We have plenty of the summer transfer window left to go – which means plenty more signings and outgoings no doubt – but we wanted to take an early look at our potential new lineup heading into next season.
With Frankie McAvoy permanently at the helm and with some new faces already secured, we’ve decided to take a look at how we think (as well as how we’d like) the Lilywhites to lineup in that campaign opener.
A new boss means a fresh outlook on the players at our disposal – meaning anyone has a chance to break into the side, which is probably good news for Tom Bayliss who certainly deserves more gametime.
For this lineup, in an area that we feel needs strengthening with a backup or new starter, we’ve mentioned this in brackets. Let us know if you agree with us over on our social media pages (@VitalPNE on Twitter).
Formation – Although under Alex Neil we liked to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, Frankie McAvoy spent the last two games of the season in more of a 3-4-1-2, using more advanced wing-backs over full-backs and two strikers up top. So, in this instance in case he sticks with that formation, we’ve used that one. However, based on the players at our disposal, we should perhaps stick with the 4-2-3-1 and we’ve included a shortened version of our predicted XI with that formation at the bottom of this article.
GK – Declan Rudd (when Daniel Iversen signs, he should step in).
Declan Rudd has had some up and down campaigns at North End but he has more recently proven himself to be a decent shot-stopper, which is why his untimely injury last season that ended his campaign was a real shame. However, every cloud has a silver lining and that came in the form of Leicester City goalkeeper Daniel Iversen. He came in and transformed us as a side and was truly solid and formidable at the back for us, winning us points singlehandedly.
Right now, Iversen remains a Foxes player and is likely to stay with them for at least some of the pre-season. However, reports claim that we have spoken to Leicester about taking him on a short-term deal again and that it is certainly possible and could happen towards the end of the summer transfer window. If that is the case, then he’d fit straight into this team.
RWB – Alan Browne (reinforcements needed)
We most definitely need to sign a right-back this summer.
With Darnell Fisher having left the club, it leaves us extremely short in this area of the field. Joe Rafferty can play there but is still shaky at this level and should not be a first-team regular. It’s meant that midfielder Alan Browne and centre-back Sepp Van Den Berg had to step in at this position during the last campaign.
Although both did a fairly good job there, with Van Den Berg making the role his own towards the end of the year, Browne is much more effective in a position further forward and the Liverpool loanee should also be allowed to play in his more natural position during this second loan spell.
It means we’ll need to sign a new player to play here – so it’s good news that we’re being heavily linked with a move for Matthew Olosunde.
CB – Patrick Bauer
Won’t it be good to see the German lining back up for PNE again?
Another player ruled out for the campaign with a long-term injury, we’ve missed the battling centre-back in the heart of our defence. His first year at the club he was an unstoppable force of nature and although his form had dipped slightly before his injury, his presence at the back was sorely missed when he was out.
In a new look backline, he could thrive again. gone is Ben Davies but he’s replaced by the young and talented Van Den Berg and Liam Lindsay, who has joined us on a permanent deal now.
He certainly deserves a chance when the season commences, with Jordan Storey just missing out.
CB – Sepp Van Den Berg
Sepp Van Den Berg came to us as part of the deal that sent Ben Davies to Anfield and we certainly benefitted more than the Reds did.
Davies failed to play a single minute for his new side after joining (although, who knows why, considering the centre-back is certainly solid and reliable as we’ve all seen) while Van Den Berg became a regular for us.
Although he started off slightly shaky, he adapted quickly and became one of the standout players for North End towards the back end of the campaign. All this in spite of the fact he was actually forced to play out of position, due to our lack of options at right-back.
With some new full-backs hopefully on their way in this summer, it’ll be good to see Van Den Berg line up in this three-man centre-back pairing in 2021/22. He deserves a chance to now prove himself in his more natural position. We know he’s been solid so far, so let’s see how he can do in the centre of defence rather than out wide.
CB – Liam Lindsay
After a decent loan spell with us for the last few months of the 2020/21 season, Lindsay has now agreed permanent terms with the Lilywhites.
He performed admirably at times and he was, statistically, our best centre-back last year in terms of goals scored against us while he was on the pitch. No other centre-back at the club (Ben Davies included) had less goals scored against them when they were on the field. In addition to that, he offers a threat aerially in attack (scoring two goals) and defensively from set-pieces.
LWB – Greg Cunningham
If he can stay fit, then Greg Cunningham should be starting here. Although Andrew Hughes became better as the season dragged on last time out, he played better more centrally rather than out wide, whereas Cunningham came alive.
Although he has struggled with some injury issues, the Irishman certainly has an impact when he plays. Strong in the tackle and a rock at the back, he also offers so much more bombing forward. He has a good pass in him, can cross the ball well and is even capable of a goal himself – just see his strike against Blackburn Rovers.
