A Marlon King brace gave Birmingham City a much-needed victory over high-flying Middlesbrough in last Friday’s Championship clash.
However, it was the performance of Middlesbrough’s on-loan midfielder Josh McEachran that caught the eye.
The Chelsea youngster was instrumental in an impressive first half performance by Tony Mowbray’s men.
Here, The FA’s Peter Glynn analyses the performance of England’s highly-rated Under-21s midfielder.
Josh McEachran’s misplaced pass has been referenced as the source for Birmingham’s decisive goal in last Friday’s victory over Middlesbrough.
It was a rare instance of loose play from the stylish midfielder, currently on loan at the Riverside from Chelsea. And unfortunately the 19-year-old was punished.
With less than ten minutes remaining, Birmingham forward Peter Lovenkrands capitalised on the changeover of possession in midfield, threading a pass to striker Marlon King.
The former Watford striker proved decisive from 12 yards delivering a low drive beyond the dive of ‘Boro’s England Under-21s keeper Jason Steele into the far corner of the net. It ensured a much-needed win for Birmingham manager Lee Clark.
Although a harsh lesson for McEachran, the very reasoning for his presence in this fixture is education.
The loss of possession seemed to shock the youngster, a game-changing moment he is unlikely to forget in a hurry. It will form part of the young player’s graduation to the senior game. Prior to this, the Young Lions midfielder had delivered an impressive performance for Tony Mowbray’s side.
The Teesiders had dominated the first period, McEachran contributing to a dynamic midfield performance that demonstrated efficient rotation and interchange of position. The Chelsea youngster, who has represented England at all levels from U16 to Under-21, is an example of the modern midfielder.
Capable of playing in any midfield position, he is equally adept at performing in wide areas as he is in a deep-lying central role or in the pockets of space around a central striker.
It is the youngster’s immaculate ability to manipulate the ball which first stands out. Nimble and deft, at times the midfielder brings a new meaning to quick-feet. His ball mastery and ability to manoeuvre away from pressure gives him the ability to snake out of the tightest of situations.
Here’s a practice from The Future Game that helps develop running with the ball and dribbling skills
Dribbling and running with the ball 3: 8-11
McEachran teases the opposition. Moving the ball just close enough to a defender to tempt them to snatch possession, he shifts the ball away at the decisive moment. If you found there was a string between his feet and the ball, there would be little surprise.
A first-half aeroplane-spin on the edge of the Birmingham penalty-area had the travelling ‘Boro fans singing his name. How they must wish he was the latest product of their own highly-effective academy.
With a seemingly effortless ability to float around the field, the Chelsea starlet drifts past opposing players. And it is not just in wide areas where he eliminates opponents with his ability to run with the ball.
Here’s a practice from The Future Game that helps develop the skill to beat opponents in the attacking phase
Attacking dribbling and passing 1: 8-11
Stationed loosely on the left-hand side of midfield in the first period, and on the opposite side in the second, the midfielder continually drifted inside to receive and progress the play. Such performances nod towards the diminishing need for one-dimensional midfielders.
With rotation of position an increasing necessity for creating receiving space in the modern game, players can no longer be comfortable only in one area of the pitch. Perspectives must become wider and players must eradicate blind-spots in certain areas.
Although Middlesbrough were ultimately beaten here, there was much evidence of evolving methods. Especially in the first-half.
With McEachran and the Argentinian, Emmanuel Ledesma, both roaming infield, the wide tramlines were left free for the marauding runs of ‘Boro full-backs Andy Halliday and Justin Hoyte. And it was from the attacking intentions of the Scotsman, Halliday, that ‘Boro were rewarded.
Grant Leadbitter’s late dash from midfield met Halliday’s left-wing cross, leaving the former Ipswich man to head past England goalkeeper, Jack Butland.
The regularity of Leadbitter’s forward runs highlighted another of Mowbray’s tactical methods. The freedom of movement enjoyed by Boro’s midfield was anchored and protected by the deep-lying, Nicky Bailey.
Interchange of position is almost solely referenced during attacking play. But here the visitors’ also demonstrated a fluidity of positioning in defensive phases.
Bailey moved freely between the base of midfield and defence, regularly becoming a third central defender with Andre Bikey and Seb Hines.
This was most notable when the away side were defending high balls aimed at the Birmingham’s forward totem, Nicola Zigic. As Bikey and Hines competed for the first ball, Bailey slipped into the spaces behind them to mop up any second balls.
Deploying a midfield player with the ability to pass the ball in this role, ensured that Boro often recovered possession using this method.
However, Tony Mowbray spent most of the second period exasperated on the sideline as his team failed to reach the heights of their first half display.
Often the visitors’ incision in the final third undermined the build-up play which has preceded it. Furthermore, it would be wrong to dismiss the hosts’ second-half performance. Lee Clark’s men played with much greater application and intensity.
Teams who wish to evolve and change with modern trends must be patient. Tony Mowbray will continue to mould an aesthetically pleasing side, one which he will hope will continue to be built around a young man borrowed from Chelsea.
Key points for grassroots coaches
- All players should be encouraged to develop their ability to run and dribble with the ball, possessing a trick or skill to beat an opponent.
- Players should be challenged to play in tight areas, developing the ability to receive and manoeuvre the ball whilst under pressure
Peter Glynn, 29, is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter has been with The Football Association for five year and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
For more information about The FA’s Future Game philosophy click here