Aitor Karanka has made a good start strengthening the squad. The additions of George Friend in the back four, the re-signing of Jon Toral with Ivan Sanchez, and Jonathan Leko all improve our attacking options with of course the addition of much needed pace. Finally to date so far, Andres Prieto arriving, gives us a replacement between the posts. I’m really pleased with these signings. More of this below.
However I’m certain that the manager will be keen to strengthen his squad further, as he looks to push Blues away from any more Championship relegation worries this season. The Spaniard having succeeded Pep Clotet at St Andrew’s, will be looking into the transfer market with the new campaign already on the horizon to add to the squad further.
The new season kicks off on September 12 so time is at a premium if Karanka is going to welcome new arrivals and give them time to settle in before the big kick-off. The current odds offered by the best UK betting sites like 888sport are at around 5/1 for Blues to be relegated, which looks encouraging enough.
Here I will take a brief look at the main positions that the former Middlesbrough and Forest boss must look at to get his tenure off to a good start.
Of course the one area we struggled with last season, and to be honest the previous, was in defense.
We were conceding around three goals a game at home after lockdown, and that is disastrous and clearly made it virtually impossible to win games. Actually, we failed to find any sort of cohesion at the back and it was like the back four who performed reasonably well prior to lockdown, had only just been introduced. The addition of George Friend will help that, but I still think we need another centre back and another full back, even if it’s only for cover.
Harlee Dean and Marc Roberts struggled in that post lockdown period, and Jake Clarke-Salter has returned to the parent club, Chelsea. I have to say, although Dean and Colin struggled post lockdown – they were playing well beforehand. Players don’t become bad over night, and I’m convinced that these two will be key players going forward under Karanka. I know Dean has had some stick on social media and forums, but I like him and I’m hopeful that he will do the business.
One choice is a free agent such as former Middlesbrough defender Daniel Ayala, who has left the Riverside. We may struggle to sign him, but he is a good example of the sort of player we could, and probably should, go after. Ayala was signed from Norwich by Karanka and spent six years at the club and made more than 200 appearances, so there is a connection there and I think would be a very good addition.
The goalkeeping department is also an issue. The contract handed out to David Stockdale by Harry Redknapp has finally run its course, Lee Camp has moved on, and youngster Connal Truman has been loaned out to AFC Wimbledon. Although Prieto has arrived, I’m certain he has been signed as the 2nd choice because of his age and experience. Having said that, apparently he played well in the friendlies that he has appeared in. However my point it, we need to find a senior stopper before the big kick-off.
He is apparently keen on Charlton’s Dillon Phillips after the keeper caught the eye with some of his showings last season. Blues have also been linked with Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge and Newcastle’s Karl Darlow, although I think the possibility of signing latter, is now dead in the water. Either way, a steadying influence between the posts would certainly go a long way to improving those frailties at the back.
As mentioned, finding another striker is the other area Karanka is going to have to sort out. Clearly the loss of Jude and his pace and creativity was a priority. The signings listed above go a long way to addressing that, although in my opinion, not quite far enough yet.
We need at LEAST another striker / centre forward, probably two. There are rumours that Juke may be sold – although I haven’t seen anything substantive to back that up, regardless we need another front man. If Juke DOES go, then we need three. I’d like to see Karanka bring in an experienced forward a bit like Kevin Phillips was, along with a younger guy. The latter would probably have to be a loanee from a PL side.
Scott Hogan wasn’t signed after his loan spell from rivals Aston Villa last season, Alvaro Gimenez didn’t work out and has now gone to Cadiz, and Lukas Jutkiewicz has an injury. Which leaves us with very few options up front. Bela will have to be more than just an impact sub, and if he is used properly, I think could be excellent for us.
Signing forward Jonathan Leko from Albion, is an excellent bit of business. The talented 21-year-old can play from either flack or up front and hands Karanka more options. Leko spent last season on-loan at Charlton, hitting five goals in 21 appearances.
We should be looking for someone like Joe Lolley. The former Kidderminster Harriers and Huddersfield attacker has done brilliantly for Forest and of course played under Karanka. I doubt Lolley is available, but as a former Birmingham academy graduate, he might be tempted to join us if he is! Either way, that’s the sort of player we need. Pace and creativity have been our biggest issues up front. As I have mentioned, the additions so far help with that – but further strengthening is needed.
Whatever happens the first team will have changed significantly and it will probably take a few weeks to bed in. However I am feeling far more positive about things than I have done for some while, and will be even more so with the three or four more additions discussed above.