When Bolton Wanderers first named Dougie Freedman manager, he was taking over a team in disarray. An expensive collection of talent expected to fight for promotion was languishing in the bottom half of the league. The players were unfit and unmotivated. Dougie did what he could. He chopped and changed. He experimented. He cajoled and comforted. Finally, in the dying months of the season, Bolton looked likely to sneak into the playoffs. But alas, on the final day, the man made two critical errors, one in tactics, one in personnel. Bolton were quickly down 2-0, and would not live to fight another battle.
Freedman admitted at this week's fan forum that he made the incorrect choice, and in doing so seemed to imply that the Trotters would be playing an awful lot of two striker formations this season. He also praised Rafa Benitez's squad rotation, and stated that he has a big squad and plans to use it.
Our own Liam O'Meara had this to say about Dougie Freedman's tactics when it comes to team selection:
The starting XI is clearly going to be rotated, Freedman's comments at the forum indicate that he will be making changes consistently. With this in mind, Rob Hall, Josh Vela, Marvin Sordell & Matt Mills will all have key parts to play.
Liam's comments also reveal something about who he thinks will play from the start, but we will get to that in a moment. First, I want to close the book on Freedman's ill-fated "Rob Hall Decision" last May. Dougie took a risk. A huge risk. And he did so in the biggest match of his managerial career. I like that. If you are going to go down, go down swinging.
This summer, Freedman doubled down on that decision, signing Hall to a permanent deal. Freedman is not afraid to do what he believes in, conventional wisdom be damned. In the first half against Blackpool, Freedman saw what wasn't working, admitted he made a mistake, and took Hall off. Admitting one has made a mistake is no small feat, especially for a British football manager. It was on that day, when Hall played from the start, then got subbed in the first half, that I became convinced Bolton had chosen the right man for the job.
That said, let the second guessing begin. Before Dougie has even named his first starting XI of the season, we here at Lion of Vienna Suite are going to point him in the right direction. The truth is, there was not a lot of disagreement amongst our writers, at least on the defensive side of the pitch, and I expect the manager will be of a similar mind.
One thing we can get out of the way; All of us expect Adam Bogdan to be in the net for the foreseeable future. He has come in for a fair amount of criticism this summer, but I don't think he has any real competition for the shirt. Andy Lonergan played reasonably well in a handful of appearances, but we have several years of evidence that he is little more than a mediocre goalkeeper.
To be fair, anyone would have looked mediocre (or worse) behind Wanderers' back four last season. Unsurprisingly, changes have been made. Consensus among our staff is that Zat Knight will be the only returnee to start in the back line. We all believe he will be partnered by David Wheater, who is technically a returnee, I suppose, but realistically he missed the whole season. Marc Tierney is the only recognized left back on the books at the Reebok, so that is an easy choice.
The only dissenting vote came at right back. And it came from me. I chose Tyrone Mears, who had a good season until he got injured and appears to have regained fitness. Everyone else chose Alex Baptiste, who is a new signing and has spent most of his career as a central defender. Seriously though, Baptiste has looked solid in preseason, and it is a coin flip who Dougie will start with at Burnley.
But that back four is not enough. In order for Wanderers to stop leaking goals, the midfield will need to fulfill a great deal of defensive responsibilities. Leading the way will be Medo Kamara. Anna Nuzzolese, Liam O'Meara, Elliot Turnbull, Chris Manning, Mark Yesilevskiy, and myself all expect him to be our principal holding midfielder this season, shielding our suspect back line from danger as much as possible.
Given the season that Bolton ended just a few short months ago, you would have expected five devoted supporters to have a real differing of opinion on the defensive alignment. As you just read, that is not the case. We all have a fair amount of logic in our thinking. If you are not a fan of logic, come back tomorrow and read part 2, where we look at our picks for attack. I assure you, all civility will be abandoned as soon as the name Marvin Sordell is uttered.