Part two of my sensible transfers series will cover the Left Back position, an area of the pitch that we’ve struggled with at times this season. A couple of players that featured in my Centre Back article could certainly fill this role so be sure to check that out if you haven’t already!
The people voted CB as the position most in need of improvement but LB came a close second, so lets crack on with it.
The Current Options
There are currently two natural Left Backs in Latics’ current squad, and a couple of players who have played there a little bit.
Joe Bennett is the most experienced LB at the club but has had an indifferent season to say the least. After his harsh Red card against Birmingham in August he struggled to get back into the team, and when he did play he wasn’t particularly impressive. Tom Pearce has had constant injury problems in the last 18 months that have cost him game time. James McClean is a makeshift option there but far better further forward. Curtis Tilt and Tendayi Darikwa have played there too but, politely, I hope they never have to play there again.
Joe Bennett is the only one I can evaluate from a statistical perspective based on this season as Tom Pearce has barely played recently. With that in mind I’ll show you the latter’s data from last season:
As I mentioned earlier Joe Bennett is having a tough season. The 32 year old has struggled to find his feet back in the Championship and despite a couple of decent performances its become apparent that we need to bring in some better options in his position.
He’s always been decent going forward and 2.25 shot creating actions is a handy return, particularly in our side that have had a real problem creating chances. He sees a lot of the ball too and his passing accuracy is impressively high, as his his progressive passing metric.
Given his age its probably not a surprise that he’s not great at running with the ball. He lacks pace so can’t really offer much dynamism going forward and that’s something I really think we need to add to our side. When playing behind McClean, another golden oldie, its a pretty slow left side and can be very easy to defend against.
Defensively he’s not been great. The red card against Birmingham, harsh though it was, came from some poor positioning and lack of concentration which is something he’s been guilty of a few times. As he doesn’t possess much recovery pace to make up for these lapses it can put us under unnecessary pressure. As a squad option he’s fine but I’m not sure I’d want him to see out the season for us.
Tom Pearce’s time at Latics has been a strange one. He came from Leeds with a lot of potential and has always looked promising whenever he got a run of games, the problem being he barely ever does.
The 24 year old has only played 47 games for Latics and this is his 4th season at the club. He signed a new contract last season and then, despite being available for selection by all accounts, seemed to disappear from the matchday squads. His performances weren’t incredible last season but he didn’t deserve to be dropped.
Defensively he had his problems. Winning 56% of his defensive duels and just over 40% of aerial duels isn’t great for a defender, especially considering that was in the league below the one we’re playing in now! 6.33 interceptions isn’t bad but no one can deny the defensive side of his game his his biggest weakness.
Going forward I really rate him. 2.2 dribbles per 90 and 78% completion is great and although he’s not rapid Pearce gets forward really well. Its fair to say he’s much more suited to the Wing Back role than a traditional Full Back but given how Kolo wants us to play he’ll have to improve at the latter.
Arguably his best attribute is his crossing. A 41% cross completion from the left wing is really high and given the height of our strikers you’d have thought he’d be perfect for our side. However, it just hasn’t worked out for him of late and I get the impression he might want a fresh challenge. He’s contracted till 2024 so we could try and sell him this window to generate funds to buy one of the players I’m about to mention.
Current Squad Summary
If I’m being honest I’d say we have two League 1 Left Backs in our squad at the moment. Joe Bennett is slowly declining which is understandable given his torrid record with injuries and his age. Tom Pearce still has so much potential but it feels like he needs a fresh start and with 18 months left on his contract now seems a good time to cash in on him.
Transfermarkt values Pearce at £300k and I think that seems about right. Should we get offered that much I’d be tempted to sell, and I think given his loyalty throughout the administration season he deserves the chance to kickstart his career.
I’ll be looking at 4 primary targets as well as a few special mentions, evaluating their play style, their physical suitability to the Championship and Touré’s system, their room for development and how much it’ll cost us to bring them here. Lets get into it.
Target 1 – Dan Harvie
The first name on the shortlist is someone that would’ve been unattainable in the summer, but may well be looking for a move this window. MK Dons’ Dan Harvie was one of the best performing WBs in League One last season in a brilliant side, and whilst things haven’t gone to plan for them this season Harvie’s performances haven’t been too bad.
The phrase ‘not too bad’ probably doesn’t fill you with much hope but its been pretty hard to play well in a terrible MK side. There have been countless tactical issues, personnel issues in their side and its probably damaged the whole squad’s reputation. They sit 23rd in the league and will be getting relegated unless drastic changes are made.
We should look to take advantage of this situation as Harvie, who just 6 months ago could’ve easily commanded a 7 figure fee, will now be available for a cut price fee. His contract is up in the summer and I don’t see him renewing it given MK’s league position, and whilst they do have an extension clause available would they want an unhappy player in their ranks?
This season like I’ve mentioned Harvie has been in a very poor side but he’s looked solid enough. Defensively there are some doubts but he has all the attributes to cope with the Championship in my opinion, as he showed last season.
