Phil Parkinson’s decision not to move Marcel Seip into his natural centre back position for the visit of Burton Albion last Saturday was arguably the strongest verification to date of how well the Dutchman is performing at left back.
No Luke Oliver and no other fit centre backs – but with three recognised left backs to choose from – Seip seemed certain to be switched back into the centre to partner Andrew Davies. Instead midfielder Lee Bullock filled in for Oliver and Seip continued on the left. On the surface two pegs in round holes, when Parkinson had all the right pieces.
It proved to be a smart decision. Bullock’s impressive display and way that he has previously shown such promise as a defender is worthy of a future ‘Midweek Player Focus’ of its own; but selecting a midfielder who had been injured for over three months to replace Oliver, when a more obvious option was available, represented something of a gamble. It was, however, a successful move that provided minimal disruption to an increasingly reliable defence, and ensured the team balance that Seip has played a big role in shaping was continued.
In view of the improvement in overall results and performances since the 3-2 defeat to Rotherham, there is little doubt that November afternoon was a pivotal moment in City’s season. A dismal second half team performance saw Luke O’Brien and Steve Williams caught wanting by a physical Millers’ attack, with two goals a result of their struggles. The return of Simon Ramsden to fitness and Davies from a four game suspension prompted a radical defensive shuffle at Gillingham the week after. Each member of the new-look back four has since flourished as a unit.
Siep was playing at right back against Rotherham, and looked okay if not outstanding. And although his switch to left back for the Gillingham game didn’t trigger any immediate increase in his performances, he quietly settled into the role and became more and more effective over the subsequent weeks. Seip played a full part in the defence conceding just two goals in five league games. All the more impressive considering he is such an obviously right-footed player.
Yet still, surely this was a stop-gap solution? The events that followed another injury set back for Ramsden on New Year’s Eve suggested it wasn’t the case. Although Seip was initially moved to right back once more, as Robbie Threlfall had just returned from a lay off and could play on the left, the seven goals conceded in the subsequent two games suggested the changes were not working. Threlfall was struggling, so Rob Kozluk arrived to cover for Ramsden – and Seip was moved back to the left.
It is surely this development which has led to this week’s proposed departure of O’Brien. He, Threlfall and Charlie Taylor, on loan from Leeds, should in theory be selected as left back ahead of Seip; but the Dutchman has become first choice. His return to this position has again seen improvement over the past couple of games – the two goals conceded against Morecambe was largely due to the disruption of injuries, while Burton’s underserved equaliser on Saturday masked a good defensive performance.
Full backs under Parkinson are playing in a different manner than that instructed by Peter Jackson, Peter Taylor and Stuart McCall. O’Brien in particular was an attacking option encouraged to support his winger by charging forward and – when a 4-3-3 formation was deployed by all three previous City managers – he was looked upon as a key part of the attack. It suited O’Brien’s game especially and, although his final ball needed to improve, it was a thrilling sight to watch the former youth trainee take on and dribble past opposition players. Threlfall wasn’t as offensively minded, but would still come forwards and support his winger.
It is claimed by some that – under Parkinson over the past few weeks – no full back has crossed the half way line. That is not entirely accurate, but there seems to be little doubt that the left back is no longer encouraged to charge up and down the flank.
Which is why Seip is more suited to Parkinson’s way of playing than O’Brien and, to a lesser extent, Threlfall. It has much to do with the winger in front of him, who has a significant role in the team in terms of taking on players and making things happen. Be that Kyel Reid, Jack Compton, Taylor or Andy Haworth – the left side of City’s midfield is set up to be the most potent attacking threat.
Meanwhile the right flank of Parkinson’s team has different requirements. The role that Craig Fagan is playing in the team – and his strengths and weaknesses – was discussed two weeks ago. There is no doubting Fagan’s ability and he has been effective in recent weeks, but he doesn’t have the pace to take people on and charge to the byeline. So Ramsden, until he was injured, and now Kozluk are expected to get forward more down the right to link up with Fagan, compared to how much is asked of Seip down the left.
Both Ramsden and Kozluk have shown themselves very able at this role. They won’t be taking on people in the way O’Brien at his best did so well, but they are crossing the half way line and supporting Fagan in his attempts to get crosses into the box.
There in lies the balance to the team. On the right, Ramsden/Kozluk get forward and are combining well with Fagan. On the left, wingers Reid/Taylor/Haworth are confident and able to take people on. There is far more danger that they will lose possession as a result, meaning the opposition is able to charge forwards on the counter-attack; but with Seip playing in a much more reserved manner, greater cover is provided. Fagan is acting as an extra midfielder tucking inside when City don’t have the ball, while Seip is doing something similar in defence.
So O’Brien look set to leave City not because he is such a bad player Parkinson would rather stick a central defender ahead of him, but because Luke’s strengths and weaknesses are not as well-suited to the functionalistic left back role that’s the team’s shape requires. With each passing week that left back Seip and City perform well, the former Dutch Under 21 international looks increasingly as though he is playing in his natural position.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus