In the 3rd edition of the ´League One Robinson Derby´ pitches Karl Robinson against Stephen Robinson. Previously both sides have faced AFC Wimbledon´s Mark Robinson.
Karl returns to the match day experience, having been in isolation for the last three games. In his absence, backroom staff member Craig Short and player coach John Mousinho have led ´The U´s´ to three wins!
Meanwhile, The Shrimps Gaffa Robbo is feeling more content after earning the first result since the home win over Lincoln, four League One games ago with a resilient 1-1 draw at home to league leaders Plymouth Argyle.
So what are they expecting from the clash?
According to George,
¨Goals! Morecambe’s games have generally been end-to-end affairs and when teams with an attacking mindset come to Town it’s normally entertaining due to Oxford’s commitment to getting men forward. Our home record is very good and there is little doubt that we are the likelier winners, but Morecambe deserve a lot of respect. I think it’s gone a bit unnoticed how well you dealt with an Argyle side who have wiped the floor with most in recent weeks. It should be a great game with plenty of final third action and not much between the sides.¨
From Jack’s perspective,
¨One of two extremes – Frustration or Goals.
We’ve seen two types of set-up against us at home so far this season. Those sides who come and have a go, and those who park the proverbial bus.
It’s clear from the goals scored column that Morecambe like to give it a bit of a go. And we generally fare better against those sides. Our home form has been pretty solid so far this season and with reduced ticket prices, a sizable crowd is expected. But with that comes the pressure and perhaps expectancy of a positive result.¨
There’s a huge contrast in form between The U´s at The Kassam Stadium and The Shrimps on the road. United have won 5 and lost just one, whilst Morecambe have just one victory on their travels.
With the expertise of George and Jack, the preview will look at selection decisions for both managers, the strengths and weaknesses of United, opportunities against them and threats from them.
After three defeats in a row, drawing to league leaders Plymouth Argyle on Saturday was described as ´stopping the rot´in a pre-Oxford press conference by the Gaffa. It was a pleasing performance in which we went toe-to-toe with The Pilgrims, who came into the tie full of confidence and remain unbeaten in 14 League One games.
¨We pressed the ball very well, we passed the ball. You control the game when you´ve got the ball. Out of possession as well, I thought we were very good. We were organised and disciplined against a top quality side.¨
We´ll need to continue with all of those positive aspects to get a result against a top quality Oxford United side. I believe as much continuity as possible will be the name of the game for Robbo. Developing partnerships and understanding all around the pitch requires sequential games together. Mainly through injuries, we haven’t had many chances to give the same XI a run of games.
Injury to Arthur Gnahoua will force the one predicted change. According to a comprehensive update from physio Simon Farnworth on the official site – Arthur twisted his knee, damaged some soft tissue and will be out for a couple of weeks.
As a result, I fully expect Wes McDonald to come in in Arthur´s place. Jonah Ayunga was superb on Saturday providing the perfect wide forward performance. He successfully completed 7 of his 9 dribbles (according to Wyscout) and put 2 of his 4 shots on target with one of those being his second goal this season. He has all the attributes and potential to make the step up to a higher league, if he can keep fit and continue with his hard work. According to Robbo, Jonah Ayunga, Cole Stockton and Athur Gnahoua each covered 11km against Argyle.
The main decision is which side – left or right – The Shrimps´ leader decides to play both McDonald and Ayunga. Both players look comfortable on either side. I would argue our model performance in a 4-3-3 was for the first 57 minutes against Crewe away.
Expected goals were 1.55 to 0.6 scoring twice and conceding once for this part of the game. Wes attempted 5 crosses with the one successful one creating an assist for Arthur Gnahoua. Being naturally right foote with this set-up, whilst Ayunga looks comfortable with both feet. It’s also worth mentioning we had just 43.42% possession during this period, so the formation fits in well with what we can expect from Oxford´s dominant approach by playing with quick transitions.
Central midfielders Alfie McCalmont and Shane McLoughlin remain on the sidelines, but I actually believe Callum Jones did enough to retain his place regardless. The Gaffa described the Hull loanee in his pre-game interview,
¨I think Callum has been quite unfortunate. Alfie (McCalmont) and Shane (McLoughlin) have probably been my mainstay in midfield along with Toums (Toumani Diagouraga) and they´ve been excellent. (However) somebody’s misfortune gives someone else a chance. Callum certainly took it. We think he’s a very good footballer. It took him a little time to adapt to League One, but he’s got an open mind. He wants to learn. He’s got his chance, so hopefully he takes it on Saturday.¨
On Saturday, Adam Phillips´ delivery wasn´t to the level we´ve come to expect from him, but as Joel Shooter recently described him on Gab Sutton´s The EFL Debate he´s ¨high risk, high reward¨. We´re much more dangerous with him on the pitch. He´s averaging 0.28 goals and 4.39 passes into the penalty area per game in League One. Hopefully the longer he plays with his colleagues, the more understanding he´ll build. The deliveries he put on for Carlos Mendes Gomes last season illustrates he can build telepathic connections with his team mates.
The U´s Selections (George´s perspective)
¨The defensive midfield central role is the key decision to make. Craig Short said that he and Karl Robinson see Herbie Kane as a no.6, who offers more on the ball than Alex Gorrin but not the willingness to tackle and break-up play. Kane playing in the middle of the three means that there is room for James Henry on right, whose on-ball qualities are evident but, again, he lacks the mobility and positional discipline to offer a great deal out of possession.
KR also has plenty of options on the wing. Ryan Williams seems to have fallen out of favour, so is unlikely to start as is the case with Billy Bodin and Joel Cooper. Nathan Holland and Mark Sykes played against Burton, and may get the nod again in place of Gavin Whyte. Whyte has been a big disappointment since re-signing on loan, but that in part has been due to Sykes’ brilliant form out on the right wing, meaning Whyte has played much of his football stuck out on the left which doesn’t suit his aggressive direct running game at all. ¨
Jack Stevens has glandular fever so Simon Eastwood will play in goal. Most Oxford fans see this as a downgrade… I’m not so sure.
The U´s Selections (Jack´s perspective)
¨First choice keeper Jack Stevens has missed the last two with Glandular Fever. It’s not clear when he is due back but would expect Simon Eastwood to continue as Stevens will surely not be ready to drop straight back in.
KR hasn’t been afraid to rotate his selections in midfield and out wide with an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Alex Gorrin and Gavin Whyte were benched at Burton after both starting v Shrewsbury.
Not aware of any other injury doubts with the likes of Jamie Hanson, Marcus McGuane and Sam Winnall all back in training after injury/illness.
Tuesday night’s Papa John’s tie saw winger Joel Cooper stake a claim for a place on the bench with two goals. The Northern Irishman has yet to feature in the league this season.¨
The U´s Strengths
George sees the strengths as follows,
¨Our squad is very good. In Cameron Brannagan, James Henry and Matt Taylor we have two of the best players in the league in their roles. Herbie Kane’s form is starting to show that he shouldn’t really be playing League One football either.
We are a proficient attacking outfit with plenty of ways to hurt the opposition. There isn’t a ‘weak side’ and in having two ball-playing CBs we are able to keep the ball in the opposition half with ease.
Our home form is certainly a strength, although I can’t put my finger on why we are good at The Kassam as it’s a drab stadium and the atmosphere is generally pretty flat when half full despite some peoples’ best efforts. ¨
Whilst Jack believes their strengths to be that,
¨Chance creation is high this season as you’d expect with the 4-1-2-3 type system we play. When Herbie Kane starts, he tends to sit and look to get on the ball but is equally at home playing further forward allowing the shape to be quite fluid.
Defensively we have looked slack at times but with first choice right-back Sam Long back fit and in the side, this seems to have settled everyone down. Captain Elliott Moore earned great plaudits at Burton last time out.
KR has seemingly taken the approach this season, that he picks the team for the style of each opponent rather than totally based on previous performances. If he expects a tighter, more physical game, then the likes of Alex Gorrin and Ryan Williams are considered. A more open game where we can take it to the opposition will see Kane and at least one pacey winger in the side.
It seems to be widely accepted within the club and the fanbase, that this squad is the best KR has put together during his time at the helm. There is competition for places all over the park and some very good players have to be left out of the squad yet alone the team.¨
Fortunately, with both George and Jack providing exactly the same line-up prediction, it makes describing and predicting how the game will play out somewhat easier!
The underlying data supports their confidence in their side as an attacking proposition with The Analyst´s expected goals ranking them 1st with 18.5 from open play.
Down the other end, they´ve kept it tight with just 9 expected goals against them from open play.
The team is full of technically top League One players and I expect United to have the lion’s share of the possession. According to Wyscout, Karl Robinson´s men have averaged 55.4% possession to The Shrimps 45.5%.
The Oxfordshire outfit have averaged 106.11 more passes per game than the visitors (389.43 to 283.2) with 80.6% pass success rate for the former vs 75.5% for the latter.
A significant feature of Oxford´s play is delivering crosses. They’ve delivered the second most in League One with 298 compared to an average of 226.25. The Shrimps have crossed 193 times according to Wyscout. Interestingly 58.1% have come in from the right flank, which is slightly higher than 54.1% overall from that side across all teams. That being said, left back Steve Seddon has delivered the most in the side with 64. Central midfield veteran, James Henry, has delivered 40 crosses. He predominantly plays on the right of the three midfielders.
