soccer

Different types of Attacking-Midfielders; a thought starter

Disclaimer; this post isn’t about Ozil. Much.

Mesut Ozil is killing it this season.

With over 15 assists already, the German international is on course to hit and surpass Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists in a Premier League season (anyone else unsurprised that this is another Arsenal player under Wenger who holds this accolade?) – But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the stick that Arsenal’s record signing got in the first season and a half he spent in North London. As the narrative goes, Mesut was not a big game player nor was he the type to be prolific in front of goal.

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This tweet by Simon Brundish got me thinking; how long should different types of players be given to make an ‘impact’?

Let’s examine another player alongside Ozil; Alexis Sanchez. Arguably, he also counts as an attacking-midfielder and I’m sure it cannot be argued that his debut Premier League season was better than Ozil’s.

Where Ozil played 2150 minutes in the Premier League, scored 5 goals and registered 9 assists (a scoring contribution of 0.586 per 90) in his first season, Sanchez played 2953 minutes, scoring 16 goals and 8 assists (a scoring contribution of 0.732 per 90)

So Alexis had a higher impact; but ultimately, they are two very different attacking midfielders. Where Ozil is a ‘creator’ and a orchastrator, Alexis is perhaps more direct. Let’s see if this hypothesis holds.

Alexis took 3.5 shots per game, made 2.3 key passes and attempted 3.3 dribbles per game. Conversely, Mesut’s first season yielded 1.2 shots per game, 2.9 key passes and 1.7 dribbles.

Already we can see Ozil’s emphasis on creating chances than attacking a full back, and perhaps this is why he tended to play narrow for Arsenal even when placed on the wing.

But the secondary factor is this; where Alexis’ game relies upon getting the ball, attacking individually, receiving and letting shots fly, Ozil needs to have the movement, space and time to pick out the passes he wants to make. And this would require the players around him to also understand his game.

The purpose of this post is Liverpool’s #11, Roberto Firmino. As a rule of thumb (which stems from probably a comfort with multiples of 5), pundits refer to a great midfield player as someone who posts 10 goals and 10 assists a season.

In Ozil’s three seasons with Real, he averaged about 6 goals and 15 assists per season.
Alexis at Barca in his three La Liga seasons averaged 13 goals and 8 assists per season.

So where does this leave Bobby Firmino? In his last 3 seasons at Hoffenheim, he averaged 9 goals and 8 assists a season – so perhaps a bit more balanced than the examples examined above. Last season, he took 2.9 shots per game, made 2.1 key passes and 4.2 dribbles – which actually points him to be closer to Sanchez than Ozil in this comparison – his scoring contribution was (in 2918 minutes played) 0.524, with 7 goals and 10 assists. These came in 33 starts, and was slightly down from his previous season. Another factor to his slow start at Anfield could be starting every game two seasons back to back, and representing Brazil at the Copa America this summer.But I am no sports scientist and cannot speculate on this in an informed manner.

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Using just one example of comparing Ozil and Alexis (given their 3 season stints in Spain prior to joining Arsenal), this could be a reason why Firmino is taking time to bed into Liverpool.

From my understanding, attacking midfielders can be ‘a Sanchez’; a direct runner, who takes a lot of shots, is good with the ball at their feet. Or, they could be more of ‘an Ozil’; less shots, more creativity, with an emphasis on assisting than scoring. The latter I feel requires a few things.

  • Understanding the role; making sure that the role and all the tasks a player has to complete on the pitch are understood and being met – and that they are comfortable doing so
  • Cohesion with teammates; for Ozil, players need to trust that if they make the run, Ozil can find them, and similarly that if they are to utilise his creativity, the man needs space. This positional understanding, trust & chemistry are important to ensure moves look as fluid as they can.
  • Acclimatising mentally & physically; this includes on and off the pitch. On the pitch, the pace, space and movement need to be adapted for the environment an attacking midfielder finds themselves, and off the pitch, the club should ensure that the player is in the right state of mind to perform and ‘hit the ground running’

In this vein, I feel that though Firmino may not have sparkled, his passing networks and interplay with his team-mates will increase similar to Ozil’s has, and he possesses the ability to run at full-backs and contribute in a way that Sanchez can. It’ll be interesting to see how Klopp utilises and changes the use of the Brazilian midfielder.

