After a barren run of just one victory in 13 league outings, you’d be absolutely forgiven for thinking that Birmingham City were set to sink into League One next season without a fight.
But just when they looked in massive trouble, Aitor Karanka has managed to rally the troops and pick up some vital results.
The Blues triumphed in a battle between two relegation-threatened teams at Hillsborough two weeks ago as Scott Hogan’s goal gave them a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday, and then a late, late comeback against QPR last week saw them defeat the Hoops 2-1 at St Andrew’s.
They face a different challenge today though as they visit one of the most in-form teams in the league in the form of Barnsley, who have won their last six games and have taken out big hitters like Brentford in the process.
Karanka clearly has a lot to think about ahead of kick off – let’s look at a few of the dilemmas he’s facing.
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Shifting the system
More often than not this season, the Spaniard has used some kind of 4-2-3-1 variant for a formation, but there has been a few occasions where he’s used three centre-backs – and we could see that again today.
The home clash with Barnsley back in December was one of those times where he changed it up and it’s probably the best way to line up against the dangers that the Tykes possess.
Valerien Ismael sets his outfit up in a high-pressing 3-4-3, so it would be no surprise to see Karanka play a 3-5-2 but his wing-backs not exactly charging up the field in a bid to try and contain the opposition.
Time to rest Sanchez?
Switching to a 3-5-2 would mean having to sacrifice wingers Jeremie Bela and Ivan Sanchez, but in the case of the latter that might be a good thing.
Karanka revealed in his pre-match press conference that the Spanish attacker was suffering from a groin injury, but he had been playing through the pain for the good of the team.
It shows his commitment but Sanchez risks long-term damage if he carries on, and this game may give Karanka the perfect chance to give him a rest as he doesn’t fit into a 3-5-2.
Creative outlets like Alen Halilovic can still fit into the system, but it’ll be a surprise if Karanka chooses to play with his wingers today.