What will Millwall look like under new manager Gary Rowett?by Gabriel Sutton / 21 October 2019, 20:08Tweet
Millwall’s decision to appoint Gary Rowett as manager makes a lot of sense.
He has a history of converting low-budgeted underdogs into genuine competitors in the EFL, as he did at Burton and Birmingham.
While Rowett was not as successful as hoped at Stoke, a struggle that means Millwall can attract somebody of his calibre, he has still overseen more victories than losses at all three clubs he has managed.
How will the former defender’s Millwall team look and feel? We analyse the suitability of Rowett’s ideas to the existing squad.
Bialkowski the key
While Bartosz Bialkowski can be prone to the occasional error, he has also made 40 saves, the second-most in the Championship.
Rowett’s teams tend to concede a high-volume of shots and while a lot of these are often taken from distance, it can help to have a good goalkeeper to deal with high-quality long-range efforts.
Bialkowski will be key in that respect.
Get Romeo driving
Rowett’s Birmingham team had a right-back in Paul Caddis who fans adored.
Caddis was not particularly gifted from a technical perspective, but he maximized his abilities because he had a go.
The Scot would be strong in the challenge, he would drive forward with the ball, take on opponents with fierce determination and force the team up the pitch.
In this current Millwall squad, Mahlon Romeo has the qualities to do a similar job; he possesses pace, power and athleticism so while he’s not in the best of form this season, there is a player in there in which Rowett may see potential.
I'm sure there are people out their who genuinely believed we would get the attention of anyone better than Gary Rowett. I ain't even that familiar with the bloke, but with his record, in comparison to what we've had of late, not sure how it could be any better?— MinesWrites (@FM91___) October 21, 2019
Jed Wallace: classic or inverted?
In Millwall’s 2017-18 Play-Off push, Wallace was a direct right winger who loved to attack the byline.
The following season, Neil Harris handed him a more creative remit, giving the ex-Portsmouth man freedom to cut inside.
Although Wallace has looked ok in certain games, it must be said that Millwall have not created too many chances in open play since his role was altered.
One of the things we could imagine Rowett doing is reverting his role to something more akin to what we saw two seasons ago.
Balance on the left
With two attack-minded right-siders in Romeo and Jed Wallace, Millwall need to make sure they maintain their shape.
In the 2017-18 season, they had a conservative left-back in James Meredith just behind a deep crosser in either Shane Ferguson or Ben Marshall.
Because those players rarely broke too far away from their original positions, the team shape was never disrupted despite Romeo and Wallace’s cavalier mentality on the other side.
Of course, Meredith has left after a poor 2018-19 campaign but Murray Wallace, a centre-back turned left-back, can do a similar job to both him and Jonathan Grounds, with whom Rowett worked at Birmingham.
Jayson Molumby, Ireland Under-21s captain, will do the gritty ball-winning - the Brighton loanee averages 2.3 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Championship – and he can also pick positive, forward passes.
Shaun Williams, his midfield partner, looks to switch play with his sweet left foot, which will be valuable for the Lions against deep-block opponents; a bit like Stephen Gleeson or Robert Tesche for Rowett’s Blues side.
Thompson’s free role
One of the first things Rowett did when he came in at Birmingham was hand Andrew Shinnie, who had been shoehorned out on the left under Lee Clark, a central role.
Shinnie was given not the responsibility of chasing back full-backs, but rather the freedom to pick up pockets of space between the lines, get on the half-turn and play through balls.
Ben Thompson is the ideal candidate for that type of role.
The 23-year-old plays with a lot of heart and spirit but he does not enjoy being tied or perhaps limited to one remit; rather he enjoys playing impulsively, intuitively and doing a bit of everything.
Thompson will put tackles in, drop in at times to offer an option to the midfield, create between the lines and get in the box for a shot; all those qualities made him a huge asset to Portsmouth in the first half of last season.
For any team looking to compete against the odds, it is hugely important to have one player who can produce a bit of magic; Rowett may look to build his team around Thompson.
Finding the right striker
The key to Rowett’s reigns, both at Burton and Birmingham, was having the right centre-forward.
In Stuart Beavon, the Brewers had a natural grafter, somebody happy to hold the ball up and somebody with selfless movement.
Clayton Donaldson could run in behind in the early stages of Rowett’s time with Blues but equally, his frame meant he too, could hold the ball up – he was the complete striker, apart from normally needing three chances to score rather than one.
In fact, neither Beavon nor Donaldson were natural goalscorers, but their work in all other aspects of their game made the team, collectively, tick.
When he was at Stoke, his main striker was Benik Afobe, who scored a respectable six goals in a half-season – the same number of goals Beavon scored throughout Burton’s 2014-15 title win – but Afobe’s work rate and hold-up play was comparatively poor and that hindered the team massively.
The task for Rowett at Millwall, therefore, will be to find a striker who can become the equivalent of Beavon and Donaldson.
Tom Bradshaw has the work rate but not the physique, Matt Smith has the aerial prowess but not the mobility while Jon Dadi Bodvarsson is arguably the closest to Beavon and Donaldson stylistically, but has been perhaps Millwall’s least impressive striker this season.
Rowett’s ability to find the correct solution to this dilemma – whether that lies in the current squad or in the transfer market - may define his Millwall tenure.