17/18 Season Review Part Two - What Next?
Who should go, stay and what should the squad look like?

The final quarter of the 17/18 season was pretty positive – top 6 form, confidence levels rising, some of the injured players getting back and performing well, other players taking their chance under a new regime, and young players getting a chance and seizing it etc. Katrien Miere also seems to be making an impact too by getting players signed up early and releasing those we won’t need.  I feel far more optimistic than I did in May 2017 but what we actually look like in August this year will still be affected by some other factors. In a recent piece on here I described them as the knowns and the unknowns – fitness, money and FFP, who we can actually move on as opposed to those we want to move on, attractive offers coming for players we don’t want to lose etc. The other thing for me is expectation. Given our financial position and that there will be big clubs in the Championship with PL parachute payments I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a top two challenge from us next season, but we ought to be able to be competitive in the top half of the table and possibly mount a play-off attempt.

On the fitness front JL has said that he expects Hutch, Hooper and Fletcher to be fit for pre-season, and that Van Aken and Lee will be back but will take a bit more time. I suspect we will need to reduce the wage bill over the next 3 transfer windows which means more players out than in and more money in than out, in that context I would suggest the following actions re the squad for summer 2018.

Assuming we will play the 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 shape that has served us well at the end of this season then could the squad look something like this?

Goalkeepers – Dawson, Wildsmith, Wallis

Wing Backs – Hunt, Baker, Reach and Penney, with Boyd and Fox as cover.

Central Defenders – Lees, Pudil, Thorniley, Van Aken, Venancio (subject to deal) and ANO or Hutch to move to CB.

Midfield – Pelupessey, Bannan, Lee, Hutch or ANO to be signed (2 to be signed if Hutch moves to CB) and Kirby

Strikers – Hooper, Nuhiu, Joao, Fletcher, FF and Matias

That would thin down the squad to 28 players it would reduce the age of the squad a bit and we would have retained our better players who fit the system. A few of these players can play in more than one position to give us some flexibility and cover for injuries. We would need to sign one new player in the CB role, one (or two if CM if Hutch moves to defence). The players we need to bring in must be younger, hungrier players with something to prove at this level.  We can hopefully mine the Academy a bit more for players to make up squad numbers and for cup games. I know that Matias would be on the list of many fans to move on but I think he has pace and he has shown in Portugal that he can score goals playing in a wide striker role, if he can stay fit and Jos can work the similar magic with him that he has with Nuhiu and Joao we still might have a player on our hands. If he doesn’t we could release him in January and look to replace then.

On the departures front it’s likely that Hirst and Clare are going anyway. Winnall has given off lots of vibes that he doesn’t see his future here.  We could also move on, Jones, Abdi, Westwood, Rhodes and Palmer to try to reduce the wage budget a bit more.  I agree that Westwood is a tricky one but I believe one of him, Wildsmith and Dawson will go anyway (one won’t want to be third choice) I think so let’s keep the younger ones, reduce the wage bill and receive a fee. I think Palmer is not quite good enough and, Abdi, Jones and Rhodes lack pace and just don’t fit in to the system, so we need to try and move them and reduce the wage bill.

Overall that would be 8 players out and three in, if we could do all that we might be ok on the finance side till summer 2019 when more contracts expire and in the meantime we might have a pretty competitive squad that ought to be able to have a go in the top half of the table.  The challenge will be moving on all those players – who will take them on the wages we are paying them? There’s the rub, as they say! This plan might be too optimistic and not achievable but it’s what I would do, if I could, given the situation we face. If we only achieve half of it this will still be a start though.

Could this be optimism and positivity emerging? I certainly feel more positive than I did last May after the Huddersfield defeat that’s for sure! I am genuinely looking forward to the summer, seeing the changes we make and looking forward to pre-season somewhere like the Austrian hills rather than by a pool in the Algarve. Hopefully JL and Katrien will be busy bees! Here's hoping for the current positive energy to roll on into next season.

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