Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks.
Weekend Debrief: 13th January 2020
England's striking options
Harry Kane’s untimely injury has opened up a host of problems for Jose Mourinho at Tottenham, but has also presented a chance to a number of English strikers to impress Gareth Southgate ahead of the European Championships, and potentially work their way into the reckoning for selection for the 23-man squad.
With Kane expected to be fit for the Championships, it hasn’t necessarily opened up a spot in the squad, but coupled with Callum Wilson’s dwindling form, it has seen opportunities arise heading into the next set of friendlies in March, and the potential to impress Southgate, particularly if they are able to net in these fixtures.
Heading into the friendlies against Italy and Denmark, there are two stand out options given their recent form in the Premier League.
Danny Ings has been fundamental in Southampton’s resurgence, and the ex-Burnley man would be a similar replacement to Wilson in the England side, offering Southgate an option as a poacher as well as a constant pressing threat off the ball. His tenacity and ability to run in behind opposition’s backlines would be welcomed, and would theoretically offer England a constant threat in behind the opposition’s backlines.
However, it can be argued that England are in need of a Plan B, even when Kane is fit, as they currently have a number of alternative forwards who are similar in style in Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.
Currently, England are best playing on the break against top opposition, and in selecting Ings, it can be argued that he is another player similar to this system. Whilst he would fit into Southgate’s current tactics, it does leave England a little one-dimensional, and if needs be when chasing a game, any fundamental change in shape wouldn’t be forthcoming.
This is where Dominic Calvert-Lewin would come into the reckoning. Although Southgate currently employs possession-based tactics, England are in need of a traditional centre forward, and it has been seen in games against top opposition, such as at the Nations League in the summer, that this possession-based football, and lack of an alternative on the bench, can often lead to problems.
Calvert-Lewin has netted eight times this season, including five in his last seven, and the 22-year-old would offer England an alternative that they currently don’t have, particularly if needing to chase a game.
As seen against Czech Republic in the defeat in the qualifiers, if England’s midfield is shut down, they struggle to find an alternative approach, and thus the one-dimensional approach can lead to problems and England can struggle to get out. Although Kane does pose an aerial threat, it isn’t the strongest side of his game, and he can often get bullied out the game by more physical defenders, and this leaves England with little outlet at times.
Calvert-Lewin would offer England a more traditional approach to what has been seen in the past, through the likes of Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch, and his aerial presence is highlighted by his 4.7 aerials won per 90 minutes. If England are required to chase a game, by having the striker even on the bench, it would offer up an alternative angle of attack for Southgate’s side.
His occupation of the opposition’s centre backs would also free up more space for the creative talents in behind, whilst he would be more than capable of offering an aerial threat to the strong crossing options England pose. Full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell would relish the prospect of having the target man to pick out in the middle, whilst creative midfielder James Maddison, if starting, cannot be overlooked from a dead ball scenarios.
Priced at 5/1 (SkyBet) to make the Euros, it is a fair price, but with the opportunity to impress coming up in the next set of friendlies, and the alternative to England’s attack present, he could work his way into Southgate’s thoughts, particularly with his current strong form.
Bournemouth’s attacking woes
Bournemouth’s defeat to Watford on Sunday has left them languishing in 19th place in the Premier League, two points from safety and in desperate need of reinforcements if they are to arrest their current slide.
With only a victory over Luton in the FA Cup to grasp onto in recent weeks, Eddie Howe’s side have only won two of their last 16 Premier League games, and it doesn’t currently look like improving. Those two wins came against Chelsea and Manchester United, and an inability to beat the teams around them is proving costly.
Injuries have plagued the Cherries throughout this run, but despite a number of key players returning from injury, the worrying signs were still evident in defeat on Sunday, and the leaky back four coupled with a struggling attack is making for worrying viewing.
Although the back four is an obvious issue, Howe will need to be looking at his striking options if they are to get themselves out of trouble. Heavily reliant upon Callum Wilson, reinforcements up front are desperately needed for Howe’s side, with Dominic Solanke in particular struggling to find the net.
An injury to Josh King has added to their struggles, and although Ryan Fraser was a rare bright spark on Sunday, a striker to share the load with Wilson, as well as add another dynamic to the attack is needed.
Wilson’s ability to stretch defences does leave space in front of opposition’s back fours, and it can be argued that Howe’s reluctance to shift form a 4-4-2 is hindering Bournemouth, and not allowing his side to get the best out of Harry Wilson in behind. Furthermore, David Brooks has been a huge miss in the attacking midfield role, after such a bright start to his Premier League career last season, his return from injury could also see an improvement in Bournemouth’s form.
The underlying statistics behind Bournemouth’s struggles are also particularly concerning. Their Expected Goals (xG) from open play is a measly 14.18, compared to their xGa of 28.91, and their top scorer being Harry Wilson shows a reliance upon set pieces and unlikely goals, with an xG of 2.32 despite a goal return of six.
Unsurprisingly, goals from the Welshman have dried up and can’t be relied upon, and with Solanke continuing to draw a blank and Callum Wilson struggling for form himself, it further reinforces the need for different options up front.
If he is to make a move in the market, who Howe opts to pounce for in the January window will go a long way to determining whether they will pick up in form for the second half of the season, and they have so far only been linked with Le Havre forward Tino Kadewere.
Although netting 18 goals this season, this has come in the French second division, and it is understandable to be sceptical as to whether the Zimbabwean forward would be what the Cherries require. A proven goalscorer at highest level is required, and given Howe’s reliance upon a 4-4-2, and needing to get the best out of Wilson, the alternative options are few and far between, especially given the lack of availability in the January window.
Howe has publicly stated it will be a reliance upon loans, and as a result, as was alluded to last week when discussing Aston Villa, Michy Batshuayi could become an option from Chelsea. With Villa primed to move for Christian Benteke instead, a loan move to the south coast for the Belgian could be of interest, and he would fit the similar mould of Solanke whilst adding depth to the struggling front line, and perhaps as an outside option for the Cherries, he is currently 14/1 (SkyBet) to move to the South Coast in January.
Batshuayi showed his ability whilst on-loan at Crystal Palace last season, netting five goals in 11 games, but opportunities have been hard to come by at Chelsea this season, and wanting to stake his claim for a European Championships spot, he may be tempted by a move away.
Rather than panic and sack Howe, Bournemouth would be better served riding out the injury storm, as well as looking at January recruitments, and given the plight of Aston Villa, whilst other sides such as Newcastle still vulnerable to the drop particularly when considering their underlying numbers, 9/10 on Bournemouth to be relegated feels too short a price.
It is arguably the most important January window for the Cherries since their promotion to the top flight, and who they decide to invest in will go a long way to dictating their fate come May.