Five more rising English talents

With the likes of young English Premier League stars such as Dele Alli securing much of the recent footballing limelight thanks to his impressive performances for both Spurs and England, we take a look at five more promising talents England has to offer that have perhaps been flying under the radar until this current season.

Reece Burke

Burke

To start off in a somewhat biased manner due to the fact I am a Bantams supporter of 15 plus years, we have 19 year old central defender Reece Burke first up on the list. The 6ft 2in West Ham centre half whom has been on loan at League One side Bradford City for most of the season is enjoying a fantastic loan period with the Bantams as an influential figure in their push for promotion to the Championship next season. Featuring in 30 league games so far this term, scoring twice in the process, Burke is enjoying his time with the West Yorkshire side as he looks to gain valuable playing experience for his future career. With him potentially taking the ‘Player of the season’ award at Valley Parade which has recently commenced it’s not difficult to see why the young defender is being touted as a future England star.

With a similar playing style to that of Everton star John Stones, Reece Burke has fantastic positioning and strength for a young lad and further possesses great footballing prowess for his age. An old head on young shoulders, Burke is comfortable in possession and regularly dribbles the ball calmly out of the back line to alleviate pressure on his team.

Adam Armstrong

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Coventry City v Crewe Alexandra - Ricoh Arena

From defence to attack and next up on the list is 19 year old striker Adam Armstrong. Currently on loan at League One side Coventry City from parent club Newcastle United, Armstrong has enjoyed a successful season with the Sky Blues which has seen him net on 19 occasions since his loan spell began with the Midlands side back in August.

A fast and tricky forward, Adam Armstrong has already represented England at the U16, U17, U18 and U19 levels making a combined total of 39 appearances, netting 23 goals in them. Touted as a ‘natural born goalscorer’ by most of those who have seen him in action, Armstrong’s mixture of pace and agility is enough to cause any defence a problem.

His impressive displays have not gone unnoticed by his parent side Newcastle United who this season have reportedly come close to bringing him back to St James’ Park to help the club in their own battle against Premier League relegation. If the likely scenario is to play out and Newcastle are relegated to the Championship at the end of the season expect to see Adam Armstrong leading the line in a Newcastle shirt next year.

Ben Chilwell

Leicester City v Manchester City - FA Youth Cup Semi Final: Second Leg

Ben Chilwell is another England star in the making. Still only 19 years old, the left-back currently plies his trade with runaway Premier League leaders Leicester City and is a product of the Midlands side academy. Winning Leicester’s Academy Player of the Year award at the end of the 2014–15 season, Chilwell has gone on to make a handful of appearances for the side so far this term in both the League and FA Cup.

It was during his loan spell with Championship side Huddersfield Town however where the youngster shone this term. Making eight appearances in his short spell with the Yorkshire outfit, Chilwell put in some solid displays for the Terriers under manager David Wagner. Wagner was so impressed with the youngster during his stay at the John Smith’s stadium that the German himself put in a good word to fellow coach and former Dortmund friend Jürgen Klopp whom is now proposing a transfer to Liverpool for the young left-back.

Rico Henry

Rico Henry

Already short-listed for the Football League Young Player of the Year, Rico Henry has had a fantastic first full season for League One outfit Walsall. Making 37 appearances in all competitions for the Saddlers so far this season, Henry has been a key member for the Midlands side in their quest for promotion come the end of this term.

Likened to both former England internationals Ashley Cole and Kenny Sansom in regards to his playing style, left-back Rico Henry is small in height standing at 5ft 10in but is both extremely quick and agile. In defence the full back gets stuck in when necessary, is calm in possession of the ball and has the ability to both run and dribble out from the back. Going forward his pace gives him the possibility of taking on players when possible and his two goals from left-back this term for Walsall prove that Henry can finish when in the position to do so.

Already being watched by some of the top English teams including likely Premier League champions Leicester, Arsenal and Tottenham among others, Rico Henry has a very bright future ahead of him.

Kemar Roofe

Oxford United v Swansea City - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round

Even though Kemar Roofe turned 23 back in January, the Oxford striker is still considered a fine young English talent whom has largely been ignored since his early days at West Bromwich Albion. With his Oxford United side vying for promotion from League Two and his recent fantastic performance at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final against Barnsley, Roofe is now being courted by some of the biggest clubs in English football thanks to another impressive season from the forward.

Over the past couple of seasons with Oxford, the young striker has lit up League Two with some stunning strikes and some top drawer performances. This season alone Roofe has managed to bag himself 25 goals in all competitions and is now reportedly firmly on the radar of teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Sunderland to name but a few.