CM – Ryan Ledson
The new Mr Dependable and our Player of the Year last season is our first name on the team sheet. He’s stepped into the shoes of Ben Pearson in terms of his tough tackling, his ability to track back and defend and, of course, give away a tactical foul here and there whilst picking up a few yellow cards.
However, that isn’t the be all and end all of his game. The midfielder has a superb passing range and is arguably one of our best means of getting the ball forward. At times last season, it seemed like he was the only player on the pitch trying to push us towards the opposition box and was not afraid to try a defence-splitting pass or two, even if they didn’t always come off.
When he was out on the sidelines, it was easy to see our struggles. Our game dropped dramatically and we looked slow and unable to break down the opposition. When Ledson played, we improved massively and the stats back it up. For starters, he had five assists, more than anyone else at the club. Secondly, we averaged 1.47 points per match when he started – that’s the best record of anyone at the club last year who played more than 11 times. Finally, we scored more goals with Ledson on the field with 38 when he was on the field. Only Alan Browne can better that record at the club and he had six more lots of 90 minutes than the former Oxford United man.
Ledson is an asset – and will start for us when he can.
CM – Ben Whiteman
Whiteman signed from Doncaster Rovers back in January having been one of the best midfielders in League One. He didn’t have perhaps the impact he would have wanted from the get go but it’s easy to see why so many rated him in the third tier.
Despite joining in the winter transfer window, he’d won more tackles than any centre-back at the club by the end of the season and liked to get the ball in the box on a regular basis, as shown by his 40 crosses since joining – which is good news, considering we often dilly-dally in getting the ball into decent areas or at least trying to.
He isn’t afraid to get himself forward and have a strike either, as he is often more of an attack-minded central player. It’s good to have that weapon in our arsenal and, with a full pre-season under his belt, we look forward to see more of him in the next campaign.
CAM – Izzy Brown
Attacking midfield is a really loaded area for us as a club currently. Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson, Brad Potts and Josh Harrop can all play there, while Scott Sinclair has also played just behind a main striker at times too. Now, with the addition of Izzy Brown, it’s going to be a really tough choice to make, especially considering in this formation we don’t use conventional wingers.
There’s an argument to be made for any of those players to start games at the beginning of the season and there’s also a case to be had for some of these players playing elsewhere too (Brown for example has played on both wings and as a striker before).
However, with Potts sometimes more of a defensive option and DJ not always on top form (while Harrop was loaned out and Browne is playing RB in this XI) we plumped for the new signing to start and show us what he’s all about.
We won’t go into too much detail on what the player offers and how he has fared previously here – if you want to read our more in-depth player profile on him, simply click here.
Brown though could certainly be exciting to watch and could offer us more creativity in an area where we desperately need it.
ST – Ched Evans (reinforcements needed)
Now to the strikers and let’s start by saying it’s another area that needs to be improved this summer. Evans may have had a lasting impression after signing for us in a shock deal back in January but we still aren’t clinical enough and don’t have too many exciting options up top.
Seani Maguire is no longer the goalscorer he once was, although he should provide a valuable option as a backup. Emil Riis has shown flashes of excellence and there looks to be a goalscorer in him but right now, Evans is the man scoring on a more regular basis. Tom Barkhuizen didn’t have his best campaign last year either and is probably better suited to a winger role, where he can really utilise his pace (especially considering we tend to like more of a target man up front).
Evans then should get the nod. He was more effective than many believed he would be in terms of his hold-up ability and finishing touch and he quickly became a regular feature in the side. If he can continue to produce now he has a longer contract, then he should get the starts for North End.
ST – Scott Sinclair
Our final selection as a second striker is Scott Sinclair.
We’ve said it a few times but the former Celtic man tends to go missing for large parts of a game. Rather than showcase his flair and take the game by the scruff of the neck as regularly as he probably should, he instead tends to have very few touches of the ball and doesn’t get himself into the action frequently enough.
However, what cannot be denied is his finishing ability. The former Man City player was our top scorer with nine goals during the last campaign and scored the Goal of the Season for us to boot. He knows where the back of the net is – so he may work better getting the ball at his feet more regularly in a more advanced position. There arguably isn’t anyone else at North End currently who has that finishing touch and if he gets the ball in the box, you’d probably back him over any other PNE player to score.
That’s why he has to start and that’s why we would push him further upfield rather than putting him out on the wing (although this formation doesn’t allow us to do that anyway!)
4-2-3-1 Predicted XI – Iversen, Van Den Berg, Storey, Lindsay, Cunningham, Ledson, Whiteman, Browne, Sinclair, Brown, Evans.
Agree with our picks? Or have we got it completely wrong? Let us know over on Twitter @VitalPNE