The early struggles to implement Bradford City’s new identity

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Tim Penfold

The biggest topic of conversation for all Bradford City fans over the summer was about our new head coach.

This was the first appointment which was entirely down to Edin Rahic – Stuart McCall was definitely not his man, and Simon Grayson a short-term appointment to appease a disgruntled fanbase.  So, what would eventual appointment Michael Collins be like, and what would his teams look like?  This was a chance for Rahic to appoint someone to fit in with the identity of what he wants the club to be and what he wants his teams to play like.

So what is our new tactical identity?  From yesterday, it appears that the answer is a confused one.  Michael Collins clearly wants to play a back three, but the City players seem to be uncertain of their roles.  Kelvin Mellor looks uncomfortable on the right of the three, while both wing backs managed to leave too much space in behind while also failing to contribute going forward.  The defence looked unsure as to where their teammates would be as well, which left a lot of space around the sides of the back three and also led to confusion for who would take responsibility for clearing and closing down.

In the build-up to the first goal we missed an opportunity to clear the ball when Anthony O’Connor and Nat Knight-Percival both went for the same ball, and a few minutes later Knight-Percival and Adam Chicksen left each other to deal with Tom Bradshaw, which gave him a huge amount of space in the box.  The switch to the back four came after around 20 minutes and was, if anything, overdue.  The players clearly aren’t comfortable with the back three yet.

Another part of our tactics that seems to be unclear is how we’re meant to create chances.  We have good individual attackers in Sean Scannell, Eoin Doyle and Jack Payne, but at the moment the attack looks like a collection of individuals rather than a unit.  This is something that is probably going to sort itself out with time on the training ground as they get used to each other’s game, but at the moment it looks like a weakness, and one not helped by recruiting almost an entirely new team over the summer, then not playing half of them for much of pre-season.

There was a further issue on Saturday which prevented us from creating, which was how we got the ball to the forwards.  Too often the ball was launched up to Eoin Doyle from either the keeper or the centre backs, and as Doyle is not a target man this meant that more often than not we lost possession.  Yet when we did play through the midfield we still couldn’t get the ball to the front line in dangerous positions often enough, ensuring that we didn’t create.

This was particularly true when we had a back three, as the team ended up with seven defensive players, three attackers and nobody in between.  When the ball came to the forwards they ended up outnumbered with the midfield and wing backs slow to push up, whereas when it got to the central midfield they were still a long way from the forwards making the passes to them more difficult.

The half time substitution, combined with the switch to 4-2-3-1, helped a bit by providing another attacker in the shape of Sherwin Seedorf, but the problem of the midfield not getting into position to help the attack remained and left us short of numbers going forward.  This meant that we gained position on the field in the second half and had a good spell of possession, but still lacked a cutting edge and created very few chances.

The direct football seems to go against what Edin Rahic wants from his team.  When I saw Collins coach the under 18s last season, I saw a team that wanted to play out from the back, and this happened even more when I saw the under 18s at the start of this season.  If you’re building a club identity around possession and attacking football, the youth teams would be the place to start and this does seem to be happening.  Yet, for whatever reason, this didn’t translate to the first team yesterday.

The directness may have just been a one-off – Barnsley pressed high up the pitch, and it may have been an attempt to play over the high press rather than try to go through it and risk losing possession.  Some of the issues with defensive structure were also exacerbated by the quality and speed of Barnsley’s passing and movement, which is a level or two above most teams that we will face this season.  They weren’t as effective against the back four until an individual error from Knight-Percival let them in for their second, and that gives some cause for optimism that a short-term switch to a back four could work.

So what conclusions can we draw from this?  There are three obvious ones.  Firstly, if we want to play a back three it would’ve been worth trying this for more than 45 minutes in pre-season, and on the evidence of yesterday it needs more work on the training ground before it can be used in matches.  The second is that the team looks disjointed and a little unsure of each other, which may well just be a consequence of the large-scale recruitment over the summer and can be fixed with time.

The final one is that we cannot play direct football with the squad we have at the moment, which gives us two choices – recruit a target man, or try a different approach.  And as for the bigger question about an overall tactical identity?  It was always going to be too early to say after one game.

Categories: Match Reviews

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10 replies

  1. Men v boys. 44 more games to go. Early days of course but the look on Rahic’s face and his head shaking at the final whistle was a picture that may not bode well for the management team.

    • Pre-match, Rahic was ‘bigging up’ the team and you sensed that the Shrewsbury result had given him a degree of self-confidence and validation of his changes. Yesterday witnessed a gulf in class but that should not excuse the tactical naivety and uninspiring performance by City.

      This is not about a so-called ‘German model’, it is simply another incarnation of the historic cheap and cheerful Bradford model under the leadership of an autocratic chairman. We can’t expect much better if the squad is denied investment and the bigger debate is whether we can aspire to achieve the position we achieved last season.

      We’ll have a good sense by October how the team is going to fare but on yesterday’s performance there is little to inspire confidence in Rahic’s masterplan. As for ambition we need to manage our expectations.

    • He needs to point the finger and shake his head at himself.

  2. A good summary which is in line with my own recollections and analysis of the match.

    I think that the size, upper body strength and pace that the Barnsley team have, meant that we were unable to take and hold onto possession at important stages of the game.

    Where the team is at the end of September, will be a good indication as to how much progress can be achieved.

  3. Good assessment of yesterdays game,very disappointed. Although Barnsley were good, we lacked any creativity, lacked any urgent press and frankly looked miles behind in fitness levels.A couple of bright points, keeper and oconnor looks decent, akpan could become a favorite as he likes a tackle but needs someone with him. We have to get killa back in for nkp as he seems to lack confidence.

  4. First thing is to try and cut out the self inflicted mistakes so back to a back 4 next game please.
    O’Connor, McGowan Kilgallon and Mellor, and get someone in quickly upfront, but lets play football, and not resort to whacking it upfield.

  5. Excellent appraisal of the match. The defence looked particularly shaky. Keeping my fingers crossed Killa is not on his way out and will be back very soon to shore up the back 3/4… That said I do think we probably saw the likely winners of this division in Barnsley who were fairly faultless throughout.

  6. Can’t disagree with a word. Collins gets a pass because it’s so early, but team looked really underprepared. The wing backs’ positional play was bad, and the centre backs didn’t know when to go tight and when to drop off. The worst example was the corner around the 15 minute mark, where we cleared it back to the corner taker only for him to carry it into the box because no one closed him down.

    Consistency is nice though. We can change our entire coaching staff and nearly our entire team, but we’ll still aim long balls to an average sized striker, 25 yards out and with his back to goal. It’s good to be back!

  7. the lack of firepower up front was almost total. what is the point of bringing in players who reputedly can get quality crosses into the opposition box if the club sells, and doesn’t replace the only target man they had on the books? simply put Doyle is not a target man. he’s not that type of striker, it’s not his game. the irony is, he’d probably score us a lot of goals alongside a quality target man. the chief coach is happy to go with what he’s got. sounds like a campaign without a target man.

  8. Architects of our own downfall to a degree, too many times we gave the ball away too cheaply, then failing to chase it down. No pressing when out of possession and players unwilling to go to the man out wide.

    Prime example is NKP ‘giving up’ as the attacker wafted past him for the 2nd goal – the attacker wasn’t even running that fast!!

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