Here is another article from Chris Quinn this time about Eck! There has been a lot of talk around tactics and transfers, here is a point of view from Chris.
I can’t believe I’m even typing this sentence, but feel compelled to.
Is Alex McLeish still the right man for Birmingham City?
Take one look at any message board related to the club and you would think Armageddon is fast approaching.
On the official message board of the club – there is a thread entitled ‘The McLeish Debate – Stay or go?’ Currently, it has seven pages. To save you having to pull your hair out, I have sifted through to gauge a general consensus of the thread.
Another unofficial forum makes the first ridiculous point of the thread: “yep spot on, no striker in the world can work alone upfront. 1-0 up should of bought Phillips on kill game off.”
Now, he may not agree that 4-4-1-1 works for Blues, and I would be partial to agree in some instances, but to say that no striker in the world can play as a lone striker is ludicrous. The Spanish team that won the World Cup had only one striker, David Villa, and although he was heavily supported, he was a lone striker. Didier Drogba has played the role for years and won trophies galore in that system.
Formation seems to be one of the main gripes amongst Blues fans regarding McLeish. Last season, during our fantastic unbeaten run, we played 4-4-2 and it was rather successful as opposed to the start of the season when we played 4-5-1. But lets get one thing straight; Blues fans did not convince McLeish that we should switch to 4-4-2. This decision would have been taken by Big Eck himself, maybe after conversing with his back room staff.
Christian Benitez was part of that strikeforce, and McLeish has also often been slated for not keeping ‘Chucho’ on board. In 21 starting appearances, ‘Chucho’ scored a dire three goals. People will often point to his contribution elsewhere on the pitch, especially his assists, but his replacement Nikola Zigic has scored two league goals so far this season, and is being slated, when he does play, for not scoring enough. If Benitez was still here and had scored the same amount of goals as Zigic, would he be deemed a flop? It seems that our fans were willing to be patient with Benitez as he had raw pace, but not Zigic as he is tall and less agile. He is ironically cheered when he wins a header, yet booed when he doesn’t win one. It is not even his best attribute, yet his whole career at Birmingham has been based on this one facet of play. McLeish is working hard with Zigic on the training ground, trying to get him in dangerous positions, and it is slowly working with him.
Take Arsenal away, Keith Fahey whipped in a great ball to Zigic and he rose and nodded home a superb header at the back post, the position McLeish has been training him to take up.
“…and his positioning at the back post for the other one in the second-half, we’d like to see him get in those positions more,” McLeish told the Birmingham Mail.
Also, cast back to Spurs at home. A ball was hung into the area and Zigic pulled onto the back post, where he towered over Benoit Assou-Ekotto and nodded across the face of the goal for Craig Gardner to head home. McLeish is working closely with Zigic every day in training.
Our 9th-placed finish last season was not because we played 4-4-2, it was down to the fact that our defence was unbreachable. Last season, we still were one of the lowest scorers in the league. This season, we still can’t score, but we concede more sloppy goals than last season. Our 4-5-1 is more of a 4-4-1-1 and is pretty attacking as it is. Alex Hleb is given the licence to roam and has no defensive responsibilities, so is effectively a deep-lying striker, much like Dimitar Berbatov often finds himself doing for Manchester United. Our widemen are encouraged to get forward, and if they cut inside Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell both get forward to provide the width.
Against Villa last weekend, a lot of fans were angry that we never played two up-front and went for the kill. I can see why fans felt this way, but we need to look at how teams line-up against us too. Had we played two in the middle of the park on Sunday, presumably Ferguson and Gardner, then we would have been over-run by Downing, Petrov and Reo-Coker, especially as Ferguson sits so deep in front of the back four. I concur that, as the home team, we should be looking at ways to make the opposition think about our formation and not the other way, but we have been over-run too many times in the past by Villa’s midfield three that it would have been suicidal to adopt that philosophy again. I’m all for being positive, but we can’t go gung-ho every game.
When McLeish feels we are able to let loose a bit more, he does switch to 4-4-2. For example, Blackpool at home. A poorer team came to St. Andrew’s and we out them to the sword and stifled their attacking threat well. Did McLeish get any praise for getting his tactics spot-on? No, everyone just moaned that we hadn’t played that way all season.
Chelsea came to Blues and we set-up 4-4-2. Yes, we did win 1-0, but remember the game itself? We had one shot and scored, Chelsea had over 30 shots at our goal that day and it should of been about five or six to them, had it not been for Ben Foster’s heroics. If we had conceded a lot of goals, no doubt the message boards would have called for his head once more.
Simply, he’s damned if he doesn’t, but he’s damned if he does.
Would we rather go back the kick-and-rush days of Bruce? Eck likes us to get the ball down and play and we’ve often been praised for our approach to the game. Think back to goals like Barry Ferguson’s goal away at Everton in the cup. Fantastic build-up play and a lovely sweeping finish that was reminiscent of Argentina’s lauded goal in the World Cup from Esteban Cambiasso.
Not only do we knock it about well, we are disciplined and have a fantastic work ethic to complement. I agree that we don’t score enough goals, but clean sheets, as proved last season, are a more successful foundation to build upon.
I’ve also heard murmurs of discontent towards McLeish, and Blues’, lack of activity in this transfer window, especially our inability to land players such as Robbie Keane. How anyone can have a go at his transfer policy is beyond me. This is the man who has turned Roger Johnson and Scott Dann from Championship defenders into England contenders. The man who took a chance last season and, alongside our fantastic goalkeeping coach Dave Watson, nurtured England’s number one goalkeeper for years to come. Joe Hart stayed at Man City at the end of season so McLeish managed to nab the player who is now challenging Hart for his England jersey. Everyone said that Barry Ferguson was past his best and wouldn’t thrive in the Premier League after an average first spell at Blackburn Rovers. Ferguson ended the 2010 calender year completing over 2,000 passes and having the highest successful pass completion rate in the Premier League. He also coaxed Stephen Carr out of retirement and turned Liam Ridgewell into a marauding left-back. He has also showed ambitions in his transfer activity and intent to take the club to the next level. The acquisition of Aliaksandr Hleb proves that. Unsuccessful pursuits of Moussa Dembele, who chose the bright lights of London, and Fabricio Miccoli, dodgy knee, have not helped McLeish’s cause.
And finally, who would we get to replace him? O’Neill is too power mad to work with this board. Sam Allardyce’s style of play is exactly the reason a lot of people want Eck out as it is. Chris Hughton is inexperienced. Who else could we get that would take this club to the next level and do a better job than McLeish could? The fact that McLeish was even talked about for the Liverpool job says a lot about the job he is doing here.
I will end this post by listing the good work that McLeish, and a fantastic backroom team (that Eck has assembled), have done since taking over:
1. McLeish took over a sinking ship and narrowly missed out on keeping Blues up. He followed that up by getting Blues promoted at the first time of asking.
2. He then made some inspired signings that helped the club to their highest league position in 50 years, embarking on the longest unbeaten run in the history of the football club in the process.
3. We are currently sitting in our first semi-final appearance in a decade, with a very realistic chance of reaching a cup final and giving the supporters of this club a day-out at Wembley that a lot of them don’t deserve.
We are going (positive) places with Eck in charge, we just need to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and we need to establish ourselves firmly before we get too big for our moaning boots.
I know this post is going to cause controversy amongst some fans, so feel free to comment below and I will endeavour to discuss any points you think I may have missed!
Keep Right On.