Bristol City (A) Match Preview

Writing a match preview in a positive mood is something I haven’t been able to do in a long time! But after Saturday’s game, a gritty and vital 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Huddersfield, the mood around the club is well and truly positive again and its absolutely vital we carry this momentum forward and assemble a bit of a run.

The result on against Huddersfield is just a start though. Yes, we’ve looked better in both games under Maloney, particularly defensively, but it won’t count for anything in May if we take our foot off the gas. Tonight’s opponents Bristol City will provide a stern test and if we can come away with a result here the positivity and momentum can continue to grow.

The Robins have been on a good run of their own recently and have propelled themselves up the league. Not so long ago there were genuine concerns they could get relegated but Nigel Pearson’s men have really turned things around. What they’ve done in the past month or so is what we should be aspiring to do, a season changing good run of form.

Latics Team News

Considering the injury problems we had going into the game on Saturday its fair to say Maloney and his staff manoeuvred them pretty well. Ryan Nyambe and Charlie Hughes came in for Omar Rekik and Martin Kelly and both performed pretty well given the circumstances, and the holes they were required to fill. Charlie Hughes especially!

The latest Latics academy graduate hasn’t looked out of place at all in his short spell in the side and has cemented his place in the side for this game. Ryan Nyambe on the left of a back 3 didn’t quite work but when he moved to RWB he looked much better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him from the start in that position tonight.

That might be harsh on Darikwa but against a good attack like Bristol City we could do with the extra solidity. If Omar Rekik is back fit he’ll likely come straight back in at LCB but if not I’d like to see Tom Pearce there. He performed the role well on Saturday and whilst its a bigger risk to try it against a better side there are more positives than negatives to the move.

Whoever plays LCB will be helped by having Jack Whatmough alongside them, Saturday’s hero and recipient of a new two and a half year deal. The news of Whatmough’s contract renewal has understandably been received with pure joy from Latics fans and its genuinely some of the best business we’ve done in years. I’m delighted, as you all should be too.

In midfield areas the Christ / Power partnership has looked wonderful in Maloney’s two games in charge. Energetic, well rounded, defensively solid with good ball progression and an ever growing attacking drive. The latter will continue to come with match practice and confidence, as well as the knowledge that the defence behind them is secure enough to leave slightly more exposed on occasions.

I reckon the biggest selection headache Maloney has coming into this game is in the front 3. Whilst none of them have had shockers in these past 2 games none have really made much of an impact and certainly haven’t made themselves ‘undroppable’. Of the three I’d say Lang has looked the most likely and his drive and endeavour will help us tonight I’m sure.

Sinani and Keane showed glimpses of promise and I have no doubt they’ll thrive once they find their feet in this system, but with the likes of Wyke, Fletcher and Aasgaard on the bench desperate for a starting spot they need to make a real impact in this one you feel. There should be more space for them to play in tonight than there was on Saturday which will definitely help them.

An Opposition View

As always I’ve called in the help of somebody far more knowledgeable about Bristol City than myself to contribute to this section of the preview!

1) From the outside looking in it’s been quite an up and down season for Bristol City under Nigel Pearson. A lot has happened since we met in August, can you sum your season up so far for us?

“We were really struggling until late December last year, we lost to West Brom on boxing day and Ashton Gate was very toxic that day. Since then, we’ve gone seven unbeaten, playing with freedom again and there is a buzz around Ashton Gate, then fans are excited to come and watch Bristol City again!” [@BenMeadBCFC]

2) Things definitely seem to have turned around for the better in 2023 and you’re currently on a long unbeaten streak. What do you think the reason for this upturn in form is?

“Our change in formation has completely turned our season around. We changed to a back 4, from a back 5 at the start of 2023 when we played Swansea in the FA Cup and we haven’t looked back since!” [@BenMeadBCFC]

3) There are a couple of ex Wigan players in the Bristol City squad and both were well loved during their time here. How are Kal Naismith and Joe Williams getting on at the Robins?