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Squad Development, Signings & a new Season

NB: My glossary of terms can be found here.
At the turn of the year, the Tractor Boys were in a field of glory, after a run of 11 games unbeaten meant they entered the new year in second place, with huge optimism flowing out of Suffolk. Daryl Murphy was in a rich vein of form, scoring left, right and centre, finishing with an impressive 0.71 Scoring Contribution (NPG+A) per 90 (0.577 NPG p90)  – The position of the team was a surprise for all, including many fans who were pleasantly surprised by the teams affluence, and a 32 year old Irishman in the form of his life.

Last season wasn’t to be though, as the depth of the squad showed and financially better off teams such as Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich showed that quality does often shine through and Ipswich fell foul to a regression to the mean. However, this has not dampened any of the hopes of the Blues following who are certain that Mick McCarthy’s men can be surprise promotion challengers once more.

“A play-off squad with an automatic promotion manager”

When Mick McCarthy took over from Paul Jewell, Ipswich were dangerously close to finally slipping into the third tier of English football – And the team just haven’t looked back since. McCarthy’s distinct, defence first functional style of play is sneered at by many, but McCarthy and his trusted assistant Terry Connor are seasoned professionals in navigating the often underestimated waters of the Championship – A league which Ipswich are entering a record 14th straight season in.

What does this season hold for Ipswich?

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Transfer Business

Many of the fringe players and free agents signed by McCarthy were released at the start of the window, and perhaps most lamented by many fans was the release of Paul Anderson. I liked Anderson, his creative outputs were good, at 2.34 per 90 and 0.33 Assists per 90. This was linked to the amount of goals Ipswich scored from set-pieces (12 from corners, 7 from crossed free-kicks – The most indirect set-piece goals in the league last year).

The most notable departure was Tyrone Mings, departing for newly promoted Bournemouth for a sizeable £8m, with Ryan Fraser joining the East Anglian side on loan as well as Brett Pitman joining for ‘no fee’. This was an incredible piece of business for all involved; Fraser will be able to kick on from his impressive 2.58 Key Pass + Assists per 90 whilst Brett Pitman featured as a potential  ready-made replacement were Dary l Murphy to leave. (My earlier post regarding this can be found here). Murphy signing a new deal was more of a talismanic move – The Irishman had his best season since scoring 10 goals and registering 11 assists for Sunderland in 2006-07. His form and aerial ability had the likes of Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff reportedly sniffing around – And Ipswich must have been tempted to cash in on an ageing striker. His role this season will be to continue his rich vein of life as a central striker, and develop the game of others around him – as he did with Sears for the latter stages of last season.

Not a lot is known about Jonas Knudsen, signed from Danish outfit Esbjerg but following a pre-season friendly where he made a second half debut against FC Utrecht, he has already endeared himself to fans as a cult hero, as he reportedly has a cannon as a left-boot to match his rocket of a long-throw. Given Ipswich’s aerial ability – 48% of all aerials won, second in the league for total aerials contested (2383) – This addition will only add to the hustle Town’s players will cause in the opposition area.

Add the loan addition of Ainsley Maitland-Niles from Arsenal, a promising young winger who has appeared on the bench last season for the Gunners as well as squad bolstering Giles Coke and Larsen Touré, with the potential for Jonathan Douglas signing later this week and Ipswich’s squad looks to be built upon a solid base, allowing the attacking quartet of Murphy, McGoldrick, Sears and Pitman to feed off the direct style of play McCarthy has brought to Town.

Key Players

The spine of Berra, Skuse, McGoldrick and Murphy is seen as pivotal to build a team around. Berra is suspended for the start of the season, but being dominant in the air (4.49 Aerials Won per 90) and ranking second in possession turnovers (Unsuccessful Touches + Dispossessed per 90) – Berra plus one other of Smith or Chambers is widely seen as the central defensive pairing of choice.

