Birmingham City have endured a mixed start to the season under Pep Clotet, with the Blues winning five, losing five and drawing one of their opening eleven matches of the season, leaving them in 12th place heading into the international break.
Clotet’s side went into the international break on a positive note, having secured a vital and deserved 2-1 win against struggling Middlesbrough at St Andrew’s, with the Blues producing arguably their most dominant display of the season so far – and showing character to respond to a late equaliser and still go on to win the game.
The Blues have taken time to get into their stride, as would probably have been expected considering Garry Monk’s departure in the summer, but there have been signs that Clotet is beginning to get his methods over to his players.
However, there have been a few moments which will have given cause for Clotet to be concerned, and the Blues will be hopeful that the win against Middlesbrough can help resolve these to start a run of consistent form.
Here, we take a look at three questions Clotet will be considering during the international break…
How to get Birmingham to improve in front of goal?
Birmingham have so far this season struggled in front of goal, with Clotet’s side scoring just eleven goals in their eleven Championship games, with only three teams in the league scoring fewer than that so far.
Clotet’s side have failed to score in four of their league games so far, which has somewhat been down to the players getting to grips with the style that Clotet is trying to implement – and the Blues in performances at Nottingham Forest and Swansea City in particular have struggled to create any real clear cut chances.
Given that last season’s top scorer Che Adams departed St Andrews in the summer for Premier League Southampton, it is perhaps unsurprising that Birmingham have struggled in front of goal so far, but Clotet will need to consider how to get his side creating more chances, which they showed signs of being able to against Middlesbrough.
How to keep Birmingham’s promising young players firing?
One of the most encouraging sings from Birmingham in the opening months of the season has been the emergence of both young forwards Jude Bellingham and Odin Bailey, with the pair being given the opportunity to impress in the Blues’ first team by Clotet.
Bellingham in particular has been given plenty of minutes in the Championship, with the 16-year-old making seven appearances and he has taken his opportunity scoring twice in wins at home to Stoke City and away at Charlton Athletic, while Bailey came off the bench to grab the Blues winner against Middlesbrough.
Clotet must now consider how best to manage to the two youngsters – and maybe look to take them out of the side at times to give them a break, before re-introducing them and allowing them to stay fresh and ready to make impacts on games.
How to better control games away from home?
Birmingham in their away matches so far this season, have struggled at times to keep in control of the games when opposition teams are forcing them onto the back foot, with the two 3-0 defeats at Swansea and Nottingham Forest highlighting the Blues’ difficulty in being able to repel constant pressure from their opponents.
That suggests that Clotet should maybe look to tweak his set-up away from home, and get his side to push up the field a little more, rather than sitting back and allowing their opponents to build attacks.
However, the Blues have managed to pick up two 1-0 wins at Brentford and Charlton, where they have sat back for large periods and looked to counter their opponents, which will perhaps leave Clotet wondering how best to ensure his side can repeat those performances more often on their travels.