Birmingham City have endured a mixed start to the campaign as Aitor Karanka aims to build some positive momentum and make vital improvements to his side in his first season in charge.
Karanka is an experienced manager and has proven in the past that if backed with the right sort of additions in the transfer market he can build a side capable of challenging up at the top end of the Championship table. However, the Spaniard inherited a side low on confidence after a poor end to last term.
It was always going to be a tough challenge for Birmingham to turn things around straight away and become a side capable of picking up three points on a reliable basis. There have though be some signs of some positive changes being made at St Andrews under Karanka.
At the moment though it is very much a mixed start for the Blues which sees them in 17th place heading into the weekend. Birmingham are looking likely to have a mid-table season with them currently eight points shy of the play-offs, but also six clear of the bottom three.
Here then, we have take a look at TWO positive signs we’ve seen from the Blues and TWO concerns that need to be addressed…
Karanka making Blues harder to beat
The most immediate issue that Karanka was faced with when he took over the club was how to get the Blues back to being a tricky opponent to defeat. Birmingham ended last season with an alarming run of six defeats in their final seven Championship matches and 20 losses in total out of their 46 games.
So far this season Birmingham have suffered just four defeats in their opening 13 league matches, the same as sixth-placed Reading. There have been six draws amongst those games which shows they are least keeping matches tight and preventing their opponents from having an easy ride of it.
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Being hard to beat was the foundation of Karanka’s Middlesbrough side which earned promotion to the Premier League during the 2015/16 season. Translating that across to his Blues side already will be a positive to build on throughout the rest of the campaign.
Birmingham’s ability to attract quality players under Karanka
The Blues on paper at least had an encouraging summer transfer window with the likes of Neil Etheridge, Ivan Sanchez, George Friend and Scott Hogan all arriving and looking like strong pieces of business with their performances so far this campaign. There were also other solid additions to the squad which leaves them in a decent position in terms of squad depth.
However, the arrival of both Mikel San José and the recent addition of Alen Halilović are two standout signings which show Karanka’s appeal to quality players based in Europe. Those two could well prove key in adding that extra bit of quality to take the Blues to the next level.
The Blues struggles in front of goal
One major concern for the Blues so far this campaign has been their lack of end product in the final third of the pitch. Birmingham have managed just ten goals in their first 13 Championship matches, with only the bottom three and Nottingham Forest managing fewer than that total.
The form of Lukas Jutkiewicz has dipped at the start of the campaign, with the experienced target man only scoring twice so far after he netted 15 last term. Then there is Hogan who has also yet to get going for the Blues netting just once in eight games, having fired in seven in 17 matches last season.
Birmingham’s solidity at the back means they are still able to pick up points despite not being free-flowing in attack, but Karanka will need more from his forwards as the season progresses.
Too many draws
So far this season only Millwall, who the Blues meet on Saturday, have had more draws than the Blues’ six so far this campaign. Whilst the positive of that is that they are hard to beat it does suggest that Karanka is not enabling enough freedom with his tactics for his side to go and pick up all three points.
Pressure could start to mount on the Spaniard over the rest of the campaign if he is not able to show more flexibility in terms of going out to win tight matches rather than just settling for a point.