Friday, 11 September 2015

The Mancienne Conundrum looms as 'Sky month' kicks off at QPR

It seems a fair while now since we limped to a disappointing defeat at home to Cardiff doesn't it? That game left many questions to ponder, not least how the transfer window would pan out.

Never ones to take the easy path, our transfer window business eventually came to end yesterday - a full nine days after the deadline. But, as promised, the paperwork seems to have been sorted on time and Jonny 'Joniesta' Williams joined from Crystal Palace to complete a quartet of additions.

The number of signings means that the return to league action against QPR feels like even more of a fresh start than normal. It's a case of 'over to you Dougie' as Freedman tries to forge a workable - and hopefully successful - starting XI from his new-look squad.

In some respects he faces a tough task. Of the new recruits, Nelson Oliveira and Ryan Mendes will need time to settle in. Oliveira's stint at Swansea last season should help but the new pair join a side that already includes Daniel Pinillos and Kyle Ebecilio who are new to English football. It's not as if we're slotting one piece into a near-finished jigsaw. Dougie has, in fact, barely emptied all the pieces out of the box.

Williams is returning to fitness while O'Grady needs to shake off the splinters from warming the Brighton bench - both in need of the sharpness needed to deal with three games in a week.

The other issue is that there's a tough looking set of fixtures on the horizon. Tomorrow's lunch time game is an extremely awkward looking away day at Loftus Road. The Rs hung on to Charlie Austin and Leroy Fer to ensure their new-look squad has a touch of Premier League class and a strong chance of challenging for promotion. Birmingham and Middlesbrough follow and both, like QPR, are among the top seven of the fledgling table.

There's also the television hex. It's probably only a perception that we struggle under the glare of the cameras, but you can't help feeling that Dougie would've preferred to have been left alone for a while to try to find some form away from the Sky screens. He has no such luck with tomorrow's game, the Middlesbrough home clash and the next game, away at Huddersfield, all on TV (I'm still smarting about the fact I'll now miss out on a trip to Huddersfield).

Expect to hear this song, used by Sky on Championship coverage, a lot over the next month:

We have to be honest and expect that things will take time. The next three fixtures would've been tough even without big changes in personnel so with them it'll be even harder to pick up points - although the element of surprise might prove useful.

One thing I'm fascinated to see - Ok, I'm sad - is what now happens to Michael Mancienne now that we've turned down the advances from Fulham to keep him on the books. The former Chelsea and Hamburg man has been forced to play as a defensive midfielder under Freedman as well as the dreaded left back berth. Whilst he may have managed the odd bit of defensive 'tidying up' he clearly struggles to impose himself on a game in that position, never dominating enough to snuff out an opposition and never offering enough on the ball in times when we are in the ascendancy.

Dougie could call on David Vaughan - who has started to look the player we hoped he could be in recent weeks - the fit again Henri Lansbury, Kyle Ebecilio, Ben Osborn, Jonny Williams or Jorge Grant in central midfield.

In essence, he doesn't need Mancienne there any more but I wonder if he still feels that none of the above names are defensive enough to play deep.

I'd like to see us be bold and find a way of playing that makes use of the talents of that six (I refuse to get my hopes up over Reid and Cohen). In many respects our midfield dilemma mirrors the tactical decisions Roy Hodgson is weighing up with England.

In an excellent piece this week, Jonathan Wilson highlighted how England veered from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 ahead of the World Cup, partly in a bid to get more attacking options on the field. The 'two' at the base of the midfield were Gerrard and Henderson - neither natural holding players. Post-World Cup - and post-Gerrard - Roy has reverted to his 4-3-3 and reaped the rewards in an undefeated qualifying campaign. As Wilson puts it:

England still have no out and out holder, but they can play a passer flanked by two scufflers, and weight of numbers and organisation can do the rest.

There's no reason why Dougie shouldn't look to this 'passer and scufflers' formula in his Forest side - making use of the talents of Lansbury and Williams, while also tapping into the energy of Osborn and Ebecilio. If we get this part of the team right you feel like there might be enough exciting talent with Mendes, Oliveira, Ward, young Burke and Walker - combined with experience and know-how of O'Grady, old Burke and Blackstock - to make a viable attacking force.

Mancienne, meanwhile, is surely a man who deserves a shot in defence. The fact that he was there in our impressive start to 2014/15 has been overstated a little - he was still there and awful when I saw us defeated 3-0 at Huddersfield last year - but it is true that he showed himself capable of being part of a solid Championship back line.

I can understand the logic of trying him in midfield in the first place. He's a defensive player who is comfortable on the ball and is probably someone who looks to have the talent to be flexible. Positional flexibility is popular too, it's a very Guardiola thing to do isn't it? His Bayern side romped to victory with Xabi Alonso at centre half recently and you get the impression that Pep basically wants to play football with 11 midfielders. Spellbinding as that might be to watch, it's on a different planet to us and, with the greatest respect, involves players of a much higher class.

Not only would we hopefully get the best out of Mancienne in defence but if, say, paired with Freedman favourite Matt Mills, we could try to play the ball from the back with these two - again bringing the midfield into the game a little more.

It was noticeable at Bolton, for example, that with Tyler Walker up front on his own De Vries started the game by bowling the ball out to Mills in an attempt to play more football. The plan deteriorated slightly when the hosts got on top but it was there - and could be enhanced by having Mancienne there too.

Whether Dougie is convinced or not remains to be seen. It'd be a positive symbol of a more progressive future if Mancienne isn't in the midfield in West London tomorrow. Equally, if he is then we still need to support him and Dougie. I don't see that he'll flourish there in the long run but if Freedman disagrees then he's the boss and we need rally round and give it all time to gel.

My grandad used to say that 'patience is a virtue', we'd all do well to heed his sage words over the course of the season...

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