Millwall Vs Granada – My Starting XI

Stevenage Millwall George Saville

Tomorrow we take on Spanish side Granada in what will be our final game before we take on Nottingham Forest for our return to The Championship. Having failed to win so far in pre-season and only scoring once away to Dartford, Granada will prove a great test for our final warm up game of the summer.

Fresh from their relegation from Spain’s La Liga, our opposition currently are going through a transition phase with many of their players from last season departing the club. Despite their turmoil on and off the pitch, our friendlies against sides like Granada provide the ideal test for the team, often having to defend without having much of the ball.

Failing to beat Stevenage midweek and losing to Barnet last Saturday, Neil Harris will be determined to have his players put in a performance which sends fans home happy in anticipation for Nottingham next Friday. Usually, the game before the season start will reveal manager’s preferred XI for the season start, with places up for grab it will be interesting to see what side Harris goes for.

Having a website where I share my own opinion on everything Millwall, allow me to preview what I would choose for my XI tomorrow…

XI vs Granada
My Starting XI – What would your XI look like?

As per the norm we will start from the back of the field and work our way up, in goal wont surprise many but I think we all expect Jordan Archer to start the season. Albeit not his best season last time out for the club, Archer proved his worth when most required at Wembley back in May, imposing himself and bringing out one of his best performances on the biggest stage.

Still only 24 years of age Archer has already racked up 75 appearance in the league, however is yet to test himself in the second tier of English football. If we manage to get the Jordan Archer who we had two seasons back, bringing consistency in performances then we will have no issues going forward this season. I personally feel we could do with an experienced Championship keeper in the squad who will push Archer, someone like Forde who would step in if also required.

4-4-2 will be the go to for the start of the season; it’s the only formation we’ve used throughout pre-season. So my back four would feature three from Wembley, with James Meredith and Mahlon Romeo as full backs, with Shaun Hutchinson and Byron Webster continuing in central defence.

The noticeable absentee is club captain Tony Craig, with the first of our new signings Meredith taking his place at left back. Signed on a free transfer from Bradford, Meredith has easily been the most consistent left back in League One for the past few seasons, obtaining his services could prove to be one of our best signings this summer.

A modern day full back as the phrase goes, Meredith proved to be a nuisance every time we lined up against Bradford, giving the license to push on and was a constant outlet down the left hand side. Placing O’Brien in front of Meredith, with O’Brien favouring the option of drifting in from the flank you’d then hope to see Meredith take up the role of moving further forward up the flank.

Switching to the right hand side, I’ve kept Romeo in the side owing to his strong finish to the last campaign. Winning the shirt back from then competitor Shaun Cummings, Romeo looked to have gone on and prove his defensive qualities as well as the already known ability getting forward.

Summer signing Conor McLaughlin will inevitably be hot on the heels of Romeo, however due to his later arrival to pre-season owing to International duty on the back end of the last, I feel McLaughlin hasn’t yet done enough to prove his position as first choice right back.

The central pairing has a familiar feel with Webster and Hutchinson continuing in the heart of defence. Mainly owing to a lack of competition for places in this area of the field, the pair seemed to have formed a solid partnership and understand each others play. With Hutchinson’s injury proneness from last season, its crucially important we sign another central defender before the summer window closes at the end of August.

In the middle of the park, I’ve gone for Shaun Williams and the returning George Saville. Williams had arguably his best season as a Millwall player last time out featuring 56 times across all competitions, an ever present, Williams provides the added quality on the ball and fits the bill of what Harris looks for in his position. Saville gets the nod ahead of fan favourite Calum Butcher…  (Said no one)

Saville for me gets the nod ahead of Ben Thompson purely owing to his Championship experience. Despite finding his opportunities limited at Wolves, Saville has still played 50 games across two seasons in the division. With the added know how thanks to his youth career in the Premier Leagues best academy at Chelsea, Saville proves to be another shrewd bit of business. Similar in playing style to Thompson, I feel Saville offers that bit more talent on the ball, and physically able to dominate in midfield.

Dartford Millwall Jed Wallace

On the right side, no surprises with Jed Wallace taking his place in the side. I’m saying this about all of our signings, but I couldn’t be happier with Wallace committing to the club for the next three years. Our main outlet for creativity, Wallace’s directness, speed and talent on the ball instantly makes him one of our most important players. Also keeping Fred out of the side, I’m extremely excited to view the impact I truly believe Wallace with have in the division within our squad.

