Birmingham City host Luton Town in what is shaping up to be a massive encounter for the Blues as they look to arrest their recent worrying run of form and try and get their season back on track.
The Blues head into the game inside the relegation zone in the Championship following a run of just one win in their last 11 league matches. Birmingham suffered a 3-2 defeat at promotion-chasing Bournemouth last weekend in a game that saw them produce an improved display for large parts, but still saw them come away from the match empty-handed.
Karanka is starting to now look like a manager under real pressure, especially considering the history that the Blues’ owners have in making managerial changes. However, Xuandong Ren has insisted that the Spaniard does still have the full backing of the club.
Here then, we take a look at three of the dilemmas facing Karanka as he looks to get the Blues back to winning ways…
How to fit January additions into the starting line-up
One of the main dilemmas facing Karanka ahead of their clash with Luton is whether or not to throw some of the Blues’ January transfers into their starting line-up. The likes of Yan Valery, Sam Cosgrove and Rekeem Harper all came off the bench in the 3-2 loss at Bournemouth last weekend but they all yet to be included from the start.
Scott Hogan scored twice in that defeat at Bournemouth, and that likely means he will start once again here which would leave Karanka with the dilemma over whether to look to pair him in the final third with Cosgrove. The forward was a key addition from Aberdeen and you sense his physical presence would provide something different for Luton to think about alongside Hogan.
As for Valery, the Southampton loanee could be deployed from the start at either right-back or even further forwards on the right-hand side of midfield. He offers plenty of energy and the ability to get forwards on the overlap if he starts further back, while Harper has quality in possession and the ability to drive through midfield. Both should you feel be handed chances to impress from the start.
How to get Birmingham scoring more consistently
One of the Blues’ main issues throughout the campaign has been their lack of ability to both create and take chances in the final third. That did show some signs of improvement against Bournemouth thanks to Hogan’s brace, the forward’s fourth and fifth league goals of the season (Sofascore).
Those two goals against Bournemouth ended a barren run in front of goal for Birmingham in the Championship, who had managed just two in their previous seven league games. They have also only managed to score 21 goals in their 28 matches so far this term, which is the joint third-lowest total in the entire division.
Karanka could look to rectify that by bringing Cosgrove into the starting line-up, but the forward only scored three goals in his 14 league games for Aberdeen in the first half of the campaign (Sofascore). That suggests they can not just rely on the forward to improve their scoring. The Blues need to find a way to get more from the likes of Ivan Sanchez and other creative players.
How to end Birmingham’s dismal run at St Andrews
Another major issue for the Blues so far this season has been their poor form at St Andrews. Karanka’s side have only managed to two of their opening 14 league games at home so far this season and have now gone ten matches without a win on home soil since a 2-1 success against Huddersfield Town back in October.
Those are dismal statistics and it will always be very difficult for a team to stay up in the Championship if they can not secure wins at home on a fairly regular basis. To put that into context fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday have managed to win six of their 14 home matches so far this season.
Birmingham have the chance to end that run against Luton today, and you feel that Karanka simply needs to find the right balance of his side at home if they are going to be able to achieve that. If their winless run at home extends to 11 games, then the pressure will only continue to build on the Spaniard.