Yesterday morning Bolton Wanderers made an official announcement that Jay Spearing was having a medical with the club after the Trotters agreed a fee with Liverpool for the midfielder. Spearing was, of course, Bolton's Player of the Year for the 2012/13 season and a major fan favorite following his performances over the course of the campaign. With Spearing's (likely) signing, one of Bolton's central midfield spots is almost certainly locked up but questions are raised about the rest of the team.
It really is no secret that Bolton Wanderers have a number of central midfielders on their books already. Between Darren Pratley, Medo Kamara, Keith Andrews, Josh Vela, Andre Moritz, Jan Gregus, Mark Davies, and Stu Holden, there are quite a few options on paper. Unfortunately, that's only on paper and just about every selection has its caveats. Mark Davies and Stu Holden are, of course, injured. Jan Gregus is completely unproven. Josh Vela is just starting out. Andre Moritz is not yet fit. Keith Andrews can be ineffective in the park.
At Burnley, we saw Dougie Freedman play a 4-5-1 (or 4-3-3, whatever you prefer) with Keith Andrews, Medo Kamara, and Darren Pratley in the center of the park, flanked by Chris Eagles and Chung-Yong Lee. With Spearing in the team (assuming Freedman is ready to start him right away), it becomes pretty clear that Keith Andrews is the odd man out.
At Turf Moor, Keith Andrews played as a very deep-lying midfielder, ahead of the central defenders but behind or level to Medo Kamara (depending on what was going on in the match). It's not exactly a sexy position and thus not one that gets a lot of praise. That said, Andrews was objectively the worst of the three central midfielders, he attempted the second-most passes of anyone on the team (41 to Medo's 48) but had the second-worst completion percentage with 63% of his passes finding their target. Only Craig Davies had a worse ratio, completing 40% of the five passes he attempted. Medo, who plays in a similar role, constantly gets the plaudits from the supporters, showing that the role isn't an overlooked one.
What does that mean for the starting lineups?
If Darren Pratley continues the form that saw him dominate at Burnley, he has probably locked down a starting spot, as has Medo Kamara. There are a lot of Wanderers vying for those starting spots though. Away from home, it is reasonable for the Bolton side to be a more conservative one, fielding three central midfielders, all of which can move from box-to-box.
Then comes the question of attacking lineups. Wanderers have three attacking midfielders in the ranks in new signing Andre Moritz, striker-turned number 10 David Ngog, and the injured Mark Davies as well as Chris Eagles, who, despite being a winger, can play directly behind the strikers. In lineups looking to score goals one of those players will replace one of the central midfielders. If Spearing and Medo are starters, Darren Pratley may be the odd man out.
As for the youth, it looks like the youngsters will have to take a back seat as well. Josh Vela, who made his debut to great effect last year, had been tipped to make a massive contribution this season. At 19-years-old though, the central midfielder still has lots of time left to make an impression. Jay Spearing isn't exactly old himself, at just 24, and arguably still a few years away from his prime as a footballer. Whether this means a loan for Josh Vela remains to be seen but there is a long season with at least 50 matches in it to go.
What the Jay Spearing signing gives Bolton Wanderers is a whole lot of bite and stability in the center of the park. This is a player who not only knows the team already but has shown that he can perform well in Dougie Freedman's system. On top of that, it is a signing that a vast majority of fans voiced their desire for. On top of that, it adds another level of competition and, hopefully with it, a boost for Bolton.