Can Gerhard Struber taxi Barnsley away from relegation?
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Uber is pretty useful these days. Pinpoint your location then your destination. Wait a minute and a friendly chap in a clean, comfortable car will turn up to take you where you want to go. If you have an exciting adventure along the way, all the better. Barnsley hope their newly installed Struber app provides the same service and their freshly appointed Austrian manager at least parks them safely mid-table at season's end. It's not a short ride, however. The Tykes find themselves bottom of the table, five points from safety.
Barnsley fans knew nothing like the 2015/16 season where two successes at Wembley saw the Tykes lift a trophy then win promotion to the Championship. With the four-year pendulum swinging unfavourably, the South Yorkshire outfit is in dire straits. After 10 games, former boss Daniel Stendel produced one win, that coming on opening day The board took no appreciation from the German's 91-point, automatic promotion-winning season only a few months prior and kicked him to the curb. Football remains very much a 'what have you done for me lately?' business. Ask Mauricio Pochettino.
A further five league games under caretaker manager Adam Murray failed to produce a second win. Despite trying everything but asking his mother for advice, the team continued to decline, dropping from 22nd to 24th during his interim regime. To add insult to injury, Stoke doubled up Barnsley 4-2 in a bottom of the table clash that signalled the end of Murray's custodial reign.
As you might guess from the Potters result, Barnsley seldom defend. They've conceded 33 in their 16 Championship games, rendering the one goal per 90 they do average not good by half. The £64 question is, with nothing compelling about the squad’s fortunes, who would want the job?
Gerhard Struber previously dedicated his career to Austrian football. He played for and/or managed a few O-Bundesliga sides and in the international setup over the past quarter-century. Most recently, he held sway at Wolfsberger AC whom he left a respectable third in their division. Struber had seen Austrian football from every angle and sometimes you just want to go out into the world. Not that South Yorkshire or the Championship's dungeon are necessarily the most romantic destinations.
Struber invariably plays a balanced 4-3-1-2 formation. He used it to beat old friend Marco Rose and German Bundesliga contenders Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 in the Europa League. That result may have put him on Barnsley's radar. The Tykes need to sort their rearguard if they are to remain in the Championship. Struber will work tirelessly to plug the gaps. Conceding two goals per game is an open invitation to relegation.
The Austrian favours tall, strong, powerful defenders who can muscle out any threat. Nemanja Rnic and Michael Sollbauer fit the description and did Struber's dirty work at Wolfsberger. The new gaffer will look for similar production from Bambo Diaby, Mads Juel Andersen and Aapo Halmo. The three 21-year-olds comprised Stendel's centre-half corps and stand 6'2, 6'4 and 6'5 respectively. Despite their height difference, Diaby matches Andersen at 179 lbs. More slender, Halme weighs in at 172. All things being equal, expect Struber to start the burly Diaby in the early doors. Halme's two goals might see the Finn partnered with the Spaniard while the Dane waits his turn. Spanish left-back Daniel Pinillos could move inside too. Also a tall lad, he brings greater experience at 27.
Barnsley aren't exactly prolific in the final third either. A goal a game doesn't usually take you far. Cauley Woodrow has six of the Colliers 16 goals. Combine that with Andersen's pair from the back and the rest of the attack isn't pulling their weight.
Struber did work closely to bring in Shon Weissman while at Wolfsberger. Not the most prolific scorer in his native Israel, Struber's eye caught something that led to 12 strikes in 13 matches in Austria. Can the manager find a similar diamond in the rough at Oakwell or will he look to recruit Weismann or someone else in the January window?
The problem is Struber is untested outside Austria. Even there, his experience as the head man is limited to three dozen matches. Thirty remain in Barnsley’s season. The Tykes gambled their Championship status on a disturbingly small data set.
Struber’s first test is an away day at Ewood Park. Blackburn Rovers arent' tearing up the second tier themselves, with one win from their last five. It's the perfect chance for the new man to make a positive start.