Henry is The U´s leading scorer with 6 goals in League One. He was in devastating creative form in the 3-1 victory away to Burton Albion in their last league outing. James had 5 shot assists, which represents being involved in any action before a shot takes place.
A couple of moments illustrated his sharpness in the final third. One opportunity saw him dribbling towards goal, managing to hold off a defender, delaying the pass perfectly and delivering a weighted ball into the path of Cameron Brannigan. It was well saved, but this was a clear cut chance he created.
The same combination occurred again, when the 32-year old Scotsman dazzled his marker, Burton´s centre back Fraser Blake-Tracy, at the byline to deliver a lofted cross into the path of Brannigan. Cameron forced a save out of Burton keeper Ben Garrett, which he pushed onto the post. He is one player who won´t require much space to create a clear scoring opportunity for his colleagues or himself!
Herbie Kane is predicted to start in the base of the midfield three and Karl Robinsom will want a performance similar to against Albion. He intercepted the ball a staggering 15 times and was constantly moving the ball forward through the pitch, which is illustrated from his pass map. According to Wyscout (below) he received 9 passes from centre back Elliott Moore (no. 5) and delivered 13 passes to midfielder Cameron Brannigan (no 8.). Kane completed 100% of his passes back (6/6), so has the maturity to recycle the ball when he hits a blockade.
Finding Brannigan in the opposition half becomes a threat for the opposition. 67% of his passes against Burton successfully reached the final third (10/15) while 75% successfully reached their target in the box.
With the quality in the range of passes from the midfield it’s no surprise they have the second highest through balls and key passes in the division with 126 and 72 respectively (Wyscout).
If a chance falls to Matty Taylor in the box, he’s clinical and doesn´t need much of an invitation. All of his five goals this season have come from a variety of areas in the box and his 19 League One goals last year prove he’s a lethal marksmen. Below is his shot map in League One for this season.
In addition to that, their energy and aggression around the pitch means they have won the ball regularly to mount their attacks. According to The Analyst, their PPDA is the third highest in the division.
The U´s Weaknesses
According to George,
¨We struggle to stop teams on the counter, especially when Gorrin isn’t playing. Plymouth exploited this a couple of weeks ago.
There is also a total commitment to playing attacking, possession based football. Normally I would have this down as a strength, but we can often look fairly toothless against a low-block. Shrewsbury sat in last midweek and we won the game through a cross that went in and a deflected shot from range.
Steve Seddon hasn’t really impressed me so far. He is so reliant on his good delivery making up for a fair few deficiencies in his game. He’s fairly slow, poor defensively and for me doesn’t impact games enough. He was fantastic at Pompey and is very highly thought of so I’m hoping it’s just a case of settling in, but that would be the side to target in my opinion.¨
Whilst Jack believes their weaknesses to be,
¨Historically, a Karl Robinson Oxford side has struggled against the physical teams in the league – think Wycombe, and Wimbledon (pre Mark Robinson). We also sometimes struggle to break down teams who come to frustrate and sit in. The first half v Shrewsbury recently was a great example of this. Alongside these struggles sits one of the few criticisms of KR – do we have a plan B beyond doing Plan A better?
Left-back cover remains a concern, an injury or red card to Seddon in a match means someone is forced to play out of position, something that could cost us.¨
With regard to Steve Seddon, examining recent games against Burton and Shrewsbury, there are two incidents which highlight potential defensive frailties.
Against Burton, a simple throw over the top of Seddon in his zone left Burton´s Harry Chapman one-one against left centre back Jordan Thorniley. As a result, Chapman got in behind United and created a chance.
The lack of urgency, with Steve to get back to support Thorniley, perhaps hints at his attitude towards his defensive responsibilities?
Against Shrewsbury, in one passage of play he lost a header to Shrewsbury´s Daniel Udoh, then got absorbed into following the ball, which left Udoh free out on the wing. A short pass found Daniel out wide in Seddon´s defensive zone. By the time he managed to engage him, the Shrews forward had put in a cross, from which the visitors to the Kassam Stadium nearly scored.
Jack mentioned Oxford have struggled against physical sides. This may explain why Karl Robinson´s side have created just 1 goal from set pieces so far this season. Interestingly their set piece xG is a shade higher than The Shrimps´ 2.7 to 2.6, yet Morecambe have scored 5 more goals from these situations.
Opportunities against The U´s
From George´s viewpoint,
¨On the counter – look to turn us where possible and expose the high-line. I’m not too worried about Stockton as the kind of problems he poses both as a penalty box threat and with the ball from deep with defenders between ball and goal is where both Moore and Thorniley are comfortable, but getting the ball into him between the lines with runners (Ayunga, Gnahoua) peeling off and running in behind will cause problems. ¨
Whilst Jack believes the opportunities to be,
¨The attacking nature of the side, especially the fullbacks, means that there are gaps that can be exploited, especially with a quick turnover of the play. We’ve seen goals conceded this season with balls in behind the fullbacks who have charged forward. Additionally, the absence of Gorrin means a lack of brute force in the midfield.
