Come to Play or ‘CLEAR OUT’

The tone is set for Birmingham City’s coming campaign. I appreciate the stance that Steve Bruce has taken with Hossam Ghaly. If Ghaly wanted to talk down to his new teammates to be and didn’t want to work on his fitness, why not send him off. The Premiership is one of the most grueling seasons/tests in professional sports. Due to that its of the utmost importance that players come together as a team. With the team having spent the past season down in the Coca-Cola Championship, Birmingham’s first since the 2002/2003 season, Bruce needs to have his troops in line for the fight to stay up in the Premiership. That being said here are the vital stats on the team.

Birmingham City
Manager: Steve Bruce
Ground: St. Andrew’s
Capacity: 30,009
Pitch size: 110yds x 74yds
Year formed: 1875 (The Blues came to be under the name of Small Heath Alliance in 1875, formed by a group of cricketers from Holy Church in Bordesley Green.)
Previous grounds: 1875-1877 Arthur Street
1877-06 Muntz St, Small Heath
Nickname: The Blues

Team Grades
Strikers: B- (with the potential to improve greatly as the season progresses)
Midfield: B- (lack of proven/quality depth)
Defense: B (good mix of veteran leadership and youth)
Goal Keeping: C+/B- (too many unknowns)

After spending a season in the Championship the Blues are headed back to the Premiership with roughly ten new players in toe. Considering the recent news that Hossam Ghaly has been sent back to Tottenham I imagine Bruce will be looking for another experienced midfielder. Birmingham has a fair amount of Premiership experience which should parlay into success in the coming term. Having been in the Premiership since 2002 Birmingham are not short on talent. Their 2005/2006 season was mired by injury and early season poor form. They seem to have plenty of talent to draw from in the coming season.

To start off Steven Bruce has proved himself in the past. Having had a poor 2005/2006 season Bruce got the boys to bounce back their first season in the Championship. However, if Bruce’s boys falter in the coming season he could see a short leash and a possible early exit. Reading between the lines of his comments in the press in the off-season I get the feeling he knows he needs a decent finish.

The striking core at Birmingham seems to be a bursting at the seams. There are a fair number of players on the Birmingham rolls that have the ability to play in the middle of the pitch or up top as strikers. I always have the feeling that a striker playing in the midfield is just a striker waiting to move forward to score goals. If I see a possible weakness in Bruce’s team set-up for the coming season it would be the overabundance of hybrid striker/mid-fielders.

Sone Aluko and Cameron Jerome are both young, pacey forwards who have yet to see their promise completely play out. Aluko is short with blistering pace, his finishing has yet to completely develop but he is only eighteen. Aluko will be an interesting bench player in the coming season and I don’t really see him finding the starting eleven on a regular basis. Jerome on the other hand should be eying a breakout season. Since his four million pound transfer in the summer of 2006 Jerome has found the net ten times. Considering he is the fastest man at Birmingham supports and Bruce undoubtedly had been expecting more this past season. Pace means little more then amazing attempts on goal without clinical finishing. Jerome’s touch might deceive him from time to time but with all of this amazing pace on this team I can’t believe he won’t see himself with a number of one v. one opportunities in the coming season. Jerome also has decent height coming in at six feet one inch.

Birmingham’s starters up top figure to be Mikael Forssell, if healthy, and Garry O’Connor. Forsell joined Birmingham from Chelsea on loan originally in 2003 but has since joined Birmingham permanently. Forsell has the ability to score goals as he showed in the 2003/2004 bagging 17 for Birmingham. Forsell has been oft injured over the past two seasons. Forsell is currently coming into form and needs to deliver over the coming season. Garry O’Connor is a big tall out and out striker who should add a back to the goal presence on the Birmingham side. I could see O’Connor playing well holding the ball up in the middle for the quick shorter strikers/wings that Birmingham seem to have in surplus. I think with O’Connor on the pitch Bruce might be tempted to play in a four five one formation like Chelsea used to capture back to back league titles. I look at O’Connor as an “x” factor for Birmingham in the season to come. Birmingham have several players to cycle through at striker but I feel they need to find at least one striker to rely on week in and week out. I’ll be watching over the first couple of weeks to see who’s name being called most often.

The midfield at Birmingham is going to be of some question. They have several players to call upon but I don’t feel they have enough true midfield depth. Birmingham do have some solid mid-fielders in captain Damien Johnson they a true field general. Johnson is coming off of a broken jaw this past season but he should be back in form and at the top of his game. Medhi Nafti is another solid midfielder with plenty of experience both in the Premiership and at an international level. Fabrice Muamba represents the future of the Birmingham midfield. Muamba is a strong presence in the central midfield and at a bare minimum should add depth if not push for a starting spot himself. Olivier Kapo brings an attacking punch from the left side of the midfield. Wing and attacking midfield options seem to be everywhere for Bruce’s side. I’d love to see Kapo establish himself in the Premiership after leaving Juve after this past season. Players like Sebastian Larsson and Mikael Forsell could see time coming on the attack either from the ten position or from the outside wing. With the bulk of mid-field/striker hybrids Bruce is going to need to find a rotational system that allows for his players pace, creativity and attack minded abilities shine.

The Birmingham rearguard has seen some powerful additions in the closed season. Stuart Parnaby should see himself inserted to the starting eleven as should: Frank Queudrue, Liam Ridgewell, and Rafael Schmitz. I wonder if Martin Taylor and Radhi Jaidi will get to see extended playing time in the coming season. The four big additions during the closed season could just be more of a look at the future as well. There are a number of capable defenders on this Birmingham club. I wouldn’t be too surprised if one or two of Bruce’s defenders find themselves in a holding midfield role in the coming season.

Bruce seems to have no fear of over stocking his cupboards and looks to be going into the 2007/2008 season with three keepers worthy of starting for the club. Long time Blues starter Maik Taylor has seen the prime of his career come and go but he was still capable of holding down the starting spot for most of this past season and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he was rejuvenated by the return to the Premiership. Colin Doyle is a massive keep looking to stake his own claim to the number one spot at Birmingham. While Kingson is also capable of the spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed Kingson’s performances during the World Cup in 2006, but Kingson does have the African Nations to worry about during the coming campaign. One can only imagine Bruce will ride whomever is in the best of form at any given time. A strategy that I feel can only turn sour. It is my opinion that soccer is such a mentally difficult sport with keepers having the most difficult time finding themselves on the field, due to lack of touches, that not choosing one keep and sticking to him only hurts the team on a whole. All three keepers on this team could get hot at any moment and thusly lead Birmingham to glory. I just don’t know if I would be willing to stake my future to any of these three. Kingson can be all over the place. Doyle is still not completely proven. Taylor may have already see his best days. I look to Bruce to give Doyle as many chances as he can to find himself. If Doyle proves unsteady I’d love to see Kingson take to the pitch. All of these keeps are serviceable and if one of them can rise to the call they’ll be plenty of depth should injury strike.

I have faith that Birmingham will play a fast paced attack minded style of football in the coming season and use their excellent team speed to draw-out their technically superior opponents along the way. Bruce understands the defensive side of the ball having been a solid defender himself. Thusly, I look forward to direct up and down football. Birmingham will more then likely need to be willing to commit their outside backs to the attack and rely on their central defenders and their overall team pace to help defend counter attacks. I look for Birmingham to stay up in the coming season and I won’t be surprised if they finish near the top ten.

As it is,

Mr. Super Roll

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