After that all-important first win of the season last Friday in a chaotic 3-2 victory over QPR, the question now is how soon will we have to wait for win number two?
In a sense, an away trip to a Barnsley side that were only saved from relegation last season thanks to Wigan Athletic’s points deduction and have lost their first two league games presents the perfect opportunity to keep the momentum going. However, it would be unwise to underestimate a Barnsley side with one of the most innovative managers at this level and who play a style that could be well-suited to exploiting some of the underlying weaknesses of our approach.
Having avoided another League Cup tie this week, Mark Robins has a fresh squad to pick from, boosted by the re-signing of Sam McCallum. It remains to be seen whether Liam Kelly will be fit enough to start this game after limping off against Bristol City two weeks ago. Additionally, recent signings, Tyler Walker and Ben Sheaf, may be lacking the sharpness play 90 minutes here at the levels they’re capable of.
Just how all those pieces fit together will become clear once the team is named for this game. Having Liam Kelly fit for this game would be the clearest area for improvement from last week’s team. While Jordan Shipley put in a decent performance alongside Gustavo Hamer in the centre of the park, the academy graduate has yet to convince that he isn’t capable of sloppiness in possession when close to his own goal. Against a Barnsley side who will press with intensity, it is a risk Mark Robins is likely to want to avoid.
Despite getting the win last week, the manager may be of a mind to make a couple of personnel tweaks in readiness for the threat Barnsley pose. This could be where we see the value of starting Sam McCallum at left wing-back, as his aerial presence would allow Marko Marosi to play longer kicks towards the left touchline when under pressure from Barnsley’s press. In addition, this may not be the kind of game Kyle McFadzean is required in the heart of defence, with his tendency to leave space behind him and dally on the ball a risk against a mobile attacking unit.
Were those changes to be made, it will be interesting to see whether Ryan Giles is pushed further forward at the expense of Jamie Allen and also just which of our other centre-backs is seen as the most viable candidate to play at the heart of the back three.
Last Time We Met
A confident Barnsley side were closing in on automatic promotion from League One the last time these two sides met. The Sky Blues, inspired by Bright Enobakhare, were harbouring ambitions of a late run into the play-offs two years ago, but needed a win to enhance our prospects. A 2-2 draw demonstrated what both teams were capable of but did little help for either’s prospects.
Barnsley largely controlled the game and took an early lead via Alex Mowatt. The Sky Blues, playing on the counter-attack, soon found a foothold in the game, before Jordy Hiwula conjured an equaliser. The rat-a-tat of the game continued in the second-half, where Barnsley once again took the lead, only to be pegged back by Coventry City, with a rare Luke Thomas goal against his future employers ensuring a share of the points.
The Manager – Gerhard Struber
There aren’t many managers who have jumped ship from Europa League football into the heart of a Championship relegation battle, but Gerhard Struber took a calculated risk last season that his exploits at Barnsley would enhance his reputation quicker than remaining in Austrian football at Wolfsberger. While it took a final-minute goal and a points-deduction for Wigan Athletic to save Barnsley, performances and results had drastically improved under Struber from the point he took over last year.
Struber plays a high-intensity brand of pressing football that can completely choke the life out of games. At their best, Barnsley are an irresistible force that make it impossible for opponents to get into any kind of rhythm. However, a lack of prowess in the final third has prevented Barnsley from consistently punishing teams for the mistakes that they force. Having struggled to add attacking quality over the summer – in fact, losing one of their best forwards in Jacob Brown – Struber may well be frustrated by a sense of inertia at the club, lending some credence to recent links to the job at New York Red Bulls.
Who To Look Out For
With the division’s youngest squad, the key change that has been made at Barnsley under Gerhard Struber has been to recruit players over the age of 25. The 30 year-old centre-back, Michael Sollbauer, has epitomised this change in emphasis. Recruited from Struber’s former club, Wolfsberger, Sollbauer has helped significantly tighten things up at the back for Barnsley, keeping them in games and allowing their forwards to make more of an impact on games than otherwise.
Cauley Woodrow is the closest Barnsley have to a proven forward at this level. The former Fulham youngster scored 14 goals last season, despite often being used in a withdrawn role, but has struggled for form since the lockdown. Former Sky Blues attackers, Conor Chaplin and Luke Thomas, are similarly capable of impressive moments and runs of form but lack the consistency in front of goal that Barnsley are desperate for. New addition, Dominik Frieser, has shown promise in getting in good positions but has already missed some big chances for the side.
It is the energy that Barnsley play with throughout the rest of the side that makes things difficult for opponents. Midfielder Callum Styles, along with wing-backs Kilian Ludewig and Marcel Ritzmaier are irrepressible workers without the ball and love to drive forward with it. Importantly, Alex Mowatt supplies the composure in the middle of the park in order to conduct the energy around him.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
If Barnsley could hand-pick an opponent to get their first win of the season from, it would be a newly-promoted side that plays a possession-oriented style of football. The Tykes are a better team without the ball than with it and will relish the opportunity to buzz around the pitch and force errors from our defence in dangerous areas. However, a key factor in this game could be the fact that Barnsley were in League Cup action on Wednesday night and named a team pretty close to their likely starting XI here.
Nonetheless, what is going to be crucial in this game is avoiding dwelling on the ball close to our own goal. While Mark Robins is unlikely to change our approach based on the opposition, our defenders will need to expect to be closed down whenever they’re on the ball. As has been the case over the opening weeks of the season, the key will be in getting Gustavo Hamer on the ball, as he has the ability to exploit the spaces in behind that Barnsley will leave in their attempts to close us down, which Fankaty Dabo, Ryan Giles and Callum O’Hare, in particular, could really thrive on.