Another debatable option on the left, but I’ve opted for Aiden O’Brien ahead of Shane Ferguson. As mentioned in my last post, I feel Ferguson will have an increased role this season when needing to be wary of opposition full backs, but at least for tomorrow’s tie, I’d like to see the combination of O’Brien and Meredith down the left.

Finishing last season with 15 goals, O’Brien provides the third forward option when desperately chasing a goal in games. Despite criticism often sent his way, 15 goals from wide midfield does take some doing, now in a higher division, it will be interesting viewing whether O’Brien provides a similar return in The Championship.

Finally, leading the attack I’ve gone for Lee Gregory and play-off hero Steve Morison. Although I anticipate huge competition from summer arrival Tom Elliott to get into the team, having relied heavily on Morison and Gregory the last two seasons, it would be foolish to go with any other front pairing for the season start.

The partnership speaks for itself with 83 goals between the two during our spell in League One across two campaigns. Whether we can expect the same sort of impact now remains to be seen, however with both having points to prove in the division, it offers an opportunity for both to stake a claim.

So that’s my XI I’d like to see, what would your’s look like?

Millwall Vs Granada – My Starting XI

Barnet Vs Millwall – Things We Learnt

Barnet Millwall Lee Gregory

The weekend saw the arrival of our second game of pre-season, as we travelled to The Hive, Barnet. Having been away for a week in Portugal on the now annual pre-season trip, it was the first chance for the senior players to get close to a full match under their belt.

Before the match Harris revealed he would be splitting the squads for the two games against Barnet and Stevenage, in an attempt to maximise minutes per game for all senior players. The starting XI was complete with senior players and the bench had only Under 23 squad members.

The game itself played out to a disappointing 1-0 defeat. Goal scorer for Barnet through always the handful Jon Akinde. I know, it is only pre-season and results are not a priority at this stage as I always say myself. However, looking on whilst at the game, the performance was equally as bad, with Barnet the better side for the majority of the match.

With the XI we had out there, we should’ve been able to create an abundance of chances and offer our forwards the chance to get off the mark in a game. Looking back now, you’d struggle to pick out those moments where we carved apart our League Two opposition.

XI vs Barnet

Harris himself after the game was quick to mention his disappointment in the performance, and also mentioning a couple of the players would be lucky to get near the starting XI when we travel to Nottingham in less than two weeks’ time.

Anyway, having witnessed the 90 minutes at the ground, here are five points that crossed my mind at full time:

McLaughlin and Meredith look at home

Albeit the negative start to this post, let’s start on a positive point from the game. Both full backs Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith started the match Saturday with the latter completing the full game; McLaughlin was replaced with 10 minutes remaining for youngster James Brown.

Completing the back four with Byron Webster and Shaun Hutchinson, there was a sense of having a defensively sound back four. With both full backs also offering their qualities going forward in the wide areas, their ability to get up and down the flanks was very evident.

Left side taking shape

Keeping with the wide areas on the pitch, the combination on the left hand side with Shane Ferguson and Meredith was also impressive. Both offer the natural balance to the team, however what stood out most was their understanding of each other’s game. If Meredith was to kick on into the final third, Ferguson offered the cover to the full back, and we know Ferguson is more than capable of covering in defence.

The build-up play between the two also stood out, dragging Barnet players with them out of position and creating space for each other. The usual defensive choice for Harris is to play Ferguson instead of Aiden O’Brien, and with a step up in opposition this season, it would not be a surprise for Ferguson to get the nod in more games this time around.

Barnet Millwall Calum Butcher

Lack of midfield presence

Starting with our tried and tested 4-4-2 formation, Saturday we had Calum Butcher and Shaun Williams in the middle of the park. I have never been one to be over critical of players like Butcher, who on paper are the backup options available to Harris in our squad. However Saturday was glaringly obvious the absence of a typical box-to-box midfielder such as Ben Thompson.

With Williams playing the role of the midfield playmaker, the job of the player next to Williams is to bring the physicality and win your teams 50-50 tackles, or bring the energy and provide something of a nuisance to the opposing central players. Against Barnet, I felt Butcher didn’t provide either, with the Barnet midfield offered too much time on the ball, and able pick out players in more advanced positions.

Perhaps a lot to do with Butcher’s performance was lack of match time, often miss timing a tackle and when having the ball at feet, Butcher was failing to pick out a pass to set the attackers on their way further up the field. Perhaps I’m being over critical, however the absence of a Ben Thompson was clear viewing.

