The Midfield Battle
Nigel Pearson certainly has some thinking to do with two weeks remaining until the big kick-off against Swansea on August 8th.
Managers always describe it as a 'nice problem' when forging themselves a selection headache, and I guess the same could be said this time around.
For the first time in a long time, we finally have some significant competition in midfield. And that goes for all positions.
The new signing of Richie Wellens from Championship rivals Doncaster provides Pearson with the unfavourable task of trying to accommodate Matt Oakley, Andy King, and of course Wellens himself in the two natural central midfield berths.
It seems difficult to overlook any of them. Wellens is a classy midfielder, proven at Championship level, noted by the significant price-tag. Oakley, vastly experienced at most levels and captain for last season. And last but certainly not least, 20-year-old Andy King, an impressive graduate from our very own youth academy who was rumoured to be the subject of interest from Premiership Aston Villa.
You can see the problem. However, it is not totally out of the question to satisfy all three and still maintain the rigid 4-4-2 system that Pearson favours. For a substantial part of last season Oakley was employed as a right midfielder, a position in which the team seemed to improve from. Attempting this again would thus allow Wellens and King the two central midfield positions, and subsequently accommodate the three. It would certainly be harsh to omit King if it were to be the case that Oakley should begin in the middle, a player who excelled in the position last season, admired for both his goal scoring and creating abilities.
However, I'm sure a certain Max Gradel may have a say on the matter. The fiery, flamboyant right winger has found consistency difficult since returning from a hugely successful loan spell with Bournemouth in 07/08, often frustrating the fans with his temperamental performances. The undoubted quality is there (see this article for reference), but the 21-year-old Ivorian must step up his game to compete against the Championship next year.
On the other side, Lloyd Dyer was comfortable taking up the left-sided role, safe in the knowledge that there was nobody else to fill it should his performances decline. And that's what unfortunately happened. A blistering start saw the winger rip through League One early on, but it was soon overcast by a terrible barren run of form. Improvements were undoubtedly made at the end of the season, but the signing of Dany N'Guessan from Lincoln should keep Dyer on his toes for the forthcoming season.
And there it is, Pearson's difficulty in a nutshell. It is unquestionably a healthy predicament, one that truly defines that old cliché of a selection headache.