Regular readers of the MyFootballWriter comments section will be familiar with ‘General Melchett’ – who in real life is most definitely not a WW1 general who looks remarkably like Stephen Fry. Having been offered a guest blog, General picked up that baton and has offered us his thoughts on the structure of pre-season…
People will tell you that pre-season means very little except gaining fitness and eventually some tactical awareness for what’s to come in the season ahead.
These may be the main goals – I’m not disputing that – but surely it must also be to have the team ready to go; to be as close to the finished article in a team sense as possible, thus enabling us to give those Brummies and their Championship brethren a damned good thrashing!
But do we give ourselves the best chance of this? How might we be better prepared?
For as long as I can remember City have started pre-season with local, non-league opposition, moved up to maybe a League Two side or two and then go on tour to play some mainly second-rate opposition, before returning home for some more generally low-quality domestic opposition.
Take this summer for example:
- Kings Lynn (8th tier)
- Lincoln (4th tier)
- Crawley (4th tier)
- SC Paderborn (newly promoted to 2nd tier)
- Union Berlin (2nd tier)
- Wolfsberg (1st tier, 16th)
- Luton (newly promoted to 3rd tier)
- Charlton (3rd tier)
The majority, on paper, are lower quality than us. And so, will we again flatter to deceive and get shocked when the serious business starts in Birmingham?
Look at our prep for last season:
Lowestoft, Stevenage, Cambridge, Charlton and finally someone respectable in the form of newly promoted Brighton.
Is it any wonder we looked half-cooked when we started last season? Was it too easy for the likes of Mario Vrancic to impress, before suddenly facing tougher, better players? Could we have faced more top-tier sides or at the very least no lower than third tier UK standard?
Why is it we seem to, season after season, predominantly play teams below us in the league structure? Does it leave us under-prepared?
Would playing sides from our own level and above propel us upwards?
I think it might. If results are, as expected, harder to come by, wouldn’t that make us strive for more? Dispel any complacency? Make us fight harder, play faster and then be more ready to hit the ground running?
Would – looking back at last summer – a Premier League side or two have found out our defensive frailty before we bled points and got so horribly found out at Millwall? Could we have identified the need for Grant Hanley in and Russell Martin out before kicking a ball in anger at Fulham?
To test this theory, I looked at both automatically promoted sides, Wolves and Cardiff.
Wolves faced a fairly high calibre of opposition, definitely higher than City, but still, it was a mixed bag:
- Werden Bremen, (1st tier)
- Viktoria Plzen (1st tier)
- Jablonic (1st tier)
- Shrewsbury (3rd tier)
- Peterborough (3rd tier)
- Leicester (1st tier)
They certainly hit the ground running, kept running and were comfortably the best side I saw in the division. but did any of that hinge on their pre-season?
I think perhaps yes. They obviously spent a lot and bought in quality the rest of us could only dream of, but some of those key players had little or no Championship experience. An easy pre-season and maybe they struggle? So, a tough pre-season worked and perhaps contributed to Wolves’ success.
- Taff’s Well (9th tier? It’s a maze down there!)
- Tavistock (Similar – 9th?)
- Bodmin Town (10th – a pattern developing here)
- Plymouth (3rd tier)
- Shrewsbury (3rd tier)
So, Cardiff were skint and didn’t travel a lot, but look where it got them. Back to the Promised Land.
So where does that leave us? Confused mainly – and it certainly tears a dirty great hole in my tough opposition makes for a good pre-season argument. They won their first five games and only lost one in their first ten!
So, I looked back further to the 2016-17 Championship winners and runner-up.
- KSC Lokeren
Again, no definite pattern. Slightly better than City’s general preseason calibre but not outstanding opponents driving them to excel.
So, maybe we could play some tougher teams, I think it might help. When I play darts, golf or – in my younger days – football. I used to find I would often raise my game if faced with better opposition, and I believe higher calibre pre-season opponents could have that same effect for our players and enable a faster start with better-prepared players.
The season is all that matters right?
Or should we keep that nice friendly to put some money in a local teams’ coffers when it is very unlikely to test or progress the players?
It worked for Cardiff, so bring on the mighty Lowestoft!
Cheers to the General. Next up… Baldrick!