With the ability to play both as an out-and-out striker and as an attacking midfielder, Roofe has made 62 appearances for the U’s over his two spells with the League Two club. In those 63 appearances for Oxford United, the pacey forward has bagged himself 31 goals in all competitions, a fantastic return from Kemar Roofe.

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Can the Bantams really grab second spot?

I can’t really believe how quickly our fortunes have turned around this season. From the absolutely woeful performance and loss against Colchester at Valley Parade back on the first day of March I thought there was no hope and I don’t think anyone was quite expecting us to be within a shout of automatic promotion come the end of the League One season. Sitting just six points behind second placed Burton with five games left to play and fifteen points still up for grabs, the Bantams are gunning for a second placed finish and a return to Championship football next term.

First of all, for those mumbling and pointing out that we’re not even guaranteed a play-off position, I know and I understand your concerns but with only five games remaining, an eight point gap to Barnsley in seventh even though they have a game in hand on us and a similar goal difference to the Tykes, we’re looking highly likely to obtain a top six finish in League One this season. Further if you factor in each clubs remaining fixtures it is very unlikely that Barnsley are able to catch us but then again, anything can happen in football.

It has to be said too that we’re not the only ones breathing down the neck of Burton Albion who are currently sat in second place, Millwall currently sit a point behind us on 69 whilst Gillingham and Walsall are situated on 68 points but both have games in hand, one fixture versus each other this midweek.

First of all lets assess the five teams remaining fixtures:

Burton fixtures: Barnsley (H) Wigan (H) Colchester (A) Gillingham (H) Doncaster (A)

Bradford fixtures: Shrewsbury (A) Coventry (A) Walsall (H) Southend (A) Chesterfield (H)

Gillingham fixtures: Walsall (H) Port Vale (H) Rochdale (A) Shrewsbury (H) Burton (A) Millwall (H)

Walsall fixtures: Gillingham (A) Southend (H) Swindon (H) Bradford (A) Shrewsbury (H) Fleetwood (H) Port Vale (A)

Millwall fixtures: Coventry (A) Fleetwood (H) Bury (A) Oldham (H) Gillingham (A)

If you’re ranking how difficult each teams remaining fixtures are then Burton have to go top. Already somewhat out of form the Brewers start with a visit from in-form Barnsley then face probable champions Wigan the week after at which stage City could have leap frogged them into second place if we defeat lowly Shrewsbury and an out of form Coventry in our two fixtures and turn around the goal difference. Burton also face a tough home match against Gillingham in between two difficult away matches versus Doncaster and Colchester, both of whom are fighting for League One survival.

On the other hand you’d have to say that Millwall probably have the ‘easiest’ run in. The South Londoners should overcome Coventry and Bury with relative ease but they too face difficult home encounters against teams fighting for survival in Oldham and Fleetwood.  The Lions also face Gillingham at the Priestfield on the last day of the season which could potentially be a huge match if both teams are still battling for second spot themselves.

Walsall are somewhat sitting pretty right now with their two games in hand but in football you would always rather have the points on the board as City have and as a result they sit in sixth despite having to play extra matches versus Gillingham and Shrewsbury. Whilst Gillingham too have a mixed bag of fixtures left with big games against Walsall, Burton and Millwall, a difficult trip to in-form Rochdale and two games against Port Vale and Shrewsbury.

If you’re a betting man, you’d probably go with City at this point as the outsiders with the now decent odds of grabbing second position. Over the last eight matches in League One Bradford have taken the most points from what has been available grabbing five wins and suffering just one loss, an unfortunate 1-0 loss to Wigan at the DW Stadium. Since then however the Bantams have won four straight matches in the league all by a 1-0 score line proving that they can grind out wins even when not necessarily playing at their best. The main problem comes in the form of goal difference for Bradford. The Bantams sit on +9, a decent total but nowhere near that of all the other teams involved. As the league currently stands it basically makes the gap to Burton Albion seven points rather than six, a tough ask then if we are to overcome them.

Something that is interesting is the fact that all five teams involved in the push for second place have to face at least one rival during the remainder of the season and some have to face each other on more than one occasion still.

Maybe we have made our move to grab second place a little too late. If the gap sat at three points with five games left  then I’d say we would probably be favourites over Burton Albion due to both teams differing form but a six point gap could be difficult to overcome irregardless of how difficult Burton’s remaining fixtures are compared to ours.

Bradford City have remaining home matches against Walsall and Chesterfield.
Bradford City have remaining home matches against Walsall and Chesterfield.