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Murphy’s aerial dominance is huge with a win (42% success) off a huge 457 contested aerials; only Rudy Gestede (now of Aston Villa), Igor Vetekele & Atdhe Nuhiu contesting more aerials. David McGoldrick took had a shots per 90 of 3.96 and a conversion rate of 2.1% from within the penalty area – The lowest among strikers who played >1500 minutes. Given the amount of shots he took 96, a surprising 56 came from outside the box – the second highest amongst strikers in the League with only Ross McCormack shooting more frequently from long-range.

An interesting trend I saw within the Ipswich team last season was the obvious difference between shot takes and chance creators (Key Pass + Assists per 90) is very much defined by position. For other teams, this split isn’t as distinct with a few midfielders in the spectrum of creating & shooting – Perhaps an area which the squad needs to strengthen to mount a true promotion challenge – The blank space in between the shooters and creators, the upper right quadrant is where Ipswich can/should look to push on. It’s where I think the signing of Jonathan Douglas will help develop this further, as well as bringing much needed nous and experience to the midfield.

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I was interested in this, so I’ve included a the full map with all teams (filtered for players with >500 mins played) just to see trends. I’ve posted the full picture below, but I’ll add a link to the Tableau Public dashboard later.

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For notable other Ipswich players, Teddy Bishop is a player who a lot is being made of. When introduced in during October, he was much needed as a player who would fearlessly pick the ball up and look forward. Much of the fanbase enjoyed this, as the common (mis)conception of Skuse passing sideways and backward were continually being bandied about. Of course, as the season progressed the value that Skuse brought as a calm presence recycling and reusing the ball was essential to the run that Ipswich embarked on in the winter of 2014.

My lukewarm tips are Bishop and Pitman to really impress. I can see Pitman displacing Murphy around the middle of the year, and along with the other two strikers, the competition for starting XI spots will be more fiercely contested than ever. Bishop will have a year of experience in this league under his belt, and may be trusted to complete some full 90s this year (according to TransferMarkt, Bishop did not finish a game – Started 23 and was subbed in all of the appearances). Pitman is one player who I saw was a good  looking player, but never thought he would be available for transfer. As a player, I’d position him in the space between Murphy and McGoldrick, which is an awesome idea.

Aspirations

The notion amongst fans is that par for the season will be play-offs. With a bit of squad cohesion and development, there is an agreement that automatic promotion is possible, but the financial muscle and strength in squad depth of other teams might weigh against Ipswich. The Championship as a league which is full of talented players. I won’t attempt to predict McCarthy’s ‘preferred eleven’ as I feel as though each team will be set up differently, for a draw away and a more pragmatic attacking feel to their home performances.

Expect Ipswich to continue their unflattering style of functional football, littered with set-piece profligacy and direct channels of play. The energy and dynamism across all the positions will highlight the hardworking ethos which has been drilled into a team who plays under Mick McCarthy.

UPDATE: Check out the published workbook.
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The Football League Awards – The Case for Daryl Murphy, Ipswich Town FC

The transformation and renaissance of Daryl Murphy has been incredible this season.

Aged 32 years old, the Irishman joined Ipswich Town permanently following three separate loan spells with the Blues, and since being moved to a more central position, has flourished. The 6 ft 3 striker is the current top scorer in the Championship this season, and has lit up Portman Road this season with some wonderful performances. Under Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor, Murphy’s finishing has improved and his work-rate is as faultless as it has been in the previous three spells.

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Much of Murphy’s career was spent on the left hand side due to his reliance on his left foot (14/24 of his goals have been with his left – 7 headers and 3 with his right foot) and his weaker foot was highlighted when he missed a glaring opportunity to put Ipswich 2-1 up against Brentford last month straight after half-time.

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The above graphic from Squawka shows the placement of Murphy’s goal placement – These are more varied than the other two contenders, Bamford and Deeney, and similarly a majority of his goals are taken from within the 18 yard area – with two long shots taken as well (vs. Cardiff and Brighton – I believe?)

