Preview: Blackburn v Wycombe


The basics

When? Saturday, 19th September, 3pm
Where? Ewood Park
What? Championship matchday 2
Watch/listen: iFollow/BBC Three Counties

Setting the scene

For only the second time under Gareth Ainsworth, we head into the second game of the season without a point on the board. It’s a big ‘un too. Well, they all are this season, but this – our first Championship away trip and our first ever meeting with the former champions of England, Gaz’s boyhood club no less – is historic and feels like the true beginning of life in the second tier.

The late sucker punch of a Rotherham winner put one hell of a dampener on what had been a largely positive opening day display, but Blackburn should pose a much sterner test. Having ended up on the wrong end of a 3-2 thriller at Bournemouth in their league curtain-raiser, they dominated a strong Newcastle side at St. James’ Park in the League Cup on Tuesday night – even if they did ultimately lose 1-0.

The opposition

Overview

Manager: Tony Mowbray (appointed February 2017)
Top scorers: Bradley Johnson (CM), Adam Armstrong (FW) – 1
Most assists: Joe Rankin-Costello (W), Ryan Nyambe (RB) – 1
Style of play: Dynamic 4-3-3, attack down wings with full-backs pushing on, shoot from distance
Last time out: L 3-2 v Bournemouth (A)

Keep an eye on… Adam Armstrong

Then of Newcastle, Armstrong was part of England’s 2017 U20 World Cup-winning squad and scored in their opening win over Argentina

With a goal involvement almost every other game in his two Championship seasons at Blackburn (23 goals, 11 assists) – and 13 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions since the turn of the year alone – Armstrong has become hot property, attracting suitors from the Premier League. Able to play across the front line, he can be devastating from range, scoring half of his 16 league goals last season from outside the box – including this absolutely illegal effort against Cardiff in July. A tricky customer who’ll create space and carry the ball into dangerous positions for himself and others, as well as having that striker’s instinct to pop up in the right place at the right time, nullifying him will be no mean feat.

Talking points

The first big test?

That’s not to say last Saturday wasn’t a test, but Rotherham are a fellow newly promoted team who will be battling to stay up. Blackburn, by contrast, finished only seven points off the play-offs last season and will harbour ambitions of breaking into the top six in 2020/21, have a squad worth circa £30 million*, and – save for a brief detour into League One in 2017/18 – they’ve been a mid-table or better Championship side since relegation from the Premier League eight years ago. Sure, we’ve been competing against clubs with bigger budgets and ostensibly better players for years now, but the gulf is going to be more clearly defined this season. This should give us a taste of our new normal – but there are few things Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe love more than a challenge.

*According to Transfermarkt

Making do with a makeshift midfield

Firstly, stop panicking. We could do with a more technical operator or two in the middle of the park – against Brentford, we did try to play through the midfield a tad more, so that could well be the way we’re looking to go in the longer run – but the fact we haven’t signed anyone so far won’t be for the want of trying and Gaz will know what we need – we had Jem Karacan on trial, remember. These things take time, even more so for us because our recruitment process is probably more meticulous than most – especially when it comes to character – and we’re working with easily the lowest budget in the league There will be irons in the fire, but we might have to wait until early next month when the window closes and Premier League clubs make more players available for loan.

It’s also pretty pointless reading too much into the performance of the midfield against Rotherham; a game between the two most direct sides in the league was always going to see it bypassed. To some surprise given it’s not his role at all, Alex Pattison did a great job filling in for Dom Gape – who misses this one and the visit of Swansea – competently shielding the back four and dropping between the centre-backs, and intercepting more passes (5) than anyone else on the pitch, with Matt Bloomfield also sitting slightly deeper than normal but still high enough to be destroyer-in-chief (just no more heart-stopping tackles please, Blooms). Admittedly, Daryl Horgan (apart from his early miss) and Fred Onyedinma – playing centrally and on the left in the advanced portion of the 2-3 set-up – were very quiet, but that was mainly because we were constantly looking to get Scott Kashket on the ball via the flick-ons of David Wheeler. It was a bit of a scrap, but that’s what we do. Had we not switched off with costly consequences, we’d be sitting here talking about how brilliantly we stifled Rotherham – only four teams had a lower expected goals against (xGA) on opening weekend in the Championship.

Blackburn will look to play through and round us, not over. Shape-wise, we’ll be able to match them by reverting to 4-3-3. As an overview of their style, they’re not going to pass us into submission, but they are significantly more possession-orientated than Rotherham and ranked in the top 12 Championship teams for pass completion last season with 75%. So it’s going to be a case of trying to do what has underpinned our recent rise: disrupt their rhythm and make ourselves really horrible to play against – which ought to entail a combination of the usual wrecking-ball approach of our midfield three and the high press we executed so effectively at Brentford. Assuming Curtis Thompson is still out, that three will be Pattison, Wheeler (who could interchange with Horgan to provide the aerial outlet from goal-kicks) and Bloomfield – probably with Alex Samuel returning to lead the press from the front. Of the Rovers full-backs, right-back Nyambe in particular loves to get forward and dribble, so expect to see plenty of doubling up from Joe Jacobson and Fred out on the left.

Clash of styles?
What clash of styles?

Debuche Ikpeazu?

A knock has kept Uche Ikpeazu waiting for his Wycombe debut, but the new Wanderers numer 9 is expected to be in the 18 for this one. Given he’s only just back to fitness and hasn’t played any competitive football since February, he’ll almost certainly start on the bench, but anyone who saw the West Ham friendly (watch second half below) will have got a taste of what he’s all about. A pacey, mobile target man who might just be the heir apparent to Adebayo Akinfenwa, it’s obvious why he was one of our primary targets this transfer window.

How we use him will depend on the state of the game come the 60/70-minute mark. If we’ve managed to keep it tight and want to go in for the kill (judging by Gaz’s comments, I think we will…) by going long without changing shape, we might well see a straight swap for Samuel. On the other hand, if we find ourselves needing a goal, it might be time for an old school ‘little and large’ front two of Ikpeazu and Scott Kashket – who, while we won’t shoehorn him into the starting 11, will be pushing to be involved again after his man-of-the-match performance last weekend. Either way, I get the feeling Uche is going to become a real fan favourite and I can’t wait to see him in the quarters mango for the first time.

Possible line-ups

Blackburn

Wycombe

In the middle: Peter Bankes

Championship seasons: 5
Last refereed Wycombe: Wycombe 1-5 Preston (FA Cup, 06/01/18)


Header graphic: Dan Clark

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