Current odds for promotion from League One this season:

Wigan – 1/100
Burton – 1/6
Walsall – 13/8
Bradford – 9/4
Millwall – 9/4
Gillingham – 5/2

My predicted League One tables

The two tables below represent what my best case and worst case scenarios for Bradford result in over the coming weeks. For both I’ve entered the results I believe Bradford will get in their remaining fixtures. All other opposition results are based on recent form and are entered by the website itself.

The table above represents our best case scenario in my opinion. It has us taking four wins out of our last five League One matches. This set of results would see us winning our huge match against Walsall at Valley Parade but would see us lose away to Coventry next mid-week. Regarding the Walsall fixture, I believe we can take all three points from that game if we’re still in the same form as now as we usually win the big matches when they occur just like we have in our recent history in both the League Two play-offs and our major domestic cup runs.

League One table (end) 2

This is the worst case scenario in my opinion. With our remaining fixtures, our fantastic form and a return to fitness for key players in the last few weeks, ten points is the minimum we should be aiming for from our last five league matches.

League form over the last ten matches

Form table League One

Over the last ten matches out of the five teams of concern, City have the best league form. With seven wins out of ten, the Bantams have picked up 22 points from a possible 30 and have conceded the fewest goals thanks to their tight defensive line whom have also kept seven clean sheets in the process. Milwall too have done well during their last ten matches as the Lions have only lost on one occasion but Gillingham, Burton and Walsall have seen a drop in form at the crucial time.

It’s perhaps surprising that out of the five teams Bradford are not the lowest scorers over their last ten matches. With 47 goals this season the Bantams are the lowest scorers overall but over their last ten they have managed 10 goals and to outscore or equal all Burton, Gillingham and Walsall respectively.

What we have to do for the final five matches?

The players need to just maintain the pressure on Burton. Despite struggling in some of our last four matches, especially against Swindon in the second half, we’ve managed to grind out four 1-0 wins in a row. The backline is extremely solid for this level, Burke and Clarke have been fantastic in recent weeks especially Nathan Clarke whom has stood in admirably in the absence of injured Rory McArdle. In the midfield Evans and Cullen have both excelled during their loan periods at Valley Parade and have the serious ability to change a game at the drop of a hat. On the wings we have a lot of depth, McMahon has shone this year and has back up in the form of Reid, Morris, Morais, Marshall and Anderson whilst up front we also have various options in Clarke, Proctor, Hanson, Davies and Thomas.

Burke

Rory McArdle this week has said that “if anyone at the top starts slipping up a little bit, without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we want to be in a position to take advantage.” He has also further hinted at the fact that he himself will stay away from obsessing over other results in the league for the remainder of the season. When asked about if he would be keeping up with other results the defender answered; “I’ll probably leave it be. I might have a little glance (at the scores) every now and again but it’s nothing we can control. We’ve got ourselves in a position now where it is in our hands. We’ve not really had that all season.”

As for the fans, well we have to stay calm and behind our team until the last kick of the season. We need to make Valley Parade a horrible, intimidating ground to visit for Walsall and Chesterfield especially Walsall in that huge game in two Saturdays time. Just remember that a few months ago we weren’t even expecting a play-off finish so the position we are in now is almost a sort of bonus that surely no one can complain about.

In my opinion this team can grab second spot from under the nose of Burton Albion. We have the form, we have the manager and we have the players and squad depth to make it happen. We need to take each came as it comes but with a lot of hard work over the last five games and a bit of luck, anything is still possible.

Support the team and we can achieve promotion together!

An attacking central midfielder should be top of the transfer target list for Bradford City this January

Recently I wrote an article for ‘Width Of A Post’ referring to my opinions and thoughts on what areas of the team Phil Parkinson and the board should look at improving during the January transfer window and one of the positions I outlined was the central midfield. During that article I voiced my concerns on a lack of creativity through the central midfield as one of the direct reasons as to why the team has struggled to score many goals so far this term, especially when playing at Valley Parade. For some reason Bradford City sides have always somewhat struggled in the league at Valley Parade but I think with an exciting, consistent play-maker who gets the 18,000 home fans on their feet, we can turn it into a fortress for the rest of the season. In my opinion Billy Knott can be that player on occasions as he’s one of the most technically gifted and passionate players we currently have however he lacks the consistence that a play-off fighting team needs in the centre of the park.

First of all it has to be said that the expansion of Lee Evans’ loan until the end of the season courtesy of Wolverhampton Wanderers came as a fantastic piece of news due to the importance he has for our club in that commanding central position. Many would agree that so far this season it is clear to see and state that Evans has been one of our best and most consistent performers when called upon and his ability to play a pass is second to none in this league once he gets going.

