Welcome to the third article of my January Sensible Transfer series. Today I’m covering the heavily debated Central Midfield position, something that Latics fans have disagreed on all season long. Hopefully, a few of these options can unite the fanbase, although I’m not getting my hopes up!
Before reading anymore of this article I’d highly recommend you check out the previous Sensible Transfers pieces in the ‘Rumour Mill’ section of my website!
Now that you’re back lets crack on with looking at, in the eyes of some Latics fans, is the most important area that needs addressing, Central Midfield.
The Current Options
There are four what you’d class as ‘first team’ Centre Midfielders in the Latics squad at the moment. Max Power, who has played every minute this season, Graeme Shinnie, who is the only natural left footer of the four and has turned himself into a fans favourite, Jordan Cousins who has been used sparingly after returning from injury and Tom Naylor who hasn’t managed to replicate last season’s performances and doesn’t look like Kolo Touré’s type of CM.
Lets have a closer look at their statistical performances this season:
No Latics player has played more minutes than Max Power this season. The 29 year old has been ever-present this season and clearly holds a key leadership role within the squad as Vice-Captain. However, for all the good he might bring off the pitch we’re yet to see a real contribution on it this season.
He’s the only somewhat creative midfielder we have and pretty much all of our build up play is forced through him. He attempts 64 passes per 90 which is considerably higher than any other midfielder and is responsible for most set pieces.
His xA and Shot-Creating actions are both high so to some extent the fact he has 0 assists this season isn’t his fault. He is creating a fair amount of opportunities, albeit not clear cut ones, but when you’re pretty much the main creator I’d still expect a bit more from him.
His passing can often be wayward and doesn’t have the vision of a natural playmaker which is something we’re crying out for. He’s also not particularly adept at breaking the lines with runs but that’s not his game, and nobody can ever doubt his energy and endeavour.
Defensively the stats suggest he’s a liability, and considering he’s not offering much on the ball its definitely time we looked at rotating him in and out of the side.
In my opinion Graeme Shinnie has been the best performing Latics CM this season. Having struggled to break into the side last season the Scottish ball winner has been given more opportunities this time around and has delivered solid performances more often than not.
The 31 year old brings great energy to the side and is excellent defensively. He ranks very highly for tackles and aerial duels despite his short frame, and is well above average when it comes to interceptions. He provides a great shield but unlike some DMs is proactive with the ball.
In possession he’s been good. 80% pass accuracy still isn’t amazing but the second best of the four comfortably, and he just seems braver and more talented in possession than someone like Naylor. With 1.3 dribbles per 90 Shinnie also adds a level of dynamism to a pretty lacklustre midfield.
He’s not great at the very top end of the pitch and certainly isn’t a creative midfielder, but we don’t need him to be that. He will be best used alongside a more creative player, doing the dirty work and giving the ball to a more talented team mate. Its why he links up so well with Thelo Aasgaard when the pair play together, like at Huddersfield away.
Tom Naylor is another player that has divided opinion this season after a set of mixed performances. he’s probably the most inconsistent of the four in the sense that some parts of his game are excellent and others are pretty tragic. Nothing shows that more than the stats.
Nobody has really needed to question Naylor’s defensive positioning. He ranks incredibly highly for interceptions, clearances and aerials won which all show how smart he is with the positions he takes up, and that can provide us a really important additional line of defence.
He’s also a real aerial threat going forward and has netted twice from set pieces this season. That’s a good trait to have but its not exactly unique, we have a tall squad and we can afford to lose his height in these situations in exchange for a better player.
His real failings are with the ball. His technical ability is not Championship quality and I’m not a fan of his when it comes to building attacks. The majority of his passes are overly safe and at times boring, as rather than looking forward he often turns back or sideways with his play.
He’s inaccurate with his passes despite not being particularly adventurous with them. For me this makes him dispensable, especially in a team that wants to dominate the ball.
The final of our four CMs is Jordan Cousins, who has played less than 500 minutes this season. He’s been plagued with injuries since joining Latics and unfortunately has never really been able to get a good run of games under his belt. However, should he manage to we might be in for a treat.
What Cousins brings is a level of composure on the ball that none of the others possess. He seems to always be looking to get on the ball, speed up or slow down the tempo and just generally add energy to the side. 84% pass accuracy is also our best by some way.
