With back to back league wins secured for only the second time this season, the Blues have an opportunity to make up more ground on the top places with a game in hand against a Birmingham side who have seen their Carling Cup success coincide with dropping into the relegation places…..
Birmingham Intel & Strategy
Big Eck’s mob have a fairly simplistic game plan and you rarely get much variance in terms of tactics and strategy. They have 2 solid banks of 4 who will play fairly close together to compress any space in between the lines. Their defence has been the bedrock for the stability McLeish has brought to the club, with Carr,Dann,Johnson & Ridgewell a pretty solid unit over the past 18 months. The 2 fullbacks will often tuck in and the 2 centre mids (usually Ferguson & Bowyer) will play deep to form a wall of 6 bodies (see below diagram) This is setup to encourage the opposition to play the ball into wide areas were there is space to cross -safe in the knowledge they have an abundance of bodies in the box to cope with the aerial threat.
Birmingham v Everton Sept 2010 – BCFC Defensive Unit is based on keeping its shape at all times – (defenders circled red, midfielders circled blue)
The way to combat this is to ensure the crosses going into the box are accurately drilled low and at pace. Last season at Goodison we were a bit naive in doing this, leading to 28 unsuccessful crosses – a completion rate of just 15%. Moyes clearly learnt his lesson and in the game this season at St Andrews we scored both our goals from low deliveries (again, from our potent left side).The injury to Dann has compromised this belligerence somewhat and they have looked less secure since with Curtis Davies now partnering Johnson at the back…Ridgewell is also tipped to miss out through injury.
Offensively they are limited. With just 26 goals scored they are the lowest scorers in the league, having also recorded the fewest shots on target (91) than any other side. McLeish has been deploying 2 out and out strikers in recent games (Jerome & Martins) and they are supported in wide areas by Bentley and Beasejour, who will often swop flanks. The player with most assists (5), is Seb Larsson, however he is currently out of favour.
I would imagine the Blues would go unchanged from Saturday providing Phil Neville’s injury doesn’t keep him out. Rodwell and Neville will anchor midfield with Osman on the right and Arteta the furthest forward playing on the left cutting in. Should the skipper miss out I would imagine Heitinga will deputise although his displays in central midfield this campaign have been really poor.
What was interesting on Saturday was that we made fewer passes and had our lowest pass completion of the season, yet took the 3 points. The switch to 4-4-2 means a man less in midfield. Arteta is the key variable here, by shifting him out wide you get more traction in the final third, but you do lose some fluency from the centre of the park on the ball as both Rodwell and Neville are more defensive minded by nature. The Blues are going for a 3rd straight league win, something we haven’t achieved since Jan 2010.
I wouldn’t be expecting a goal fest here I’m afraid. Birmingham are notoriously cagey opponents and will set out to restrict the Blues and stay in the game at 0-0 as long as possible. I’m going for the Blues to edge it 1-0 and keep our good run of form in the league going.