In a deal that seemingly took an age to get finalised, Preston North End finally confirmed the signing of Doncaster Rovers captain Ben Whiteman yesterday.
The 24-year-old had wanted to join the Lilywhites since their interest became apparent, with the facilities on offer at Euxton training ground and proximity to his home in Greater Manchester being a key factor in his decision.
And somehow they managed to prize him away from Yorkshire for what is believed to be close to their £1.8 million transfer record that they paid for David Healy back in 2000.
How will he fit into Alex Neil’s system though and who will he replace? Well let’s take a look at the options.
Ben Pearson’s replacement as a ‘number four’
North End have a number of contract rebels on their books currently, with Ben Davies, Daniel Johnson and Ben Pearson all turning down club-record offers to stay for the foreseeable future.
With it looking increasingly likely that all three players will depart either this month or in the summer for free, North End need to make contingency plans, and they’ve already sorted their midfield out.
Transfermarkt will tell you that Neil more often than not plays a 4-2-3-1, and whilst that is the case quite a bit, he can easily change his shape to a 4-1-4-1 when he needs to.
The latter formation in the past has had Pearson playing as a ‘number four’ – a defensive midfielder who shields the defence and almost plays as a quarterback and dictates the tempo.
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And we already know that Whiteman can play a killer pass. He has four assists this season in the league and before his departure ranked seventh in the ‘key passes’ table for the league (Sofascore), whilst also being top of the interceptions chart with 41 (Sofascore), meaning he’s equally adept a tackler as he is a passer.
An ideal Pearson replacement you’d think…
Playing alongside Jayson Molumby with Alan Browne in the ‘ten’
If Neil does continue to use the 4-2-3-1 though and doesn’t use Whiteman as a lone holding midfielder, then playing him in a ‘double pivot’ with new loan signing Jayson Molumby looks to be the most likely solution.
Ireland international Molumby impressed for Millwall last season for his tenacity and his ability to carry the ball forward, which should complement both Whiteman’s intercepting and passing skills to a tee.
And with North End captain Alan Browne more-than likely taking up the role of attacking midfielder permanently now he’s signed a new deal and Johnson hasn’t, PNE now have two combative, energetic midfielders to play with Whiteman – with Ryan Ledson and Paul Gallagher also in the mix to be starters on their day.