Defensively he works hard and does a decent enough job. He doesn’t excel at certain defensive situations like Naylor or Shinnie do but is pretty well rounded and reliable. the fact he does a solid job defensively and in possession is what really makes me rate him.
Like I’ve said though we can’t really trust his body to hold up for 20+ games and with his contract up in the summer I don’t see us taking further gambles on his fitness.
Current Squad Summary
I think the thing this midfield group is severely lacking is a playmaker. Someone that can get on the ball, dictate the tempo and spray passes out wide as well as rotating the ball well in central areas. We have 3 players that can all do the ‘ball winning’ role alongside him, although I’d favour one of Shinnie or Cousins personally, and we have Max Power who is a solid back up option.
The way Kolo wants us to play is clear after watching his first two games in charge. He wants bravery in possession, using the full width of the pitch to stretch opponents and have bursting runs from midfield and attack to break the lines. Therefore, I think we need a dynamic CM who is good on the ball, has a knack for getting a goal whilst also possessing solid enough defensive attributes.
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 – Archie Collins
Exeter City’s Archie Collins is the first name on my list and I’d probably say he’s my number one target across all positions for this transfer window. The 23 year old midfielder has been on my radar for 18 months now and after a brilliant season in League Two last year he’s took to League One football like a duck to water. I said we should’ve signed him in the summer, thankfully we have another chance this window.
He’s played pretty much every minute of football he’s been available for at the Grecians this season and his performances have continued to improve under former Latics boss Gary Caldwell. He’s young, talented and is more than ready to make the step up to the Championship. I’m hopeful that he’s still seen as too much of a risk by the bigger teams which might allow us to sign him.
Collins’ contract at his boyhood club expires in the summer and with the interest I’m expecting there to be in him I doubt he’ll sign a new one. Like I’ve said I believe he’s ready for the Championship and will really suit our style of play thanks to his composure, vision and energy that have made him a standout performer in the third tier.
Collins’ role in the Exeter side is simple. He’s the heartbeat of their midfield, gets the ball off the ball winning midfielder alongside him and moves it forward as much as possible. Exeter are a pretty direct team but Collins is trusted to dictate the tempo in that midfield despite only being 23 years old.
I’ve compared him with Max Power here as that’s who he’d replace in our side. Collins is the better player defensively and could even play the ball winner role should he need to. Winning 63% of his defensive duels and making well above average tackles and interceptions per 90 is very impressive.
Something he does better than most is arriving late to the penalty area and getting on the end of pull backs or second balls. He’s scored a few goals this season by bursting into the area and we really need more goals from midfield. He’s not much of a long range shooter though, just 0.77 shots per 90.
He keeps the ball well and is brave with it. Creating 1.5 shots and 0.13 xA per 90 is fantastic for a deep midfielder and having watched several of his performances I’d say his all round passing game is slightly ahead of Powers. He takes set pieces too which is something we need to improve on.
With Collins’ contract up in June I can’t imagine the cost of bringing him in would be out of our price range. If he became available for a 6 figure fee we should snap him up, as leaving it till the summer to try and sign him for free would be too risky. He’ll be playing for a current Championship club next season whether he moves in January or not, but I think we have to try and get him in now. If we don’t, a club that recruits sensibly will.
Target 2 – Ethan Hamilton
Another talented young midfielder plying his trade in League One is Accrington Stanley’s Ethan Hamilton. The 24 year old has been the star man in a struggling Accy side and will have undoubtedly attracted the interest of some bigger clubs in the Championship and League One, and he’s ready to make that step up.
He was pretty handy last season but has improved a lot this year and looks a slightly more mature player, something you’ve got to be if you want to play under John Coleman. Having that sort of manager as a young player is really beneficial and I always trust them slightly more when they’ve had that kind of figure guiding them. We know our squad is full of honest, egoless pros and Hamilton is exactly that.
At 6’2″ he’d add the height we might lose by replacing Naylor in the side and is another left footed option which adds nice balance to the side should Shinnie not play. He’s a powerful runner with a great engine so I have no doubts he’s got the physical game for the Championship. Some technical attributes might need work though.
