The January reshaping has been done, interesting new faces have been introduced, and now we see what Kevin Wilkin can achieve with them.
January felt like a transitional month to me. We settled into a diamond formation which, I suspect, is not how Wilkin will want to proceed once the new men are bedded in. Admittedly we have a lot of central midfielders to choose from: there was a little bit of head scratching when Joe Clarke, Dean Keates, Jay Harris and Kyle Storer all appeared on the team sheet last Saturday.
However, I suspect that’s not how Wilkin wants to proceed. Our problem is the lack of a player fully suited to playing at the sharp end of the diamond. We’ve got options for the deep-lying role in front of the back four and plenty of willing runners able to add some physicality on the flanks, but no matter which way you cut it, I find it hard to see a natural fit for the most attacking spot.
It’s not as if there’s a set type of player to fulfil that role: it depends how you want to set your team up. Liverpool used the shape very successfully last season with Raheem Sterling breaking forwards in support of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, but I don’t see a player at Wilkin’s disposal who’s naturally inclined to play like that. In terms of an attacking player in the hole our best option is perhaps Louis Moult, who played there against Gateshead and Dover, but it seems illogical to withdraw our best finisher into a deeper position.
Maybe Elliott Durrell would benefit from an extended run there rather than on the flanks, but he started the first six games of the season there in a 4-2-3-1 and hasn’t been used centrally since. Sam Findlay clearly has a creative spark, but I haven’t seen enough of him to know if he can play there. Of course Connor Jennings might be the ideal man to slot in here, but in the eight games we’ve played 4-2-3-1 he’s only been in the hole once. It was the most recent time we played that way though – against Stockport at Edgeley Park – and he scored too.
Harris played there against Torquay and might be able to break into the box, but it’s not really his game and he’s probably most likely to profit in that position by picking up loose balls and drilling in shots from distance.
On Saturday the presence of four quite similar players in the diamond essentially meant we lacked width and play became concentrated through the middle of the pitch, where we were hard to break down but struggled to break free.
The other obvious type of player to put at the tip of the diamond is a playmaker. The old romantic in me immediately thinks of Argentinian enganche Juan Roman Riquelme, a player whose recent retirement signalled the virtual extinction of his sort of player. A real throw back to a time when football was slower and less physical, Riquelme was an imperious passer of the ball, strolling around at his own pace and threading exquisite passes to his forwards.
It’s no coincidence that he played much of career in South America, where defences are deeper and there’s more room for his ilk to roam, or that his spell at Barcelona was a failure, though.
We might, even in the hurly-burly of the Conference, have a player who could play that role. Perhaps this is crazy, but could Keates be the man to play the Riquelme role? He’s certainly a clinical passer, and having him thirty yards closer to our strikers might give him more of an opportunity to pick out their runs, while willing workers like Clarke, Storer, Harris and Carrington queue up to do his running for him.