Alex McLeish and Birmingham: Success Not An Accident
Alex McLeish has built the right type of squad to maintain Premier League status. After several consecutive “yoyo” seasons, the Blues appear poised to survive easily this season.
McLeish’s strategy: combine veteran British footballers with one very special bargain buy from CONCACAF. Stephen Carr, who won the 1999 League Cup with Spurs, Kevin Phillips, the one time leading Premier League scorer, former Scotland captain Barry Ferguson, and Lee Carsley give the Blues a veteran leadership few other mid table Premiership sides can match.
The signing of Christian Benitez over the summer from Santos Laguna in the Mexican League gave McLeish the sort of useful striker that sides that fight relegation need. I watched Benitez countless time in the Mexican League and continental competitions, and I am not surprised he has fit in perfectly in the Premier League. He’s not an out and out goal scorer but does the type of work off the ball that makes everyone else’s job easier.
The signs of a solid campaign were present earlier this season. Birmingham was unlucky to lose a late draw at White Hart Lane, missed a penalty to beat Manchester City and was cheated out of a victory at Anfield by David N’Gog’s criminal dive.
Since that Liverpool disappointment, where a three point away victory was stolen from the Blues, the side has been impressive. As of this writing, the relegation favorites have stabilized into a mid table club. In fact, McLeish’s side is substantially closer to a Champions League spot than to the relegation zone.
For the way the side has been constructed and its recent play, McLeish deserves strong consideration as one of the top managers this season in the Premier League. Birmingham has not just gotten results, but plays some of the best tactical and counter attacking football in the division.
I’m a firm believer that possession statistics are useless in football. This season’s Birmingham City club proves just that. Often times, the Blues concede the midfield to the opposition, but keep a good shape at the back with proper spacing. This comes not only from having an outstanding tactical manager in McLeish, but veteran players who understand their roles and how to stall matches in order to achieve results.
Birmingham is a team to keep an eye on during the remainder of the Premier League season.