With City’s pre-season having finally kicked in with real intent – Friday night’s bruising clash with Bastia an ideal step up in intensity – thoughts can finally start creeping toward that tricky looking opener at Molineux.
And yet while there are likely to be a few comings and goings prior to the big KO (the latter likely to outnumber the former) it starts to become interesting to compare the Class of 2015 with its 2011 equivalent – the one that strode imperiously to the Promised Land.
To begin with, four members of said class remain. John Ruddy, Russell Martin, Andrew Surman and Wes Hoolahan all formed part of Paul Lambert’s core and look likely to figure in the thoughts of Neil Adams.
Certainly, assuming Ruddy is still in situ on August 10, he’ll be No.1 and Russell Martin, as captain, is sure to be central to Adams’ plans – even if it means a switch inside to central defence. Both will be ‘go to’ men in the dressing room having been there and done it in the Championship.
They formed part of Lambert’s core. They will do the same for Adams.
In addition, Surman and Wes have both recently been on the receiving of Adams eulogies and everything points to them being part of the masterplan. Certainly the manager’s comment, post-Bastia, that the Irishman is ‘enjoying it and wants to be part of it’ suggests we’re going to see plenty of those dancing feet.
I hope so.
In terms of central defence, where once we had Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread, we now appear to be heading toward a Michael Turner/Ryan Bennett combo – at least as things stand. On paper I’d suggest, given their greater Premier League experience, the latter would win by a short head. Let’s hope it’s the same on grass.
Russell Martin may also have something to add to the centre-back debate if his transfer from shirt ‘2’ to shirt ‘5’ is anything to go by, but equally he’s a proven performer at right-back in the Championship.
Certainly Martin’s desire to push on, particularly when a narrow midfield diamond gave him the freedom of the right flank to charge down, was a potent attacking threat in the Championship first time round. Who can forget him rampaging through those open swathes of Portman Road to make it 4-1. The mere thought still induces goose bumps to this very day.
Steven Whittaker – for all his Premier League struggles of last season – should be an adept performer in the second tier and, while neither he nor Martin have the cavalier ability of Martin Olsson, both are equipped to provide a solid presence down the right side.
Adams may think one swashbuckling full-back is sufficient.
At left-back, assuming he stays, Olsson is a shoe-in although, unlike others, I have no problem with Javier Garrido as his deputy. I just have a niggle that the Swede remains on the radar of some of our Premier league friends and we may be the subject of one of those ‘too good to turn down’ offers. Let’s hope not.
In midfield, we currently usurp the Class of 2011 in terms of numbers. Whether we do so in terms of quality remains to be seen.
While the Lambert midfield would struggle to compete with the likes of Leroy Fer and Bradley Johnson in terms of athleticism and – certainly in the case of the latter – desire, only Surman comes close to David Fox if we’re talking quality of passing.
Given that Fox was allowed to depart the Fine City back in May, it seems Adams – who was once a self-confessed admirer – saw no room in the current midfield for one who, for all his exquisite passing ability, was occasionally perceived as a little lightweight. Or, to put it another way, one who was the very antithesis of the aforementioned Johnson.
Elsewhere across the midfield the current crop compares favourably. For Andrew Crofts read Jonny Howson.
But where they really excel is when it comes to pace. The diamond didn’t need, or at least rely, on ‘flyers’. The current squad has them in oodles.
Nathan Redmond, Elliott Bennett, the Murphys and even Anthony Pilkington, when those knees and ankles permit, can all put the hammer down when required. If fit and healthy they will offer something different. Something that was missing last season and was rarely seen in 2010/11.
Throw Hoolahan and Surman into that midfield mix and the permutations are numerous. With so many options available Adams’ biggest problem may be finding that right combination before the season starts.
The current striking options are also greater in number, but in terms of quality…
While it’s too early to judge the effectiveness of new signings – Lewis Grabban and Kyle Lafferty – in the yellow jersey, both have done more than enough previously, in the Championship, to suggest good things ahead. But we’ve been there before. The proof of the pudding etc
Equally if Gary Hooper is still a City player on August 10, there is every reason to believe he will give Championship defences a rough ride. A one in two goalscoring ratio at Scunthorpe suggests a 20 goal haul, with the wind in the right direction, is definitely within his grasp.
The big question is will he be here.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel is another who may fall into the Adams ‘enjoying it and wants to be part of it’ group. If so, for all his trials and tribulations of 2013/14, he should be equipped to do in the Championship what he did so successfully in the Eredivisie and the Primeira Liga.
Of course there is also Jamar Loza, who looks to be in Adams’ thoughts, and not forgetting one Luciano Becchio who has already proven himself in the English second tier with that team from Yorkshire.
Options aplenty. But would any of us swap them for Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson at their pomp?
So, how do the two squads compare?
As a list of names it’s difficult to argue against Adams’ current crop, but the ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ quality of the 2011 squad was what set it apart. That, and the liberal sprinkling of magic dust administered by Master Lambert.
If there is some left in the bowels of Colney let’s hope Neil stumbles upon it.
But, it’s almost upon us. Two weeks today and the Yellow Army will be Black Country bound.
And I can’t wait.