Best Blog or Account to Follow: Bescot Banter is an all-singing, all-dancing independent site for fans of the West Midlands club. It really is an impressive site that has grown from ‘one man and his blog’ in 2010 to the behemoth it is today.
Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League One - 14th; W 14 / D 16 / L 16 / F 51 / A 58 / Pts 58
The very epitome of a mixed bag. The Saddlers weren’t really able to ever put a run of form together throughout the campaign but did more than enough here and there to never be threatened by the drop zone. Indeed, things were a fair bit brighter than that in March and they were amongst the outside bets for a play-off berth. However, a single win in their final 10 matches put paid to any pretense of battling it out beyond the first weekend in May – goals, which weren’t abundant in the first instance, dried up badly.
Top Goalscorer: Erhun Oztumer (15 goals in 34 starts/2,941 minutes)
Top Creator: Joe Edwards (6 assists in 43 starts/3,755 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Jon Whitney; an unremarkable playing career in the lower league doldrums notwithstanding, he has always maintained an interest in the sports science angle of the game, having previously been a sports therapist and also physio, the latter of which was also at Walsall. Eventually, he found himself promoted up the coaching ranks. Losing out in the play-offs in 2015/2016 when appointed caretaker, a first full season at the helm ended in mid-table mediocrity and with a sizeable chunk calling for his dismissal after things turned sour. A man-manager first and foremost, he’ll be looking to mold the very young squad to his ideas and in that sense, he has an advantage. However, the pressure will be present from the outset from Saddlers supporters to deliver.
Ins: Nicky Devlin (Ayr United), Mark Gillespie (Carlisle United), Jon Guthrie (Crewe Alexandra), Luke Leahy (Falkirk) & James Wilson (Sheffield United on loan).
Outs: Andreas Makris (APOEL Nicosia), Neil Etheridge (Cardiff City), Craig MacGillivray (Shrewsbury Town), Theo Vassell (Gateshead), Franck Moussa (free agent) & Isaiah Osbourne (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: There are two main shapes that Whitney is likely to try out: 4-4-2 with Erhun Oztumer in a withdrawn role behind the main striker and the more enterprising 3-5-2, with a balance between solidity and endeavour. I’ve gone with the latter as the four signings to date suggest attacking wing-backs will be deployed more often than not. James Wilson will provide leadership whilst on loan from Sheffield United and Kory Roberts could feature alongside him after impressive cameos for the Saddlers in 2016/2017. Luke Leahy and Nicky Devlin will provide the width and crosses for Amadou Bakayoko (or Simeon Jackson, should he get the nod).
Adam Chambers’ versatility will see him drift into the channels to shut off any space behind the midfield and wing-backs on the counter. Joe Edwards will mostly do the same but with the added job of supplying the more adventurous Florent Cuvelier. The Belgian’s ability to burst forward and pull centre backs out of position will be key to allowing the diminutive Oztumer to conjure up his significant magic. ‘The Turkish Messi’ possesses sublime skill, passing and shooting range. Staying close to Bakayoko and Cuvelier for knockdowns and unlocking space respectively is what will make this system tick. The Sierra Leonean target man is no slouch himself, with the pace and movement to get between the centre backs if an offside trap is sprung and the movement to be in front of them when anticipating diagonal balls.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain. The frustration in the West Midlands is growing at the lack of transfer activity with regards to anywhere but in goal or defence. Even Oztumer’s outstanding return from mainly being utilised in the shadow striker role cannot prop up the men in red and black this time around with competition much more fierce and unforgiving. Bakayoko should add a decent number but there is little to suggest the overall tally will increase; in truth, the roster looks weaker in every area save the forward line, which is what needs most attention in any case. The budget is tight in order to keep finances healthy but the degree of conservatism might just be too much for anything but a campaign scrapping for every point and goal. The younger players have to show they are ready if more senior recruits aren’t forthcoming.