“Kal & Joe have been vital for us since we moved to a back 4. Our back line, including Kal looks as solid as ever, and with Matty James and Joe Williams sitting just infront of them, it give out attack the opportunity to attack with freedom, and not have to worry as much if the opposition counter attack, as we will have at least 4 or 5 players back there to stop the attack.” [@BenMeadBCFC]

4) It’s a talented squad of players who definitely have the ability to compete in the top half of the Championship. Who are the stand out names that you’re pinning your hopes on to take Latics down?

“Of course the likes of Alex Scott come to mind, however I think Wednesday night will be a different sort of game, I think we have more possession and have to pass the ball around Wigan in order to score, meaning it could be quite a tough game. However I think the likes of Anis Mehmeti & Cam Pring could shine in this sort of game, running directly at your full backs to put the ball into the box, where the vast majority of our goals have come from, inside of the box this season.” [@BenMeadBCFC]

Tactical Talk

Saturday saw us adopt another really interesting tactical approach. The easiest way to describe it was as a 4-2-3-1 but a far more complicated version than what we might’ve seen recently. It became a back 5 at times, sometimes it was a 4-4-2 but it was always very difficult to break down and pretty useful in possession.

What Maloney has done to us defensively since he took charge should be praised. We conceded just 0.17xG on Saturday which is the lowest we’ve given away all season and that’s exactly what we need to continue doing. By being disciplined, well drilled and really compact in our defensive structure we’ve kept back to back clean sheets for the first time since March last year. Long may it continue.

One thing I want to focus on from Saturday’s game is the width offered to us by Tendayi Darikwa and especially James McClean. The switch of play was a key weapon for us during the game and contributed to us eventually forcing our way to a goal. What I want to stress though is that the width of the wide men doesn’t always have to be met with a switch of play. More often than not its a decoy used to create more space in between their defensive structure.

Here’s an example. Power’s on the ball in a deep area and has two obvious forward passing options. A line breaking pass into Will Keane’s feet or a huge switch of play towards Darikwa on the right wing. The LB knows that the switch is on but chooses to stay tight to Keane and maintain his sides narrow defensive structure.

Fair play to Power, he nails the switch of play and if Darikwa’s control had been slightly sharper we’d have been in a really dangerous position. Naturally, this puts a doubt in the opposition defence’s minds and that leads us on to the next image…

Here’s an example from around 10-15 minutes later. Max Power with the ball in the ‘half back’ position and has two clear options; a line breaking pass to Thelo or a long switch of play to Nyambe this time on the wing. Huddersfield’s LB is stuck between coming short with Thelo and leaving space out wide for another switch OR going wide to cover the switch and leaving a gaping hole in the middle.

On this occasion the LB chose to track Nyambe and left Thelo open in the middle. Power can then play the pass into his feet for him to turn and drive forward into a dangerous area. This is an example of when the width of our WBs was more useful as a distraction rather than as a recipient.

So don’t get frustrated if we don’t choose the switch of play option all the time! It’s important for us to switch things up (no pun intended), sometimes we need to spread the play wide and sometimes we need that width to create space centrally. It’s a nightmare for back 4s as the distances between the defenders are stretched and all it takes is to get one pass right and we’re in.

Bristol City have been playing a back 4 recently so its definitely something we should try more of tonight. Hitting the switches early whilst their defence is unsettled is vital, doing it whilst they’re in a settled structure is far less effective. Their FBs Pring and Tanner are both quite tall so we’ll have to make sure the passes are accurate and powerful enough to travel over their heads. That’s something we struggled with a bit on Saturday which makes sense considering Huddersfield’s RB was a 6’4 Centre Half!

Final Thoughts

I’ve spoken a lot about how important putting a run together is for this side and that’s got to be the case this evening. If we can make it 3 unbeaten, ideally with a win, the confidence levels in the squad will continue to rise as will our points tally. Bristol City are a good team in good form and its a very stern test for us, but one we can overcome.

There are a few teams around us playing each other in midweek so its vital we add to our points tally like some of our rivals will. Survival is now literally in our hands and whilst there’s a long way to go the earlier we get ourselves out of the bottom 3 the better from a confidence point of view.

4 points from Maloney’s first 2 games is very positive. Let’s hope this time tomorrow its 7/9.

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