Tuesday night’s defeat to Cardiff City felt as strong an indication as any that this Coventry City side probably doesn’t have what it takes to make the play-offs this season. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are still 16 games left to play, with the Sky Blues six points off fifth-place with two games in hand. It would be self-defeating to give up on a season at this juncture.
At home to a Barnsley side that are somehow below a team that were deducted 21 points and haven’t won away all season, Coventry City couldn’t have hoped for a better opportunity to get back to winning ways. Still, you wouldn’t be a football fan if there wasn’t a part of you that was worried that this is going to be game where the Tykes’ luck reverses.
With little sign of recent absentees returning to the fold, Mark Robins can only shuffle around the two or three available options available to him in order to re-energise this team. At a time when the manager would ideally be looking for a reaction with bigger changes to the starting line-up, all he can really do is ask his players to ‘go again’.
Starting in defence, the manager is in a bit of a pickle as to what his best back three looks like. Kyle McFadzean was brought in last time out to resolve the lack of physicality that had cost the team goals in previous matches, only to cost the team a goal through his lack of pace. With no-one really playing well in central defence, it would probably be better to just stick with a first-choice back three rather than chop and change in search of a perfection that doesn’t exist. Just who makes up that first-choice back three is anyone’s guess.
At wing-back, the combination of Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell doesn’t look to be working at this moment in time, robbing the team of dynamism in wide areas. Unless Fankaty Dabo is fit enough to start here – which seems unlikely given that he hasn’t even made the bench since returning to training last week – Mark Robins doesn’t really have the option of dropping both Kane and Bidwell. Instead, Ian Maatsen will probably come in for Jake Bidwell, with the hope that Todd Kane can rediscover some form on the right side.
It is in attack where the team could probably do with the biggest shake-up, and that is where options are most limited. Viktor Gyokeres could really do with a rest right now, but there isn’t a replacement for him available. Even the option of starting Martyn Waghorn alongside Gyokeres to share the burden seems unlikely, both because Waghorn doesn’t appear to be fully fit and also because starting him would almost certainly mean having to take him off later in the game for either Fabio Tavares (whom Mark Robins is reluctant to hand an opportunity to) or for a midfielder, when the team may be looking to step things up search of a result.
Last Time We Met
In answer to the future pub quiz question ‘which team did Markus Schopp’s only league win as Barnsley manager come against?’, you’ll know to write down, Coventry City.
It was back in August, when Barnsley were seen as the team in this match-up with the more realistic top six hopes, that the Sky Blues travelled to Oakwell to take on the Tykes. With the away side largely on top for much of the game, they were undone on the counter, with Dominik Frieser firing past Simon Moore for the winning goal.
Aside from the Austrian football management trivia, this was a game that was notable for two main things. The first was Barnsley picking up an incredible eight bookings, mostly for fouls on Callum O’Hare, and the second was a last-minute penalty missed by Viktor Gyokeres, which Martyn Waghorn had no issue with, honestly.
The Manager – Poya Asbaghi
Highly-rated as a coach, but with few genuine achievements to show for it, Poya Asbaghi is at Barnsley in order to implement the more attractive, possession-based style that the club’s owners believe will improve the value of the playing squad. The hope had probably also been that Asbaghi would have made a more immediate impact in helping keep the team in the Championship, but the Swede hasn’t been helped by being left with a squad that was lacking in the quality, experience and an ability to both play a possession-based style and get out of relegation trouble.
With Barnsley having looked condemned to League One for much of the past few months, a recent win over Queens Park Rangers – along with the complete inability of the teams around them in the table to pick up points – gives them hope of pulling themselves away from danger. Performances under Asbaghi have improved over the past few weeks, but it remains to be seen whether that’s to a level that can pull the team out of the bottom three.
Who To Look Out For?
One of the key reasons why both Barnsley and Poya Asbaghi have struggled this season has been this attempted move to a possession-based style of play with a squad of players that has been used to playing an ultra-high intensity brand of pressing football that required little elaboration on the ball. However, the recent additions of more technical players, in loanee attacking midfielders, Domingos Quina and Amine Bassi, have seen things start to click at Oakwell.
Watford loanee, Quina, has long been tipped to emerge as a big talent in the game, from spells at West Ham United and Fulham, along with his parent club, and has finally been allowed the run of games at Barnsley to demonstrate his quality as a technical, ball-carrying midfielder. Bassi, is something of a maverick who can float in and out of games but has shown very recently in the French top-flight that he can be the kind of player who can win games on his own through moments of brilliance.
Additionally, the performances of wing-back, Remy Vita, a Bayern Munich loanee, have represented another area of improvement for Barnsley, while Callum Styles has looked better of late since returning to that berth, away from midfield.
At the back, the return of Mads Andersen to Barnsley’s back three has given them much more authority in defence, while goalkeeper, Brad Collins, can pull off some big saves to keep his team in games. In attack, Barnsley have a hoard of six foot plus centre-forwards, but it’s only the mobile and skilful, Carlton Morris, that is currently in vogue.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
As with the past few games, Coventry City’s fitness levels will surely have a significant bearing over how this match pans out. With Barnsley not having played in midweek, it will surely be up to the Sky Blues to make sure that the game is won early on, otherwise, the balance of the game is likely to tip in the away side’s favour.
With Barnsley are both looking to play a possession-based brand of football and rather porous at the back, this should be a good opportunity to regain confidence in front of goal. The Sky Blues have tended to look better this season when they can either press teams high or get Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare in counter-attacking situations, which Barnsley’s style should encourage the team to do.
The battle at wing-back is likely to be a key area of this game. With Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell struggling of late, and Barnsley’s duo of Remy Vita and Callum Styles offering the energy and dynamism the Sky Blues have been lacking out wide, there is a danger that Barnsley could really stretch and pin back Coventry City in wide areas. That would open up space for Domingos Quina and Amine Bassi to produce moments of quality in the final third.