Bristol City beat Derby County 3-2 last night to move to within three points of the automatic promotion places.
January signing Filip Benkovic made his first start for the club and added the Robins’ second goal, nodding in from close range just before half time.
The defender was an important player for City in first start for the club but just how good could his arrival be?
We assess just that in today’s FLW six pointer…
Firstly, who is Benkovic?
“A 22-year-old central defender that the Robins signed on loan from Leicester City in January.
“The 6ft4ins defender has a Croatian cap to his name already and impressed while on loan with Celtic last season.”
How has his time been at the club so far?
“Up and down, to be honest.
“He made his debut from the bench late on against Birmingham City on Friday evening and was dominated by Lukas Jutkiewicz for the third goal–a far from ideal start.
“Things went a lot better against Derby. The 22-year-old started for the first time against the Rams, grabbed his first goal for the club, and produced an impressive all-round display.
“Benkovic made five clearances and three interceptions, blocked one shot, won seven of his eight aerial duels and finished with a pass success rate of 97% (Sofascore).”
Is he going to be first choice?
“It’s tough to know at this point but yes, I think so.
“He displaced Nathan Baker in the side for last night’s game and started alongside Ashley Williams, which would indicate how highly Johnson rates him.
“However, with a game last Friday, one yesterday and then the trip to Leeds United on Saturday that may have been for fitness reasons.
“After his performance on Wednesday, he has made himself a very difficult man to drop.”
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What does he offer Johnson?
“His display in last night’s game showed that he is a really bright talent and someone that can do a bit of everything in the centre of the City backline.
“Defensively he is solid, while he showed with Celtic that he can play at a high level.
“As well as all the gritty stuff, Benkovic is impressive in possession–as his passing stats from yesterday show.
“However, the way he was bullied by Jutkiewicz was far from ideal and does hint at a bit of naivety.
“The Croatian has shown his aerial dominance and the threat he poses in the opposition box already and Johnson has suggested that he could be used as a striker, with the Robins lacking a towering target man.”
Do they need him?
“City do have some good options at centre-back, with Baker, Williams, and club-record signing Tomas Kalas to choose from.
“However, the South West club’s defensive record has not been impressive this season, so adding the 22-year-old makes sense.
“It might seem an off-hand comment but Johnson has noted his frustration at the lack of a target man quite a bit, so don’t be surprised to see him fill that role late in games.”
Finally, how good can his arrival be?
“It might be absolutely huge and could be the thing that secures a play-off spot.
“If the 22-year-old can help to shore up City’s backline for the run-in and add some goals along the way, he could prove a difference-maker.
“The Robins have got some massive games coming up against the likes of Leeds, Nottingham Forest, and West Bromwich Albion–a solid defence and a real set-piece threat is exactly what they need to do some damage in those games.”