Shots however, are where I feel Murphy (and to an extent his injured partner in crime David McGoldrick) fall down – The two have taken he most shots in the league, which could attribute to Murphy’s profilic goalscoring (though some have been goals of real quality)

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This moved Murphy’s conversion rate (goals per shot taken) to 15.8% – lower than that of Bamford (16.8%) and Deeney (17.3%) – He is also the main contributor to Ipswich’s goals with 35% of the goals scored in the Championship this season scored by the number 9. This said, his goalscoring has dropped off in 2015 along with Ipswich’s form and the emergence of new signing Freddie Sears. However, this has allowed Murphy to display his other attributes – his aerial prowess through flick ons and wins, as well as his tireless running along the opposition back four. Holding up the ball has meant that he has been able to bring other players into the game as Ipswich move forward.

The style that Ipswich have played this season of long forward passes and organised pressing/hard work has suited the attributes of Murphy’s game and this has been evidenced in his excellent season. The ITFC Player of the Year is a a front-running contender in the race for Championship Player of the Season, but Troy Deeney is arguably more deserving due to his prolific nature for the past three seasons. This said, without Murphy’s impact and influence, it could be argued that Ipswich – on their shoestring budget – would not be contending at the level they have found themselves this season, surrounded by teams with far better squads and finances.

The Football League Awards – The Case for Patrick Bamford, Middlesbrough FC

Patrick Bamford. Where to start with this guy.

Chelsea spent £1.5m on the then 18 year old after just 12 minutes of first-team football for Nottingham Forest, following scintillating displays in the FA Youth Cup – scoring 9 goals over two rounds (four goals in a 5-1 win at Southampton and five in the previous round – a 9-1 hammering of Wigan) meant the London club spent big on a prospective attacking midfielder or striker – a ‘centre forward’. Since moving to Chelsea, the youngster has been on loan at MK Dons, Derby and finally a season long loan at Middlesbrough which has lead to his nomination for both Young Player of the Year as well as Championship Player of the Year.

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Slightly different for Bamford, given he’s been farmed out on loan by the youngster-averse Chelsea FC – But he has excelled in the league, wherever he has been. Bamford is a player who thrives in the box – His pace, good feet and excellent finishing makes him a formidable asset to have. Boro have utilised him often behind a striker, and Bamford often overlaps to chase onto a flick on. Karanka’s system of patient, calm football means opponents are worn down before Bamford pulls his pacy party trick out of the bag – He twice made Tommy Smith of Ipswich look a fool as he cleverly outpaced the New Zealander to slot home two very good goals.

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Like Deeney, Bamford does a lot of his work within the 18-yard box. He loves to finish into the bottom right hand corner, as his two goals against Ipswich showed. Leadbitter, Reach and Lee Tomlin have all assisted 3 Bamford goals each, whilst Bamford himself has contributed to 5 goals in addition to his 17 (unsure why Squawka are only showing 16 in 36.. Dubious goals?)

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Bamford’s contribution of 17 goals is 27% of the total of 64 goals scored by Boro this term, and the Chelsea loanee has contributed 25 key passes, and taken 93 shots.

So, Patrick Bamford has played the least amount of minutes than the other two nominated for Player of the Season. Bamford has no doubt shown glimpses of real talent, and for me should be given a run in the Chelsea side (He probably won’t) but his inconsistent use as well as wider contribution to the team has been arguably less so than other players within the Championship. Many fans and players may feel slightly hard done by the inclusion of Bamford in a top 3 for the second tier of English football – but none will doubt the talent the youngster has.

The Football League Awards – The Case for Troy Deeney, Watford FC

It’s that (um, let’s say interesting) time of year again where managers choose their players of the season for the Sky Bet Football League Awards *fanfare*. These are always interesting as there are so many people who are put out and/or disapprove of the choices. This year has been no different (but I’ll delve into that in a later post)

First, let’s look at Watford’s Tory Deeney (arguably the favourite to win the award) For the past three seasons, Deeney has been Mr. Watford – Now the captain, he has had another excellent season for the Hornets.

