Daniel Stendel’s Barnsley to defy doubters?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 06 August 2019, 08:39

Barnsley have been favourites for relegation all summer, but their opening day 1-0 win over Fulham – favourites for promotion – should lend them a little more respect.

Here’s why we reckon Daniel Stendel’s South Yorkshire side could surprise this season.

Top Gegenpressing

In their promotion season in League One, the Reds were at their best pressing at a high-intensity and attacking quickly in transition.

They have promptly brought those qualities into the Championship, producing an outstanding first half display against Fulham.

Alex Mowatt was a real force in midfield and his tenacity allowed him to frequently steal the ball in the opposing half, with Cauley Woodrow leading the press from the front-two.

On the turnover, the Reds were very flexible.

They could use the two front-men, Woodrow and the creative Mike-Steven Bahre; alternatively, they would use the early switch ball to bring in Luke Thomas or Mallik Wilks, who stretched play with their direct runs on the right and left respectively.

While there is positional discipline out of possession – and their defensive record backs that up – they are also very aggressive on the turnover, because they know they can gain an advantage from their opponents getting caught out.

Because every player knew their responsibilities inside out, the attacks were fabulously co-ordinated, for which Stendel and assistant Dale Tonge should take a lot of credit.

Better contract handling

When Barnsley were last in the Championship, they handled contract situations very poorly.

For that reason, the Tykes lost the likes of Sam Winnall and Conor Hourihane for less than the quality of player arguably merited.

While some fans might have been disappointed to see centre-backs Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock leave the club, therefore, it seems positive that the right value has been found.

Of course, Lindsay and Pinnock were outstanding last season and key parts of a successful defence that kept 22 clean sheets.

However, the club have reportedly received a combined minimum of £5 million for two players who have not yet really delivered above the third-tier – even if Lindsay was ok in the relegation season.

It was far better for the club to let them go now at the right price, rather than keep them and risk an uneasy situation developing.

On Saturday’s evidence, Barnsley have found the perfect replacements in Bambo Diaby, a physically imposing Senegalese centre-back and Mads Andersen, who is already popular with fans – he made a key block against Fulham and has shown appreciation for the club.

Diaby and Anderson have signed for undisclosed fees, but the market valuation of the duo suggest they have signed for less than £1 million combined, so less than a fifth of the combined fees that Lindsay and Pinnock commanded – yet with no apparent drop in quality so far.

Throw in the performance of Sami Radlinger - who replaced Stoke-bound Adam Davies to made an excellent second half stop from Anthony Knockaert - and it’s great defensive debuts all round.

Of course, we have only seen the first game but already, there is evidence that not only have Barnsley replaced their defence well, they also have a recruitment team that we can trust.

Thomas and Wilks add quality

For further evidence of Barnsley’s brilliance in the transfer market, look at the additions of Thomas and Wilks.

Both players have the versatility to play on either flank and at times operate centrally, which perfectly suits the flexibility of Stendel’s 4-2-2-2.

After the duo had excellent seasons on loan in League One with Coventry and Doncaster respectively, it seems surprising that Derby and Leeds were happy to let their talented 20-year-old go.

Barnsley have not just signed these players, who both possess such exciting quality, they have tied them down to four-year contracts.

In a market that has seen Adam Webster cost £22 million, Che Adams and Daniel James command £15 million and Jack Clarke £9 million – all for one good season in the Championship – there is no reason why Thomas or Wilks cannot command a huge fee next summer if they thrive at Oakwell.

That, in turn, could potentially set Barnsley off on a developmental project that would allow them to, rather than be perennial strugglers like they were in their previous Championship stint, begin to stabilize at this level with perhaps an element of comfort.

Stendel can be a key part of that.

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