the most obvious passes. This season? Not so much.
Is it the dynamic which has changed? Are the men in Blue being asked to play a different way, or are they not sure what the dynamic is with the four fantastic strikers and the two exciting wingers? Or is it simply a case of allowing time, and ensuring that a relationship comes into play between any two of Skuse, Douglas, Coke, Bishop, Bru and eventually Hyam? Time will tell, but for me there is something off – And I’m definitely disappointed with the impact that Jonathan Douglas has had. For various reasons, I’ve only been able to go to one game at Portman Road this year, and where Pitman, Fraser and McGoldrick impressed (as did young Yorwerth), Douglas left me wanting a little. Where was the leadership? The drive? Far too often was he spotted standing and pointing, rather than looking for positions and nurturing the midfield.
Last season’s success was built around a spine, the foundations from which the house which McCarthy’s men built last year’s delightful run on was based on Berra, Skuse and Murphy. With all three struggling to find form, Ipswich’s job of winning games has become that much harder.
I think a lot of last year’s success was based around the right players who
- a) knew each other and each other’s game and
- b) many slice of luck and hard work and
- c) a striker who had a remarkable (yet unsustainable) peak (which I still find bizarre was kept on for sentiment’s sake when realistically, for a business decision and to take the club forward, cashing in was the best option).
The method to which Ipswich shoot, their passing and build up play has definitely changed since last season’s overachievement and subsequent loss to (truth be told a better Norwich side).
So what needs to change? In an ideal world, Ipswich would have a full supplement of squad players, a tactical set up which makes use of each player’s skill and a bench which allows versatility of formation, and injects energy and a fresh perspective. The reality is functional football which is rarely attractive, and arguably since January definitely hasn’t been functional.
I believe that Mick is looking to develop a starting back five and instill the foundations which sent Ipswich on *that* remarkable run at the end of 2013. The likes of Bru and Bishop are missing, granted, but I feel that there are other avenues to explore – I’d like to see Niles as a part of a midfield three alongside Douglas and Skuse. Skuse found a good balance between running with the ball and laying off to a teammate, whilst Douglas settle into the game and the rhythm around the 55-60 minute mark (when a creative outlet in McGoldrick was on the pitch).
I think there is no need to panic yet – There are many games to go, and though Hull will be a tough fixture given their Premier League quality, I feel that 4 out of 6 points in the next week will be good – In my eyes.
This, by @GoalImpact (and awesome account and website) shows how open the Championship really is.
I’ve not posted much given that I’ve started a new day job, but I’m planning on publishing at least one blog a month – Someone hold me to this! The next blog or two I will post will probably contain more Tableau stats.
As ever, you can find me on Twitter – @Scribblr_42