Pre-season Review

It’s difficult to be enthused by pre-season. Practising tactics and testing team sheets for the new season isn’t really for the fans. In general, pre-season can be seen in much the same manner as film trailers, we’re presented with brief glimpses of the stars but all too quickly they’re removed. Pre-season is something of a tease that, just like a film trailer, can prove entirely misleading.

Pre-season results mean little to nothing so comparing with previous seasons is redundant. Instead, this review shows who played, for how long, in what matches and what this could mean for Nigel Pearson’s first starting XI against MK Dons.

NB: The games against Quorn and Ilkeston Town have been excluded from this analysis as neither game was managed by Pearson. These outings were essentially youth/reserve games.

Nine players appeared in at least some part in each of City’s six pre-season fixtures. They were; Morrison, Oakley, Gilbert, Howard, Gradel, Fryatt, Campbell, Wesolowski and Kishishev. Morrison, Oakley and Gilbert were the players hardest at work this summer, each playing over 400 minutes during pre-season. Morrison was on the field of play longer than any other player, clocking up an impressive 450 minutes from a possible 540. The former Cambridge Utd man is very likely to find himself starting next week.

Of the remaining defenders, it appears Gilbert (405 mins) and Tunchev (232 mins) will be battling through training next week to partner Morrison. Tunchev’s work permit issues meant he got less time on the pitch than he might otherwise have done. Jack Hobbs (157 mins), on loan from Liverpool, is also in contention.

Of the full-backs, Mattock (310 mins) can be confident of his role at left-back and James Chambers (225 mins) seems to be the most logical fit to the right-back position. However after Ian Holloway asked the squad what positions aside from their own they were comfortable playing in Ollie quipped he’d rename the team “Right-back United” such were the results. Of City’s back four, right-back is the position with most question marks over it.

Moving into midfield and we find Matt Oakley (434 mins) secured in central midfield. Who will join him is more of a mystery. It isn’t apparent if Pearson has even made this decision himself having wrestled with different pairing throughout pre-season. The two leading contenders are Wesolowski (274 mins) and Kishishev (244 mins) though they could be forced to sit on the sidelines if Pearson favours the more creative option of Nicky Adams (188 mins). One thing we can be sure of is the central midfield will not contain both Wesolowski and Kishishev, the pair replaced each other 3 times during pre-season.

The flanks are more easily deciphered. Dyer (326 mins) and Gradel (307 mins) seem like solid choices for the left and right wing respectively.

Pearson’s most vital decision could well be picking City’s strikers. The front-runners are Howard (308 mins), Fryatt (303 mins) and Campbell (295 mins). Of these three only Fryatt has played a full 90 minutes which shows just how much tinkering has gone on with the Foxes’ attack. Fryatt leads the others with four goals to Campbell’s two and Howard’s solitary strike against Hinkley Utd. With no new signings, Pearson must place his faith in two men from three who failed to deliver last season. A little’n’large partnership is likely and ultimately Howard and Fryatt may well get the nod for the opening day.

At the other end of the scale there are clearly some players who will be disappointed with their preparations this pre-season. Barry Hales played just 64 minutes whilst Bruno N’Gotty managed only 45. Some young players who might have hoped to build on their first-team appearances last season haven’t really got much playing time either, in particular Andy King, who managed only 128 minutes. Meanwhile summer signing Harry Worley appeared for just 151 minutes, perhaps he’s failed to impress the new boss.

So, in theory at least, the starting XI against MK Dons should look something like this;

1. Paul Henderson
2. James Chambers
15. Michael Morrison
5. Alexsandar Tunchev
23. Joe Mattock
22. Max Gradel
8. Matt Oakley
7. Radostin Kishishev
11. Lloyd Dyer
9. Steve Howard
12. Matt Fryatt

Saturday can’t come quickly enough.

Update: 04/08/08

Following James Chamber’s move to Doncaster Rovers today, expect Kerrea Gilbert to fill in at right back on Saturday.

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