Lack of creativity

With Jed Wallace, Aiden O’Brien and Fred Onyedinma giving the game off and likely to feature tomorrow at Stevenage, an opportunity was presented to players like David Worrall to stake their claim for a place in the first XI. Having lost his place thanks to the arrival of Wallace, it looked like an opportunity Harris wanted to give to the wide man with both Morison and Gregory starting up top.

However as I mentioned in the intro to the post, the game played out with hardly any chances created, especially down the right flank. It opened my eyes to how much I think we rely on Jed Wallace, due to Wallace’s pace and directness on the ball, he brings a constant threat in the wide areas. Players Gregory know where the ball is likely to end up with Wallace playing, beating his man and producing a cross that seems always causes havoc in the opposition area.

Worrall provides a steady back-up to the team, but it won’t be a shock to any if he doesn’t feature on the first game of the season. Up next in pre-season, a trip to Stevenage…

Barnet Vs Millwall – Things We Learnt

Two Weeks Till The Big Kick Off – Barnet Vs Millwall

Neil Harris pre-season 2017

Saturday will bring forward our second pre-season game away to Barnet in North London. With two weeks to go now until we kick off our league campaign away to Nottingham Forest, preparations are now ramping up for all sides as the excitement of the new season continues to grow.

With the squad spending a week away in Portugal for the annual pre-season camp, tomorrow should hopefully offer an indication of what to expect this season. Dartford was the opener after two weeks of fitness training, whereas now after a week away as a squad together things will start to take shape.

Patterns of play, tactical analysis, Neil Harris has often come out and said the best work of pre-season for his staff is during the camp away from the UK. It offers the chance to not only bring the group closer together, but also allows Harris to monitor the players up close and further his own relationship with the players.

Of course, extra sessions are demanded from the players, so jadedness/fatigue is often an excuse used in pre-season if results don’t go the way anticipated. Whilst again, the result will not matter to Harris tomorrow, the expectation on the players will begin to grow. Performances will start to matter now, with a competitive squad we now have the battle for each position in the first XI, who will make the XI in two weeks time?

We will save the debate for what we all think our best XI will be for the week leading up the season start, however I always look forward to the partnerships the manager chooses in pre-season. Whilst not set in stone and experiments are often carried out to the starting XI, it’s always worth looking into who starts in central midfield, central defence, or who even lines up at full back and on the wing for the left and right sides.

Especially with new signings joining the squad, these are the games where you hope to see partnerships form throughout the side. We already know what worked last season for the majority, however the introduction of new players almost allows for a clean slate for everyone.

With Barnet cementing their place in the fourth tier, they will offer a competitive opposition to the side as we look for our first win of pre-season. We actually played Barnet last season on their home turf in the first round of the League Cup, running out 4-0 winners in probably one of the most dominant performances of our season. Having beaten Oldham 3-0 on the first day then 4-0 at Barnet, I did indeed grow in optimism thinking we’d win League One… Least we went up!

Players still with Barnet include former Lion Curtis Weston, also forwards Jon Akinde and Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Albeit an average League Two team, it should aid and step-up the performances of our players.

Either way… Only two weeks to go now!

Two Weeks Till The Big Kick Off – Barnet Vs Millwall

Fred Finally Signs A New Deal

Fred Onyedinma 2016-2017 season celebration

This week finally brought a conclusion in the Fred Onyedinma contract saga. Having been linked with moves to fellow London clubs Fulham and QPR, the youngster has opted to stay put with Millwall, repaying the faith manager Neil Harris has shown in the player.

In what seemed like a lost battle during the close season, with almost months of ongoing contract talks Fred has signed a deal keeping him with the club until the summer of 2020. A deal which sends out a big statement from the club, it shows the benefit of playing in the second tier of English football.

With the signings made this summer and also the chance of playing in The Championship this season, I don’t believe it would’ve taken a lot of convincing by Harris to ensure Fred stays with the club. Now the deal is done, hopefully it will bring an end to the criticism the player received at the back end of last season and allow for the whole saga to be put to bed.

Wingers like Fred have always split opinion down The Den, at times they’re either the best player on the pitch and other times are almost non-existent in the game. In the case of Fred, a sense of realism is required for a player who is still only 20 years of age. The talent has been evident since his first start for the club at home to Charlton the last time we were in The Championship.

It will surprise some but Fred has already managed 82 first team appearances for the club, with 45 of those appearances from the start. It highlights the prime example of offering our own youth products the chance to feature and play a part in the first team. Much like Ben Thompson and also Aiden O’Brien, Fred featured for Harris whilst in charge of the development squad, offering him the chance then to step up to the next level following our relegation from The Championship last time around.

