Will striker woes cost Bristol City this season?
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Bristol City are a work in progress under manager Lee Johnson. The Robins have made a steady rise each year, culminating in narrowly missing out on the play-offs last term. Now City is at a point where a top-six finish must be the aim, although a lack of goals could eventually be their downfall.
Any Bristol City fan would happily admit that they've been missing a 20-goal-a-season striker for a while now. Their latest recruit was Benik Afobe - who signed on transfer deadline day from Soke City on a loan deal. The 26-year-old started well, with a return of 3 goals in 5 starts, offering hope that the Ashton Gate outfit had finally found their man.
However, Afobe ruptured his ACL during training, ending his (and Bristol's) season early. Once again, The Robins remain without that much-needed talismanic forward who can fire them to the Premier League...
Next up for Bristol is a home game against Swansea City. Johnson now has a real lack of options up-front to choose from, with Famara Diedhiou and Andreas Weimann being the main contenders. The spotlight will now turn towards The Robins' midfielders, who'll be tasked with contributing effectively and consistently. Kasey Palmer is one who has proven his worth, supplying two assists so far. His excellent and clever link-up play with the aforementioned Wiemann will continue to catch out and hurt opposing defences. However, Bristol will need to find goals from elsewhere if they're to push higher up the table over the course of a long season...
One of Bristol’s main strengths is their ability to change their front three to suit their opponent. Weimann plays mostly as a pressing forward and can adapt to being a makeshift striker either in a pair, or with a supporting attacking midfielder. When the Austrian plays alongside Palmer, they complement each well, pressing in tandem and trying to win possession back as quickly as possible.
Diedhiou offers something different. He's a target man who prefers to lead the line in a 3-4-3 system that has been slightly adapted in order to fully utilise his best assets. However, like Weimann, Diedhiou is versatile and tends to spearhead the attack with the Austrian in a traditional 4-4-2.
Personally I feel the 4-2-3-1 formation would be the way to go as it'd make Bristol far more threatening and dangerous from wide areas, allowing previous starters, Callum O'Dowda and Niclas Eliasson to be more involved. In that system, Palmer could also be utilised as an advanced playmaker and he'd get more support from runners with Weimann acting as an inside forward. This system would get the absolute maximum in an area of the field where they're strong while being less reliant on their strikers.
New signing Sammie Szmodics from Colchester is yet to be given a chance which is surprising. So far, the 23-year-old has been stuck on the bench but in a 46-game season his versatility will certainly come in handy. Then you have youngster Antoine Semenyo who has caught the eye for the U23 side, with Premier League powerhouses like Chelsea and Manchester United apparently keeping a keen eye on him. Due to Afobe's injury, the 19-year-old could get his first-team opportunity.
Bristol can also utilise the free-agent market. Wilfried Bony is currently without a club since leaving Swansea and he'd be an excellent option, while Gary Hooper is another player who could fit the mould. Both would need to prove their fitness regardless of previous experience and it could take them time to adjust and adapt.
Another outlet worth delving into is to look at bringing in someone in on loan when January rolls around. Liverpool's Rhian Brewster would be a top-quality addition if Liverpool were looking to let him leave on a short-term deal, but before then, Bristol have three key matches against potential play-off rivals. Games against Swansea, Preston and Brentford will certainly prove whether The Robins have enough to mount a serious title challenge...