Defensively he’s pretty solid winning 2/3s of his duels and averaging 0.58 slide tackles per 90. He’s not averaging many interceptions but in a side that don’t press particularly high that’s not totally surprising. He also plays in a midfield 3 so quite a lot of the defensive work is done by others.
The main thing Hamilton would add to our side is his long range shooting. He’s averaging 2.65 shots per 90 this season and has scored 3 goals this season, 2 of which have come from outside the area. We’re not scoring enough from midfield and he’d certainly go a long way to changing that.
Accrington don’t really see much of the ball so Hamilton doesn’t get much opportunity to showcase his passing ability. However, he is pretty tidy with the ball and whilst isn’t a natural ‘playmaker’ he’d fit the box to box role well.
I’d probably say he’s best suited to playing in a midfield 3 but with a few technical and tactical improvements could certainly feature in a 2. The fact he’s left footed is a plus point as is his long range shooting, but I understand if we have a reluctance to introduce him into a possession focused system.
With his contract up in 2023 Accrington might look to cash in on Hamilton this January. They’re a club that probably can’t afford to turn down a decent fee and I reckon no more than a £250k bid would be needed to sign him. As a squad option who can develop into a key player I quite like the idea of it.
Target 3 – Conor Coventry
This one might be a bit ambitious but there’s no harm in that. West Ham United academy graduate Conor Coventry is an extremely talented deep lying playmaker who excelled with MK Dons last season and is now a key part of the Irons European campaign. At 22 years old he’s ready to be a key part of a team though and that’s exactly what he’d be at Latics.
You’ll remember how good that MK side were on the ball last season and CC was a huge part of that. He possesses a level of composure and vision that allow him to take the ball in pressured situations and distribute it accurately and effectively which will be very important in this new system we’re playing.
He doesn’t offer as much defensive solidity as some other players on this list but if partnered alongside a ball winner I think he’d thrive. Of all the players on this list I’d say he’s probably the best technician and the fact he’s playing in the Europa Conference League proves as much. The question is, would he take the step down for regular first team football?
These stats are taken from CC’s games this season, all of which have come in the Europa Conference League. You could argue that level is or isn’t better than the Championship but for a young lad to be competing in any European competition is a wonderful experience and one that will only help him develop.
As I’ve said he’s not particularly good defensively, winning just over half his duels. His interceptions number is pretty decent but I’d certainly rather play him alongside a Shinnie/Cousins/Naylor type player than Power.
On the ball he’s so tidy. Completing 92% of passes >40m keeps his side ticking along and as I’ve mentioned a few times already in this article we really need someone to come in and dictate the tempo of our build up play. He’d do that brilliantly.
He possesses a switch of play better than most players I’ve seen at his age too. The RCM/RM position that Max Power likes to pick up is something I think Coventry can do really well too. His crossing is pretty decent and he spots a pass slightly better than our number 8.
As I’ve said its a slightly ambitious choice because he’s currently playing European football and might be needed more as the fixtures pile up for West Ham. However, his contract is up in the summer so if we can try and entice him to join us and guarantee first team football we might have a chance. The fee could be higher than we might like and there will definitely be cheaper options on this list, but be it now or in the summer I’d love him to join us.
Target 4 – Clayton Lewis
There’s a chance you’ll have heard of the previous 3 names, but I doubt many if any of you will know about Clayton Lewis. The Wellington Phoenix midfielder has put in some eye-catching performances in the A-League in recent years and I’d love Latics to take a calculated risk on someone like this.
The 25 year old has caught my eye after putting up some impressive performances that have been backed up by some even more impressive statistics. He’s a New Zealand international and has a really impressive skill set that’s being tested in an ever improving Australian League. As we saw in the World Cup the quality of football in Asia/Oceania is ever improving and I hope we’re proactive in scouting this area of the world.
At 5’8″ he’s not the biggest but has great agility and balance that make him very tricky to mark, and make him very good at getting on the half turn and playing forward which is something I love in a CM. Shinnie and Cousins do it well but neither are as good on the ball as Lewis is so he’d be a great addition to our side. He’s also left footed but plays most of his games on the right which means he can be partnered with any of our midfielders.
