After the ecstasy of Sunday’s opening league cup back in Coventry, Wednesday night’s defeat in the League Cup to Northampton Town was a reminder that the football season is long and will contain lows as well as highs. At least, the second-string nature of Wednesday’s team means that the team likely to start this upcoming league game against Barnsley will be fresh, but it is frustrating that few outside the starting XI appear to be making pressing claims for inclusion.
The first away trip of the season provides the test of improving on what was a pretty dismal record on the road last year – which came without the pressure of playing against largely partisan crowds. With three points already on the board, it should provide the team with a sense of freedom, but it would be handy to demonstrate that this Coventry City side has a little more about it than playing on the emotion of a grand homecoming.
The impact of a disrupted pre-season is likely to be felt for the next few games, at least. As frustrating as Wednesday night’s cup exit was, the context that it was a first 90 minutes for the majority of that team has to be taken as a mitigating factor. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that anyone who lasted the entirety of the Northampton Town game will start here.
The only exception to that potential rule may be in starting Tyler Walker in attack over Martyn Waghorn. The latter struggled to make much of an impact against Nottingham Forest, with the sense being that he may be a little too similar to his strike partner, Viktor Gyokeres, to give the team the edge in the final third that was missing for much of last Sunday’s game. However, fitness levels may dictate that Walker will remain on the bench for the time being.
The biggest area for change elsewhere will be in Michael Rose slotting into the back three, allowing Fankaty Dabo to start in his more impactful right wing-back berth. While Rose’s early substitution on Wednesday night might suggest he is a little short on match fitness, he is clearly a more optimal choice in central defence than Dabo.
Last Time We Met
With Barnsley pushing for the play-offs under the insane, high-intensity brand of football deployed by former manager, Valerien Ismael, and the Sky Blues fighting for survival and with just a few days to prepare after a key clash with Rotherham United, there looked to be only one winner at St Andrew’s. Football is never that simple.
Instead, the Sky Blues put in a spirited and intelligent performance to stymie Barnsley’s style and enjoy the better of the game. Aided by an excellent early goal from Dominic Hyam, Coventry City denied Barnsley any fluency, before killing the game off in second-half stoppage time via Matt Godden.
The Manager – Markus Schopp
Barnsley are on a good run of managerial appointments, largely from Austrian football, having replaced the impressive Gerhard Struber last season with Valerien Ismael, there is quiet confidence that the new Austrian at Öäkwell, Markus Schopp, will prove to be another inspired appointment. Schopp has a solid track record as a manager in the Austrian Bundesliga, leading TSV Hartberg to mid-table finishes on a low budget with young players and promises to evolve Barnsley’s brand of football into something a little easier on the eye, while retaining the core principle of intense pressing.
The big question hovering over this attempted evolution under Schopp is whether this Barnsley squad has the talent to enact a possession-based style in the Championship. The loss of key orchestrator in midfield, Alex Mowatt, is a blow in that regard, however, it is much too early to tell whether Schopp’s attempted revolution will succeed or fail. Without a win in his two games thus far, a victory here will ease any early anxiety over Schopp’s reign.
Who To Look Out For?
Barnsley’s excellent run over the second half of last season was built on two things, an energetic, aggressive back-line and a powerful line-up of forwards. With the exception of the loss of American forward, Daryl Dike, that very much remains in place for the Tykes.
At the back, Polish international Michal Helik will lead from the centre of a defensive trio with the impressive Toby Sibbick and Liam Kitching either side of him. The three have defined roles in that back-line, with Helik supplying the power, Sibbick the pace and Kitching the quality on the ball. It means that Barnsley will have the ability to both step up the pitch and control the game, while also being able to defend when they need to.
At wing-back, Callum Brittain on the right has proven to be a very reliable performer since his arrival last summer from Milton Keynes Dons. Capable of getting up and down the pitch effectively and supplying consistently telling deliveries, he remains a key link between defence and attack.
Up front, Carlton Morris currently looks like the man to step into Dike’s shoes, having impressed largely from the bench after arriving at the club in January. Barnsley have more than a few insurance policies in place if Morris cannot make the same impact as a starter, with the giant Obbi Oulare brought in this summer, alongside Devante Cole and Aaron Leya Iseka. In addition, Cauley Woodrow remains on the books to play the link role in attack, having shown he can consistently reach double figures at Championship level in recent years.
In midfield, the move to push the energetic Callum Styles back into the centre of the pitch from left wing-back could well define how Barnsley go under Markus Schopp. The young midfielder can cover a lot of ground and has shown moments of quality in possession but may need to add a little more control to his game to establish himself as a top player in his position in the Championship. Fellow youngsters Romal Palmer, Herbie Kane and Josh Benson have all also shown quality at this level, but leave the Tykes incredibly inexperienced in the centre of the park.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
This could be quite a good time to play Barnsley as they attempt to adapt to a slightly different style of football from last year. It is likely to take time for Barnsley to become fully comfortable with enacting a style of play that requires more control in possession and may present opportunities to catch them out for any loose play from the back or in midfield.
Equally, this is quite a difficult game to prepare for as there is very little evidence as to the specifics of Markus Schopp’s plan for this Barnsley side. With there possibly being quite little in terms of quality between the two teams, one moment of Barnsley doing something completely unexpected could well decide the contest.
Into specifics, with Barnsley maintaining a high-intensity brand of pressing, the ability of this Coventry City team to move the ball from defence to attack will be important here. The first-half of the Nottingham Forest game showed that this team may struggle under the press due to a lack of a presence in attack who can provide an out-ball for the team. Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn will need to work hard to get change out of Barnsley’s back three, with Callum O’Hare likely pushing up to support the duo out of possession.
If O’Hare does push forward, the concern is that it leaves Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer with a lot of work to do with and without the ball. While the duo showed in the second-half last week that they can influence the game when free to push up the pitch, they may well end up playing a lot of this game in their own half, which will require them to be a little tidier with the ball and more disciplined without it.