Winning 56% of defensive duels and 47% of aerial duels isn’t anything to shout about but at 24 years old there’s so much room for development. We’ve already seen how coachable he is given his improvements last season.
He’s a brilliant technician and would offer us so much going forward. His crossing is as good as Pearce’s and his vision, passing range and dribbling ability are all comfortably better than our current full backs. He’s sharp too and gets up and down the pitch well.
He might not offer us the defensive security as we might need but if Ryan Nyambe returns to fitness having the pair of them in the side gives us great balance. His involvement was vital in a lot of MK’s build up play last season and in a possession oriented system that Kolo is implementing he could suit us a lot.
It could be seen as a risky signing as he doesn’t hugely improve the first team but for me we’re not looking for a star left back, simply a new, fresh option to add something at both ends of the pitch. He adds the pace and craft that our squad is lacking and is a very coachable player approaching his prime years. At a cut price fee I have no doubt that if we signed him we’d get our money’s worth out of him, as well as potentially being able to sell him for profit later down the line.
Target 2 – Lewis Gordon
Another player currently operating in League One is Bristol Rovers youngster Lewis Gordon. Its been a real breakout season for the 21 year old who joined the Gas in the summer from Brentford and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s linked with a Championship move soon enough. Hopefully he’s still under the radar enough for us to snap him up though!
He’s someone I personally have watched live this season against promotion chasing Sheffield Wednesday and I was really impressed by him. He started the game well before making a slight error leading to the Wednesday goal, but the response he showed for such a young man showed that he’s got the personality to make it at a higher level. He went on to have a really good game and it stuck in my memory to this day.
Gordon has come on leaps and bounds this season, his first playing professional football, and seems to be a really coachable player. He has all the physical attributes you need to be a Full Back and if he can continue to add the technical and tactical attributes to his game he’ll be a hell of a player. Kolo Touré and his staff could be the people to do that.
Defensively he’s been very good this season, winning 68% of his duels. He’s not great in the air which is expected for somebody who is 5’8″ but uses his body well to not make things easy for players in those aerial duels. He’s similar to Nathan Byrne in that regard.
Positionally Gordon is very astute as the 7.4 Interceptions suggest. He can be prone to lapses in concentration as I saw first hand in his game at Hillsborough but on the whole I’d be very confident in him as a Championship defender.
Going forward there are improvements needed but he’s got the basis of a talented attacker. His crossing is good despite what the data suggests and the acceleration he possesses allows him to burst to the by-line and pull the ball back into dangerous areas.
He could certainly work on his decision making in the final third but again, he’s only 21. This isn’t a finished product signing, its a player that we can ease into the starting 11 this season before making him our first choice for the next campaign.
He joined Bristol Rovers in the summer so they probably won’t want to lose him this quickly, especially given his impressive performances. However, I personally think if we do sell Tom Pearce for around the £400k mark we should put that money towards the signing of Gordon. I can’t see him costing much more than that and I’d call it an upgrade personally.
Target 3 – Sean Roughan
Sticking to the up and coming model my third option is Lincoln City’s Sean Roughan. The 19 year old Irish youth international is one of the more promising prospects in the EFL and whilst he hasn’t had a huge amount of game time in his short career Roughan has already been touted for the top of the game.
Having impressed on a brief trial spell at Southampton he returned to Lincoln where he’s slowly been eased into the first team picture and looks comfortable playing at League One level. The rumours linking him to the Premier League seem to have quietened down and with his contract up at the end of the season now seems a great time to make the move for him.
Latics have good Irish links in our squad so I’d imagine Roughan will fit in well at the club. Learning from experienced players like Bennett and McClean will also be a big attraction to him, particularly McClean who is an Irish footballing legend that the 19 Y/O will have looked up to throughout his career. Jamie McGrath mentioned McClean when he joined us last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if Roughan did the same.
At 6’0″ Roughan is quite a big Full Back and his physical attributes make him a great defender. He wins 2/3 of his defensive duels and is decent in the air with 49% aerial duel success. Its an area of his game that will continue to improve as he grows and becomes physically stronger.
Positionally he’s pretty good and is aggressive in the tackle which I like from a full back. Despite his young age he seems to be an impressive communicator and doesn’t find himself out of position very often. It makes me think he’d handle the step up well.
Going forward he has work to do but it seems like he’s well on his way to becoming a talented attacking player. He scored his first goal for Lincoln last week with a calm finish at the back post after some intelligent movement off the ball.
With the ball the 19 Y/O isn’t overly creative but keeps things ticking along well. He has a decent delivery from wide areas as well as set piece situations so would offer an alternative left footed option to McClean.
His contract is up in June and I imagine he’s looking to take the next step in his career. I’m sure he’ll have suitors but if we can convince him to buy into the project under Kolo Toure it could be a really smart pick up for a cheap fee. He might need 6 months of easing into the first team but we should be able to give him that this season.