Here’s what caught my eye with Lewis, just look at some of these stats. He’s put in pretty much the perfect all round midfielder’s performance this season and is considered a ‘legend’ by Wellington Phoenix fans despite only having payed 50 games for them!
With 8.69 successful defensive actions and 65% of his duels won he’d provide a solid base in front of our defence. 5.97 interceptions and 0.68 slide tackles per 90 show he’s more than capable of doing the dirty side of the game, and doing it well.
Going forward he’s exciting. 1.37 smart passes and 0.62 key passes per 90 suggest he’s a really creative player who isn’t afraid to try the difficult option in the hope of it coming off. We need that injection of flair into our side in my opinion.
He sees a lot of the ball for the Phoenix and keeps it well with an accuracy of 91%. Having watched several clips of him he’s the heartbeat of their side and everything goes through him, and he demands the ball a lot of the time. When he gets the ball he immediately looks forward as 10.92 passes into the final third shows. The fact he’s a set piece taker is nice too.
I guess the biggest question mark with him is whether he’d be open to the move. Culture wise it’s not much of a change but moving away from family can always be tough, although he would see them when he goes back for international duty I assume. He shouldn’t cost much and is out of contact in June 2023, but are Latics willing to take a risk on him? I’d love to see us sign him and I really think he’d work well for us, but it might be too out there for us.
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 – Alfie Devine
Former Latics academy star who joined Tottenham during our stint in administration. Reports suggest he’s set to be loaned into the Championship this season in January. Dynamic midfielder, confident on the ball and great going forward. slight doubts around his defensive game but would be really good paired with a DM.
Knows the club well and would probably pick us over most other options, especially if we guarantee game time. Kolo’s brother Yaya works in the youth team at Tottenham so that makes it even more likely. Probably the fans choice but still a slight risk given his inexperience.
Target 6 – Marcus McGuane
23 Y/O Oxford United CM who’s had a really impressive season so far. Excellent education in Arsenal and Barcelona academies, has a lot of flair and carries the ball brilliantly. Not as good a passer as the others on the list but ‘makes plays’ with his line breaking dribbling. Adds pace to our midfield but doesn’t quite have the defensive attributes to be in a Championship double pivot.
Contracted till 2024 and Oxford are renowned for being tough to sign players from. Would probably be the most expensive option on the list but adds something completely different to the side. A tough deal to do but a very interesting option.
Target 7 – Markus Poom
This one is out there! Estonia international Markus Poom has spent 3 years playing for the best side in his homeland Flora and is a standout in the league. At 6’1″ he’d add great physicality to the side and his all round game is fantastic, so much so that I’ve included his statistics below! Great defending and great going forward, albeit playing in a ‘weaker’ league.
Contract ends in December 2023 but its the close season in the Estonian league so might make the deal easier to do. Shouldn’t cost much money at all but there’s always a big risk signing someone from abroad. An interesting and exciting option but perhaps not the signing for a relegation battle, unless…
Target 8 – Charlie Savage
19 year old Manchester United youth starlet, and son of former Premier League stalwart Robbie. Left footed technically gifted CM with a great passing range and ability to set the tempo for his side on the ball. Been excellent in the youth league for United and has played well in the EFL Trophy too which suggests he’s ready for men’s football.
A loan move is certainly possible. Geographically makes sense and with our staff’s ability to coach young players we might get priority with youth loans. Risky given his lack of experience and certainly not a front runner in my eyes but definitely a solid option.
Making the right choice with our new CM signing could genuinely be the difference between survival and relegation. Centre Back and Left Back have already been covered and they’re in desperate need of improvement but the heart of our midfield is where we’ve lost games at times this season. The right option will improve us defensively and offensively more than any other position can.
Its also somewhere that we need to sort out long term. Every CM we have is pushing if not already 30 years old and none are contracted beyond 2024, so we need to plan for the future a tad with this one too hence why all the options are 25 and younger. The new manager and new style of play means no one in that midfield is ‘undroppable’ and game time can be given to any new arrivals.
If funds are spent elsewhere there are plenty of options not mentioned here that we could bring in on loan, but I’d like to see us try and bring someone in permanently.
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 Attacking Midfielders. Keep an eye out for that article in the next few days, and thanks for reading this one! I hope you enjoyed.