Sunday, 21 November 2010

Bolton's Face Lift: Under Owen Coyle Bolton have a new, more attractive appearance to go with their good-looking league position

Last week I wrote about the great work that Chris Hughton has done as Newcastle United manager. The Toon have subsequently lost two and drawn one of their last three games, the latest loss being a 5-1 hammering by Bolton yesterday. Nevertheless, these losses should not detract from Newcastle and Hughton's success so far this season. Yesterday they were quite simply outplayed by probably the Premiership's biggest over-achievers.

Bolton are currently fourth in the table. What is heightening their praise is the manner in which they have reached such a position. The type of football that Owen Coyle has got the team playing is a long way removed from the stereotypically unglamorous approach they are often labelled as playing. Like Hughton who he defeated yesterday, Coyle illustrates what can happen when a manager successfully instils a footballing philosophy at a club.

Under Sam Allardyce Bolton epitomised the concept of route one football. They were gritty and aggressive in defence and predictably direct and physical in attack. Now, under Coyle, there has been a dramatic transformation. He has shown a great appreciation of tactics and personnel to know how to best use the squad he has available to make Bolton contenders in pretty much any match they play. The team has a great balance and work-rate that stems from a humble acceptance of their own abilities and a lack of egos.

While they remain extremely hard working without the ball, they have begun to play a far nicer brand of attacking football. They keep the ball on the floor and play short, sharp passes off and around their two front-men. Crucially, Davies and Elmander have both hit form for Bolton this season to add goals to Bolton's industrious and creative team-play. Elmander is now joint top Premiership goalscorer along with Andy Carroll on eight goals, one of which was this beauty against Wolves.

The midfield combination of Holden and Muamba, meanwhile, has been one the most under-rated success stories of the season. Their play may at times appear unremarkable but they have the highest successful tackle count in the league. They are a working example of how the 4-4-2 formation can still be used successfully. They both willingly get back to break down attacks and then link the play with the striker or the wingers, Lee and Petrov, with simple passes, thus allowing the more creative players to use the ball in the final third. They have an understanding as a pairing of who will join the attack and who will hold which has offered Bolton a core around which the team can function.

In defence they have the highly-sort-after Gary Cahill who, along with the giant figure of Zat Knight, has been in domineering form so far this season. Behind them there is the always consisted and seemingly never-ageing Jussi Jääskeläinen.

Bolton are now becoming one of the most talked about clubs in the Premiership. Their rise to prominence has been as surprising as it has been rapid. It is the style of play, however, that remains the biggest talking point. While bigger teams like Manchester City and Liverpool struggle to understand what brand of football they ought to be playing, the likes of Bolton, Newcastle and Blackpool play with unusual confidence and reassured character.

Like Alex McLeish did with Birmingham last season, Coyle has created a footballing philosophy that shows both a great understanding of the players he has at his disposal and the value of building a strategy around doing the simplest things in the game well.

In 2005 Allardyce led Bolton to qualification for the UEFA Cup. Now, although I am aware that I am almost certainly getting too far ahead of myself, Bolton could be on their way to repeating this feat but in very different footballing style. In a Premiership season where the saying 'anyone can beat anyone on the day' seems more true than ever, Bolton have emerged as the real surprise package, both in terms of their results and the attractive manner by which they are achieving them.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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