Deeney signed in 2010, and this has been his goalscoring output since;

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(Source: TransferMarkt)

The striker has scored around 20 goals a year for the past three seasons, and aged just 26 years old, it could be argued he is at the peak of his powers. A strong striker who looks to bring others into play, Deeney has positioned himself at the top of the Championship and contributes heavily to the wider team.

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The above shot positioning, taken from Squawka, highlights his finishing prowess from ‘good’ areas within the box. The fact that Deeney finds himself in so many good positions is a tribute to his attacking movement and ability to harrass defenders. Watford’s number 9 likes to take long shots, 33/110 being from outside the box, but he is yet to score from this range. The striker is also fairly creative, and has contributed 8 assists as well as 58 ‘key passes’.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 13.20.23Above are the goal appearances from Troy Deeney, again from Squawka, and 13 of his goals have come from his right foot, scoring just 3 headers. 44% of Deeney’s shot have been on target, and he has missed one penalty.

With the likes of Ighalo and Vydra often around him, the Watford attack has often terrorised defences – especially after the turn of the year. His combination play with both Anya and Guédioura has lead to six of his goals (3 assists each for Anya & Guédioura), and Watford have scored 87 goals this season – just 2 less than top scorers Bournemouth with three games to go.

His contribution to the team is the same as his strike partner Ighalo – Both scoring 20 goals amounting to 23% of Watford’s goals this season – Deeney, however, has had a hand in 28, whilst Ighalo has only registered 2 assists to add to his 20 scored.

This could be a big step for Troy Deeney, as he is being touted by many as one who would want to ply his trade in the Premier League to see if he can perform at the highest level – As Charlie Austin has, as previous winner Danny Ings has shown. So, should Watford miss out on promotion again, it will be interesting to see which managers and clubs take a risk in the prolific striker. But this season, Deeney can be proud of his performance as he has had an excellent season overall.

Unexpected Lethargy; Huddersfield vs Ipswich review

It wasn’t a good day at the office, let’s be honest.

An extra days rest, a slightly rotated side and a buoyant mood following a draw against hotly tipped Bournemouth meant Ipswich were favourites to win the Huddersfield game, particularly from the viewpoint of the Blue Army following.

A la Watford, a rotated Ipswich side had fans on Twitter wondering why Bishop and Sears had dropped to the bench, and where David McGoldrick was as he was replaced by Stephen Hunt on the Ipswich bench. Zeki Fryers continued at left-back, with Chris Wood and Richard Chaplow coming into the side. The reported formation was 4-4-2, which would have seen Varney play down the right and Tabb on the left. My understanding of this was that it as a 4-4-2 off the ball moving to a more narrow 4-3-3 when in possession, with Varney and Murphy either side of Wood, spearheading the attack. Tabb and Chaplow would be either side of Skuse, who would do his usual job mopping up in front of the back four.

But it didn’t really pan out that way.
An early chance for Jay Tabb was blocked away and a early shot from Nakhi Wells was blocked by Tommy Smith of Ipswich; and just as Ipswich were beginning to get their way back into the game (following a minor scare for Cole Skuse), a wayward pass from Fryers toward Berra was underweighted, allowing Wells to show his talent to nip in and finish past Bialkowski. A balanced opening ten minutes was suddenly followed by a half dominated by the home side. Huddersfield by and large have nothing to play for, but seemed to utilise the absence of width in the Ipswich side and the lack of confidence being displayed when the Tractor Boys had the ball to wreck havoc down both flanks.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.34.55The heatmap above, from WhoScored shows a few key things. The middle of the park for both teams, particularly Huddersfield, was bypassed and emphasis was put on the flanks. Given the joy that was being found on Ipswich’s left, the young left back Zeki Fryers was targeted by Sean Scannell – Time and time again, the full-back seemed pegged back; in total, Fryers lost possession 3 times, more than any of his back 4 counterparts. The formation seemed to trouble Ipswich, as the 5-3-2 with both James and Scannell bombing forward especially with Conor Coady doubling up alongside Scannell when he could. The organisation and energy of the Terriers seemed to be greater, which is odd because that trait is normally associated with the energetic, hardworking Ipswich. After predicting a 2-0, 3-0 even 4-0 win before the game, fans were quick to scapegoat Chris Wood, Zeki Fryers and (of course) Tommy Smith for the woes that Ipswich faced being 2-0 at half time. As @Chompx3 on Twitter mentioned, W 13% D 27% L 60% is the record that Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich have in the league when going down by a goal.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.46.36Chris Wood and Richard Chaplow were replaced at the break by Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop but it was Jay Tabb who produced the cross for the energetic Luke Varney to nod home (becoming [via @Chompx3 again] Town’s 19th different scorer this season) – The introduction of Jonny Williams no doubt will have excited fans, but the energy and drive to carry the ball forward was too late and Ipswich dropped the 3 points.