Give the ball to a player like Fred and ask him to run the channel, something he will be able to do with ease and torment any defence when full of confidence and playing to his best. Full of pace and trickery, it’s obvious what a lot of other teams see in the player hence the interest, however the only aspect holding him back is his end product in games.

Last season was actually his best return for the club, ending the campaign with six goals. Played mainly in the wide areas six goals for a player like Fred isn’t the worst return, however I can remember many an occasion where he might have taken his season tally into double figures.

Featuring up front in our first game of pre-season last Saturday, the question was again asked of where Fred should feature in the team. As in the above poll many seem to agree that up front isn’t quite the best position to get the best out of the player. Though it’s very close for the other two positions…

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In my opinion, Fred would be most effective in the centre of the park behind a leading striker. Trying to play in between the opposition defence and midfield his pace and skill on the ball would cause any central defender a nightmare. However with Harris opting for the tried and tested 4-4-2 I feel we truly struggle to get the best out of him.

Now in The Championship, we’re at the stage where one good season with a goal tally ending in double figures and players like Fred, O’Brien and Thompson would be worth millions. I couldn’t be happier with the player committing to the club, and can’t hide my praise for Harris and the board for ensuring the player is here for at least the next three years.

Fred Finally Signs A New Deal

Dartford vs Millwall – Five Things We Learnt

 

Dartford Vs Millwall - Teams walk out

Saturday saw the opening of Millwall’s pre-season campaign with our annual trip to Princes Park, Dartford FC. Now in the Conference South, it was a good opportunity for the first team squad to make their first appearances of the summer, with all senior players each playing 45 minutes.

First Half XI: Tom King; James Brown, Sid Nelson, Shaun Hutchinson, James Meredith; David Worrall, Calum Butcher, George Saville, Aiden O’Brien; Steve Morison, Fred Onyedinma.

Second Half XI: Jordan Archer; Mahlon Romeo, Byron Webster, Paul Rooney(Christian Mbulu on 80 mins), Tony Craig; Jed Wallace, Shaun Williams, Ben Thompson, Kris Twardek; Tom Elliott, Lee Gregory.

There were debuts for Tom Elliott and James Meredith, with familiar faces also returning with George Saville and Jed Wallace also featuring. Connor McLaughlin who joined last week didn’t feature along with fellow International Shane Ferguson; both played a part in Northern Ireland’s games at the start of June.

As mentioned in my preview of the game last week, the result was the least important variable as the match played out to a 1-1 draw, with the hosts 1-up before the break. The less said of their opener the better, with deputy keeper Tom King making a mess of a back pass and the closing down Dartford forward was on hand to tap home.

The second half side had a bit more familiarity and it showed with abundance of chances created. Fortunately, we spared our own blushes and managed to get a goal back thanks to Ben Thompson’s effort on his weaker foot, placing his strike into the bottom corner from just outside the box.

So with the first game of pre-season out of the way, here’s five talking points from the weekend’s game:

Fred Onyedinma stays put in SE16

Team news at 12pm brought a pleasant surprise as Fred Onyedinma lined up next to Steve Morison in attack. Having dominated the end of last season and all of the close season, we finally received positive news of Fred committing to the club and agreeing terms for a new deal.

The news will spit opinions however I couldn’t be happier, still only 20 years of age it will be interesting to see what sort of role Neil Harris has planned for Fred this season. Lining up next to Morison at the weekend with Worrall on the right, I believe we will be seeing a lot more of Fred further up the field this season.

4-4-2 remains for now

Everyone enjoys this one online, so let’s talk tactics. Both the first half and second half XI’s were presented in a 4-4-2 formation. Again, the result or performance wasn’t essential to Harris at the weekend but I feel we can read into this as expecting more of the same next season.

The two XI’s had a bit of contrast with Fred and O’Brien roaming more in the first half up top, compared to the second XI with both Elliott and Gregory providing a more rigid 4-4-2 with both spear heading the attack.

As always a lot will depend on the opposition with what Harris will choose, but with the success we got from 4-4-2 last season I don’t think many will be too bothered if we line up with a 4-4-2 away to Forest first game of the season.

Tom Elliott wins everything

 I briefly mentioned Elliott above, however it was very apparent his dominance in the air on Saturday. Albeit against lower league opposition, the forward stood out in his first appearance in a Millwall shirt. Lack of match sharpness was apparent with the ball given away on more than one occasion, but his height advantage certainly stood out.

