THE CHAMPIONSHIP HAS CHANGED
When Wanderers went down, we properly went down. It wasn't like the 2012 Premier League relegation, we Aston Villa'd it. 2015/2016 was cataclysmic from August to May with a tinge of apathy due to the depressing inevitability of the club's on-field demise. It matched the chaos 'behind the scenes' and a correlation that can be drawn is the tactical ineptitude of Mr Lennon and chums. That was a Championship season in which the flat 4-4-2 with an aggressive wide press would make you very successful, regardless of player quality. So, that's why we played a 3-5-2 (I use a formation very loosely). It was just an unorganised collection of mediocrity lacking leadership, incentive and direction. The polar opposite of my boy PP.
However, it's changed. There's been a 'hipster' takeover.... AND as irritating as that thought is, it does have to be acknowledged and respected in order to conquer it next season.
Firstly, this man on the left. David Wagner. Jurgen Klopp's best man and Borussia Dortmund assistant manager. Wagner shares Klopp's described style of 'rock and roll football.' Twitter will have you believe that their gegenpress was a revolutionary new tactic in English football but, at risk of sounding like Martin O'Neill, it's been around for a very, very long time. They perhaps reinvented it post-Tiki Taka dominance. It was an evolution for the Championship, with Sean Dyche's Parky-esque Burnley out of the picture, there was space for a specific small-club method. Wagner led the way last year. Last season's Championship has never had more emphasis on the importance of tactical approach rather than squad quality. In fact, excluding the top 2, I'd argue there were no teams with 'proper' Premier League bound sides. See the big spenders Villa for example, nowhere. A similarity between all those in the playoffs was a clear structural identity and plan, they all massively differed but rigidly deployed their way of playing. Their strategic tactical pre-season planning gave them the head-start on all the rest.
So, Reading. Jaap Stam's hard working system tended to rely on a narrow defence with a flat 4-5-1 that was flexible into a 4-3-3. The journeyman Yann Kermorgant became their main man with arguably, most talented, Garath McClearly being peripheral at times. This supports the claim that last year, more than any other, was about teams coming together to become 'more than the sum of their parts' or some other cliché. Sheffield Wednesday, who admittedly had the 2015/2016 experience of a strong campaign. They remain the exception to this rule I'd say. The fact they've not gone up with that squad is ridiculous, however, unlike other 'big-hitters' that struggled, Wednesday had a consistent system. Now, we move onto the now boring fairytale of Hudd. The team with a playing budget of £11.5 million. They had a coherent transfer plan of raiding the loan and German market. The loan market in which Wanderers have said they aim to exploit. Their system relied on an aggressive press, reminiscent of Burnley, Boro, Leicester but also had an attacking pattern. The integral skipper Tommy Smith acted as a winger when going forward which gave license to the rotational right winger to play as a 4th forward with Aaron Mooy, former Bolton man, to have the freedom to play wherever. The fine details and concentration on percentages proved crucial to the obviously limited squad. There is no better model or inspiration for The Whites to follow. Undoubtedly, Fulham played the most attractive football. A fluid midfield trio of Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen and simply brilliant Tom Cairney was they key. Again, no big stars or 'main men'. Just a structured game plan that was executed well.
Now, the potential thinking would be "let's do a Huddersfield" and I say let's not. The development and distinct further importance on suited tactics is an evolution that Bolton must continue. We must continue the theme of sticking to an identity - give teams another approach to prepare for. We ended the season in a 3-5-2 that I strongly believe could be very successful for The Trotters next year.
Defensively, we had a touch of the Sean Dyche's. Incredibly deep when in possession so we don't get caught and then go narrow when out of possession. This forces their play wide as they can't play through the middle and we rely on the aerial dominance of Beevers and Wheater which, by percentages, is smart to stick by. The only progression that will need to be made is going forward. A bit of pace for the counter-attack will be the key for this transfer window. For example, Sheffield United will come and try to out play teams like they did in League One, they're not good enough for that, they'll go down.Whereas our, at times frustrating, little fish approach will suit how teams decide to play against us. So, forget the squad depth etc. if Parky gets these tactics right - that is far more important than what Alan Nixon et al is telling you.