The possession was just not there for Ipswich. Far too many wayward passes and the second half was when the team begun to get a foothold in the match. However, after spending much of the first half ball-watching and sweeping up the occasional Ipswich attack, the Huddersfield back three kept calm and were assured when releasing the ball. As the full-time heatmap shows, there was a definite move along the left hand side (Tabb, Williams) but not enough within the final third, whereas Huddersfield enjoyed dominance down the flanks.

With regards to Chris Wood, I’m on the New Zealander’s side. He’s not played much all season, but it just hasn’t clicked yet for the striker. Of the mid-season signings of Sears, Wood, Chaplow, Varney, Fryers and Williams, it was Wood who the Ipswich fans were crying for (ignoring the fondly named ‘Joniesta’) and it has been Sears, Varney and Chaplow who have made the impact (the ‘underwhelming signings’) So what’s gone wrong?
This could be linked to the fact that Wood is not a striker of the same mould as Murphy and Varney, in that his aerial prowess isn’t there when it comes to the flick ons and knock downs that the former two have become known for. Nor has he been on the ball enough to show a talent to create (of his 11 passes, 9 were forward but he lost possession 6 times in one half).

Zeki Fryers got some un-needed stick. Drafted in as a two-game replacement for Tyrone Mings, the Crystal Palace youngster stood up strong under a baptism of fire when Ipswich were incredibly lucky to gain a point at Portman Road. Against Hudderfield, he was targeted by Scannell whilst also being hassled by the likes of Coady, Wells and even Vaughan.

For this particular game, I would have rested Sears and Bishop yes, but instead of Wood, I’d rather have seen Paul Anderson on the right hand side, with Varney and Murphy up front feeding off each other. Both are strong in the air, and the crossing ability of Anderson coupled with his energy driving up and down the right hand channel would have been invaluable in defence and attack. I do not miss David McGoldrick, and the addition of Jonny Williams will be crucial off the bench, but the Tabb/Skuse axis with one of Bru/Bishop/Chaplow is one I think that works. The third striker is where I think the game was lost today – Varney works incredibly hard down the right, but if Sears was to be rested (ran his little socks off on Friday) then Anderson would have been the man to replace him in my opinion – if only for his dead ball delivery!

The next game, like this one, should not be underestimated. I feel Mick will show his stubbornness once more, but restore Mings at left-back, but continue with the front 5 – I’d imagine Sears will replace Wood. For a mass change, I’d haul off Murphy, who has not shown his late-2014 form of late (I’d wager that Murphy would have shot hard, early and true with his right after rounding the keeper – I’ve not seen the chance, but) (Perhaps the Brentford miss and Leeds penalty is still playing on his mind?) Though his running and aerial prowess is still there, would a front two of Varney and Sears not be worth trying? Or playing a **modern** narrow diamond of Williams, Tabb, Skuse and Bishop?

Blackpool, though relegated, have a team made up of players on one year deals. Virtually none will want to stay, I’d imagine, and they will be playing for a contract next season at a similar sized club – the rest of the season are job interviews for them. So the team should not be underestimated, and Ipswich need to return to the organised unit that press hard and play for each other – the ones which gained plaudits on Friday evening, and who worked hard to steal a win at Watford.