Partnerships take time to build, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Gregory might not have been on the end of Elliott’s flick-on’s. Despite Morison providing the toughest competition for the new forward, the potential of Elliott and Gregory up front this season is an exciting option.

George Saville - Dartford Millwall

Saville and Wallace ooze class

I know it was only a pre-season tie away to a Conference South side, but the performances of Jed Wallace and George Saville were certainly the standouts of the 23 featured players. It weren’t even the showcase of their ability, more so the know how and game management from both, Championship know how comes to mind.

Saville whilst putting himself about on the pitch showed a glimpse of what to expect this season, with also the ability to ‘buy’ free kicks, putting himself between the ball and almost waiting for the challenge. It’s simple stuff, but there is a method to it and not every player can convincingly play like that.

Wallace on the other hand was a constant threat on the right, leaving the Dartford left back in all sort of knots, delivery might not have been as consistent, but the step up in ability compared to Worrall is clear to see.

 Calum Butcher’s chances this season

Finally, my last talking point is midfielder Calum Butcher. With Saville arriving in the window I struggle to see Butcher’s place in the squad moving forward this season. With Saville the likely competitor to Ben Thompson, Butchers role in the side is currently doubtful.

Playing next to Saville on Saturday, it was hard to narrow down what Butcher’s role was in the first half, he can’t play the Shaun Williams play maker role as was demonstrated with misplaced pass after another. Maybe I’m being harsh?

Butcher was competing with Thompson for a place in the side last season, and now probably finds himself fourth choice of the current four we have. With Ryan Leonard a long term target for the club also, it wouldn’t surprise me if Butcher would be next out of the door.

Dartford vs Millwall – Five Things We Learnt

Football Is Back! – Dartford Vs Millwall Preview

Pre-season 2017 squad image

Whether its Dartford away or the always requested pre-season tour, tomorrow we finally have our Saturday’s back with a trip to Princes Park, Dartford. An ever present on the schedule in recent years, Saturday will be the first opportunity to see our squad for the 2017/2018 CHAMPIONSHIP campaign.

Yes, we are finally back where we belong in the second tier of English football, with trips to Nottingham and Bristol only a month away. It’s a far cry to those of Shrewsbury and Port Vale on Tuesday nights which we were treated to last season. It’s safe to say I cannot wait for every single away day next season, and sure I’m not the only one.

The curtain opener of pre-season is always highly anticipated with the opportunity to see how we may attack the start of the season. New signings making their first appearance, younger players from our development team offered the chance to impress, it offers the opportunity for fans to view what manager Neil Harris is looking for this season.

Ultimately, the key to any pre-season is ensuring players don’t get injured, and get the minutes required to ready themselves for the opening day of the league season. Whilst not a priority to win the games, I’m sure Harris will be keen for each player to find their feet early and build on each of their individual performances from the first minute of the first game.

Tomorrow has already been confirmed that two XI’s will each get 45 minutes, with every senior player likely to feature. With a trip to Portugal looming next week for the now annual training camp, avoiding injuries is the only necessity from Saturday’s game.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing our new signings for the first time in a Millwall shirt. We obviously know already about George Saville and Jed Wallace at this club, however the opportunity to see James Meredith, Tom Elliott and Connor McLaughlin is equally exciting.

George Saville and Jed Wallace Signing Image

Each of the three new arrivals were standouts in their sides last season, with all three making enough of an impression when lining up against us last year, albeit in League One. Excitement is always guaranteed when new players join in the close season – I’m truly the worst of anyone when it comes to positivity –and this summer is no different.

Elliott the competition and alternative to Steve Morison, with Harry Smith likely to move out on loan you’d think. McLaughlin an international who featured in the Euros last summer for Northern Ireland. Whilst Meredith the full back at Bradford who is your modern day option and likely to dislodge Tony Craig from the side. Add into the equation Wallace, Saville and the soon to be return of Jake Cooper, surely we’re allowed to be a little excited, right?

Every signing fits the profile our recruitment team looks for, aged early-mid 20’s and determined to prove their worth in The Championship, with most having played in the division at a younger age and unable to stamp their mark completely. The cynical part of fans will question the signing of “average players”, however in our situation this is the only realistic and progressive option we should be pursuing as a club.

Priority is maintaining our league status this season, and anything else on top will be a bonus. Should we achieve our goals this season, you can guarantee each of this summer’s new arrivals would’ve had a key part to play in achieving that outcome, and will only improve as a result.

Back to tomorrow’s game, with good weather likely, hopefully we will see plenty of goals, good performances and importantly no injuries…

Football Is Back! – Dartford Vs Millwall Preview