The acquisition of Lee Evans on loan from Wolves has been vital for Bradford City so far this season
The acquisition of Lee Evans on loan from Wolves has been vital for Bradford City so far this season

Other midfielders in the squad have largely struggled for form this season in general however. We currently have four recognised central midfielders in our squad in the shape of Christopher Routis, Billy Knott, Gary Liddle and Lee Evans. As mentioned before Lee Evans has been influential for the team this season as he’s always looking to bring the ball down and play it around. Despite only scoring twice and assisting once this term so far, he has been a fantastic addition to the squad and the extension of his loan until the end of the season is a massive boost in terms of our play-off ambition. In my opinion in both home and away matches Lee Evans should be starting as many games as possible because he has that eye for a key pass and certainly has the ability to make it.

Christopher Routis has only made ten appearances this season for the Bantams, six in the league and four in the cup competitions but has looked solid in my opinion when called upon. Whether playing centre back or in a defensive midfield position, Routis has come into the squad when needed this year and played well however the dilemma lays here as to whether you play him or Gary Liddle because there’s not enough room in the team for both. In my mind with a lack of creativity in the central midfield department maybe Parkinson should be looking to let one of these players go. Speculation has Liddle moving away from Valley Parade this summer and after the Oldham match on Saturday the boss stated that interest had been registered from at least one team, since revealed to be League Two side Carlisle. In my opinion letting go of Liddle would be a poor decision. For me Liddle represents the better option in the centre of the park out of himself and Routis, he has strength, the passing ability, fantastic tackling and also chips in with goals every now and again, scoring three times this season so far.

Gary Liddle still has an important role to play at Valley Parade.
Gary Liddle still has an important role to play at Valley Parade.

When you look at our central midfielders we only have one real attacking option, Billy Knott. Making 22 appearances so far, Knott has managed a single goal in the cup and only three assists all term. To compare that to similar players that our ‘rivals’ have, those teams also vying for a play-off place, we don’t have a central midfielder capable of dictating the game and contributing both with goals and assists. Bradley Dack of Gillingham has 13 goals and nine assists so far this term whilst Michael Jacobs of Wigan has 8 goals and four assists, we massively lack a player of that ability in the centre of the park. These two examples are just two out of many in League One this year that are out playing our whole central midfield selection and that’s worrying. It can easily be argued that one of the main reasons for the lack of goals this season is the fact that the central midfielders have offered very little going forward this season and as a result of that we have created few clear cut chances during matches so far this campaign.

In my opinion, there’s a hole in our team this season that needs addressing this January if we’re going to push on towards the end of the season and take a play-off place come May. I seriously believe that the four main strikers we have in Hanson, Clarke, Cole and Davies when he returns from injury are good enough to propel us into that play-off equation if we bring in a creative midfielder. In my mind generate money through letting either Routis or Liddle go, even though I am a fan of both it’s just the case of the situation where we don’t really need both players and send Luke James back to Posh because it’s not working out. On the back of that then spend that money going big in this department because I really think that we need to shake it up in the midfield going into the second half of the season. We don’t have enough attacking inspiration in central midfield and in the long run, this really could be our short fall.

Results are results but fans want to be entertained at the same time which has lacked this season for the Bantams. As a result no Bradford fan can whole heartedly say that we’ve played exciting football this season especially at Valley Parade and I genuinely believe that if Parkinson brings in an attacking central midfielder our play style will start to evolve. If we sign a player that is capable of running at defences along with our attackers and wingers we will see that the ‘long ball’ style which has been overly used so far will eventually regress to a lower level of use as we will have that central midfielder that we’re lacking, a player that links our attack and defence together cohesively. I’m not having a go at how we play on the whole but to have the ability in the team to mix it up and to keep the opposition guessing would be very helpful because on occasions this season we’ve been too predictable and we’ve been found out over it.

If we can’t obtain a new attacking central midfielder in the January transfer window I would start to partner Gary Liddle with Lee Evans. This partnership would work well in my opinion if Parkinson plays Evans as a free roaming playmaker as with Liddle covering it means Evans can get forward more often and with his fantastic passing ability he is more than capable of setting up key scoring chances, the type of chances that have been few and far between this season.

On the whole this season we’ve proved we are one of the better teams in the league and are more than capable of obtaining a play-off place come May. Our defence is solid, the third best in League One, and with a few tweaks we can become a real force in the second half of the season if we start creating and finishing more chances.