If Ipswich do not make the play-offs, which I believe we can but would not be disappointed if we did not, it will not be a huge issue. The team will have yet another summer to gel, develop the side and recruit within our means once more.

Any comments, debate or questions welcome to me on Twitter once more @Scribblr_42

Screenshots taken from WhoScored.com

Simplicity, buoyancy and ‘bouncebackability’

It’s been a strange year so far.

2015 started with Ipswich 2nd in the league; spirits were high, there was a belief that this could be our year barring any mass injury or slip up. My enthusiasm was curbed, looking at the teams around us and with us in this league. It’s still plain for all to see – The Tractor Boys have no right flying so high (Arguably, nor do Bournemouth, Brentford et al. given the fact that former Premier League sides Wigan & Fulham are in the SBC – That said, it’s a stupidly tough league to maneuver around as the Blues have found.)

But a stupendous, strong end to 2014 was matched with a jittery start, and a lull through February – Ultimately, leading to a loss against local rivals Norwich; arguably deservedly so. The performance was professional, organised and far more efficient than Ipswich’s – More shots, does not equal more goals.

A loss to Leeds, a draw against Brentford where Town should have won, followed by a humbling 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough (45 mins of Bamford) cast massive doubts amongst many fans. There were factions saying Mick’s brand of football was archaic, that Tabb/Smith/Mings did not deserve their place in the team, that Luke Chambers was misued at right-back, that not the players or coaching staff but the Owner was to blame (this was a very small portion of the fans). And the signings of Luke Varney and Richard Chaplow were seen as underwhelming when better geographically/financially placed teams attracted a bigger name.

Bolton saw a hard fought win, where Ipswich could have done more but the win was confirmed and some optimism returned, where Kevin Bru and Luke Varney worked very hard coming on as substitutes, and Chaplow adding another dimension.

And then Watford.

The game itself was hard fought; it was like watching the Ipswich of late 2014, working hard as a unit and having a few solid rubs of the green – 2 clear cut chances were spurned as Watford failed to register a single shot on target. The introduction of Freddie Sears injected some urgency after a big half from Luke Varney, and it was Sears who’s hard work and quick feet which broke through the Hornet’s defence for Chaplow to slide past the ever erratic Heurelho Gomes, seemingly with ease but a top finish which took what felt like an age to hit the back of the net. – And thus, Watford were robbed.

The international break has allowed many of the squad to take a break, and to reflect on two hard fought, grafted wins. The way that Ipswich have played throughout some of the best patches of the season; winning attacking aerial duels, working hard down the left and having players who cover every blade of grass, running their socks off for the cause. There is a sense of buoyancy which has returned amongst the support, and the nature of the league means that anything can happen in the next six weeks – especially given the amount of goals (historically) scored in May (check out @stats_snakeoil’s timeline on Twitter)

The Good Friday fixture; Bournemouth are one of the most entertaining sides to watch; yes, they’ve been guilty of playing foul and gaining unfortunate decisions in their favour – but the top level view is that they play a very quick, exciting brand of football whilst Ipswich maintain their hard-working, team ethic where each player has their own role to perform. It will prove to be a difficult test, and the additions of Jonny Williams and Zeki Fryers add some much needed strength in depth but the boys in Blue must also be wary of Kenwyne Jones as he is more than likely to replace the fleet-footed Callum Wilson – The game against Boro highlighted the difficulty that Ipswich have found at set-pieces, and it will prove a test if AFCB choose to amend their game plan accordingly.

The team which Mick chooses to put out is based on training, performance, the team spirit and his own tactical nous. The Irishman is an excellent motivator, and is a steady hand in navigating the Blues out of this league. I envisage a 1-1 draw, or a 2-1 defeat tomorrow evening in front of the Sky cameras – I can see Ipswich conceding (and scoring!) from a set-piece.

Image: EADT.co.uk