Frustrating the home crowd could also be useful, there will be a sense of expectation after recent positive results and there will be some sections of the crowd who see it as “only Morecambe”. The longer it stays 0-0, the nervier it could get.¨
Considering the perspectives and the evidence overall, one game plan could be to dig in deep. Whilst Robbo will want to play football when we receive the ball, the past evidence would suggest they´ll dominate possession.
I predict our 4-3-3 will switch to a 4-1-4-1 out of possession, with Toums sitting deeper and the attacking forwards (Ayunga on the left, McDonald on the right) tucking into the midfield.
As soon as we have regained possession, we can counter quickly down Oxford´s defensive left side either via a quick out-ball or through the dribbling ability of Wes McDonald. Seddon has form to be slightly slow in returning to his defensive post, so in theory there should be space.
His heatmap is very aggressive for a full back who has played exclusively in a back four this season.
Simultaneously, Cole Stockton, Jonah Ayunga and Adam Phillips need to bust a gut to get in the box to be ready for a cross. If Seddon is out of position, Elliot Moore will be forced to engage him out wide, which vacates more space in the box. The crucial aspect then is the quality of the delivery from McDonald and the aggressiveness of the other attackers to hunt down a goal.
The same routine could take place on the opposite flank against Sam Long with Jonah Ayunga. The strong, 6ft 1’ 24 year-old loves to cut inside and unleash a shot from any distance, but I´d also like to see him continue, as he did in Saturday’s game, searching out Cole Stockton in the box.
Cole had less space to operate on Saturday against Plymouth, with defenders plotting to keep him bogged down. However, the wide attackers can help alleviate the pressure on him. The more the centre backs have to cover for the full-backs, the more space opens up for the Liverpudlian in the centre of the park. Variety and unpredictability in the runs we make in transition and in possession will be the key to opening up this rigid Oxford United defence.
The U´s Threats
¨A midfield three of Henry, Kane and Brannagan is blessed with real vision and the passing ability to unlock defences out of nothing. If you crowd the middle of the park, then both full-backs are more than able to step up into more of a wing-back role, letting the front three get narrow and flood the box. In that sense you’re having to firefight on every front as we have plenty of ways to hurt you. Taylor is another to keep an eye on, his finishing ability is well known to those who follow the EFL, but he offers so much more than that due to his tireless work rate and qualities on the ball in deeper areas. We’re a decent attacking side who have some vulnerabilities defensively, especially on the break.¨
¨Early goals seem to have become a habit in recent weeks.
Matty Taylor is a goal scorer, simple. With the array of attacking options, it’s rare that Taylor won’t get chances.
Substitutions for Oxford could also be a threat, multiple options off the bench if those who start the game aren’t performing.¨
From a Shrimps´ perspective – with the multitude of attacking threats The U´s offer, it’s absolutely critical that it’s the sharp aggressive Morecambe side which arrives in Oxfordshire.
Karl Robinson´s philosophy of attack-minded football, illustrated by their record of 2nd highest goals scored in League One 20/21 with 80, is a huge threat to The Shrimps. As explored in depth during the strengths, United have a midfield that can hold possession, create chances for fun and contribute to the goals themselves and with a seasoned centre forward to take advantage of any lapses in the opposition defence.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
There are no givens in League One this year, and this fixture looks particularly tricky for Robbo´s travelling reds. For many, an Oxford home win will be a ‘banker’ on Saturday’s betting accumulators, but it´d be a gamble to write off this spirited Morecambe side.
The performance against league-toppers Plymouth Argyle demonstrates we have the ability to match it with the best in the league.
This squad of players has also impressed in games against high-flying Wycombe in the first half (despite the loss), beaten a strong Blackburn Rovers side and nearly took all three points from Ipswich on the opening day. This will only be Robbo´s 18th game in charge of The Shrimps, compared to Karl´s 198th game (according to Transfermarkt) at the helm and it´ll take time to see the team firing on all cylinders.
Last Saturday gave us a glimpse towards what we can expect from a fully operational side, a glimpse at what Robbo is trying to achieve and a result at The Kassam would provide a further boost to the encouraging progress achieved so far.
Is it fair to say that we are learning from each setback and coming back a bit stronger each time? It’s a sharp learning curve here in League One and, to be fair, we all knew what we were in for when the dust settled after the Playoff Final. It’s against quality teams like Oxford where we have to prove our mettle and Saturday seems as good a time as any to begin.
I feel extremely fortunate to have been introduced to these fantastic fellas through the NTT20 Community.
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