Dougie Freedman has made it very clear that the 4-2-3-1 is his preferred formation. He does not seem to have the inflexibility that some other managers have displayed, but it is safe to assume that Bolton will start most matches in this formation. That seems unlikely to change given the injury to Mark Davies. However, as Davies has been everpresent for Freedman, his team sheet will need to be adjusted.
For the most part, Mark Davies has been playing the central role in the attacking three of the midfield. It is his preferred position and the one in which he is best. Rather than shifting around several players it is likely one man will come into the starting lineup from the larger squad.
There are two candidates who seem to jump out. The first is Darren Pratley. The attacking central midfield role is his ideal position as well, the one he is most comfortable with and the one best suited to his abilities. Just two seasons ago he played that role for Swansea at this level and scored 15 goals while leading the Welsh club to promotion. Pratley was buried by Owen Coyle, but seems to be back in the reckoning since Freedman arrived. Who knows, a consistent run in the team might see Dazza Prazza return to his top firm of 2010-2011.
The other candidate, less likely in my opinion, is Jacob Butterfield. The youngster just had his loan from Norwich City extended through January, and he is certainly comfortable in the attacking central position. A few drawbacks; First, this is a very short term solution, as we only have the youngster for another three weeks or so, and Norwich don't seem inclined to accept a permanent transfer. Second, his fitness levels do not seem to be very high. This is understandable, as he has just come back from a major injury. It's tough to start a player consistently though if you know he is only good for 45 minutes or so. Third, we need someone in this role who can really support our lone striker, whomever it may be, and Butterfield is probably better-suited for a slightly deeper position.
So those are the two obvious moves. Another (more attacking) option is to use on of the strikers in a more withdrawn role. We have seen a bit of this under Freedman, with David Ngog (or Benik Afobe) playing behind Kevin Davies. Who knows, maybe Marvin Sordell could even come in from the cold to fill this need.
One more way to paper over the cracks left by Mark Davies absence: Move Chris Eagles into the middle. This would leave Martin Petrov and Chung-Yong Lee on the wings. We have seen this used a few times, and Eagles is certainly able to have a strong influence on the game from that part of the field, but it does leave us exposed defensively.
What do you think dear Readers?
For me, once Stuart Holden returns as part of the holding two I will be more enthusiastic about the final option, but at the moment, given our defensive frailties, I think Butterfield is the most likely replacement.