Target 4 – Anthony Driscoll-Glennon
The final name on my main shortlist is perhaps a slightly more unknown one to a lot of people. Grimsby Town’s Anthony Driscoll-Glennon, or ADG as I’m going to call him for obvious reasons, has been quietly going about his business in League Two for around 12 months now and looks really impressive.
The former Liverpool and Burnley youth has been one of the best LBs in League Two and could prove a smart pick up for a League One side. However, if Latics are looking for a cheap back up option to Bennett that could develop into a far superior player in the next few years, signing ADG might be the right move.
A move back to the North West might be attractive to ADG but I’m not sure how keen he’d be to join as a back up. He joined Grimsby in the summer and is contracted to 2024 so might be hard to prize away from the Mariners. However, if we’re looking for a bright young attacking full back ADG is the man.
Defensively he’s solid enough which isn’t always the case with attack minded FBs. He wins over half of his defensive duels and averages well over a tackles per 90. He’s not the strongest physically which can leave him under pressure, particularly in the air.
Going forward is where the impressive stats are though. An xA of 0.23 per 90 means he’s creating at least one big chance a game in a Grimsby side that aren’t exactly free flowing going forward. He’s a prime creator and would add a real threat to our left side.
His crossing is his main asset, completing more than half from the left side. His set piece delivery is wicked and he even grabs a few goals from direct free kicks which is something we don’t see much of at all in our current squad.
His short/medium range passing isn’t amazing but Grimsby are a direct side so that’s as much down to his environment as it is his own ability. In a possession system I’d think he’d be more productive with the ball and be given more opportunity to use his crossing ability.
Like I’ve said this does feel like an unlikely deal. However, he’s definitely a player that is worth keeping an eye on as somebody that could be a sensible pick up for us, perhaps in the summer when both current LBs in the squad might’ve moved on. I really like him as an ‘out there’ suggestion and wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a good move in the near future.
Those are my 4 main targets but there a a few other players that are worth a mention. They don’t quite make my main shortlist for one of several reasons, either their availability, the cost of bringing them in, their current ability or the fact they might need a bit more time to prove themselves. However, should they become available they’d definitely be good signings for Latics this January.
Target 5 – Nick Tsaroulla
23 Y/O Crawley Town Left Back. Worked with new coach Kevin Betsy at the start of this season and performed really well in a poor side. Excellent defensively and deceptively strong for someone of his size, relatively quick but not rapid. Doubts about whether he’s up to the Championship physically.
Tricky dribbler and decent crosser, decent creative player but probably not at the level of the previous players mentioned. Contract till 2023 so would be available for a cheap fee I’d imagine. Low wages and wouldn’t come demanding first team football but arguably better options out there.
Target 6 – Josh Wilson-Esbrand
19 Y/O Manchester City and England youth player. Excellent physical attributes, quick and strong and can get up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. Impressive technical ability too, possesses a great switch of play and solid dribbling. Question marks around his decision making at both ends of the pitch but still growing as a player and person.
A loan move makes sense for all parties but Pep might keep him around. Played two UCL games for City this season and given fixture pile up post World Cup he might not be able to leave on loan. Wages are affordable but expect competition for his signature if he is available for loan.
Target 7 – Tyreke Wilson
23 Y/O Shelbourne Left Back and former Manchester City youth. Small build but brave and aggressive in the tackle, doesn’t seem to get bullied off the ball much. Decent pace and dribbling ability but his main asset is his crossing. From open or set play has great delivery with his left foot, impressive shooting ability too which is an underrated attribute for a full back.
Joined Shelbourne a few months ago on a 1 year deal, so Latics have missed the chance to bring him in this window. Definitely someone worth keeping tabs on for the next few years though as he’s more than good enough for an EFL side.
Target 8 – Jamie Robson
25 Y/O Lincoln City WB, been sharing the game time this season with aforementioned Sean Roughan. Signed for the Imps from Dundee Utd last season and impressed in his first season in England. Linked up really well with Latics winger Anthony Scully on the left wing and that partnership could be reformed effectively at Latics.
Decent technically and physically without having any standout attributes. Contract up in the summer so another cheap option should we go down that road.
In the modern game you could make a strong argument for the Full Back position being the most important on the pitch. They’re often the sides prime creators as well as key parts of the defensive structure and its vital that your side has a good pair in the starting eleven. Latics have sorted their RB spot thanks to some improved performances by Tendayi Darikwa and the reliable Ryan Nyambe, but LB remains a concern.
If we can sell Tom Pearce for a decent 6 figure fee I wouldn’t mind us reinvesting it in the LB spot. Mal Brannigan has said funds will be available regardless of player sales so I’d probably prioritise other positions first, but should Pearce leave a replacement is needed.
A loan move would be the cheapest option but would leave us with no full backs beyond this year. A lot of the names mentioned in this article should be available for cheapish fees and I’d be happy with any of them in this squad.
Who do you want us to sign? From the 8 names I’ve given, let me know who has caught your eye the most!
Next up, I’ll be covering Centre Midfielders. Keep an eye out for that article in the next few days, and thanks for reading this one! I hope you enjoyed.