HENRI LANSBURY: WHAT'S GONE WRONG?
Henri Lansbury finally offered Bristol City a ‘Barry Bannan’ style player that they wanted, but why is it not working out at Ashton Gate?
Bristol City had a quiet January transfer window, with the only incoming being Henri Lansbury from Aston Villa, after the midfielder’s contract was brought to a premature end.
He offered the experience that had been lost after Chris Brunt’s time in BS3 had been curtailed by an injury that had ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
Brunt’s signing wasn’t particularly welcomed by City fans, with l a well-liked academy graduate in Joe Morell being pushed towards Luton Town as his minutes were likely to be limited.
But it was accepted due to the assumption that a player of Brunt’s age and experience would be utilised as a rotation player, with Joe Williams and Liam Walsh preferred by Dean Holden.
This is where Lansbury massively differs from Brunt, at 30 years of age he’ll be wishing to play more minutes as this is by no means “old” in footballing terms.
The decision to leave Villa early would’ve been primarily to play more football, with Lansbury not making a single Premier League appearance this campaign.
This made sense for Bristol City as well, with the aforementioned Walsh and Williams struggling for fitness while Andreas Weimann had been ruled out for the season, hampering Holden and now Nigel Pearson’s options.
But the surprise has been where Lansbury has been deployed, with Bristol City tending to operate with a three-man midfield, with two sitting slightly ahead of a holding midfielder.
The main expectation from fans was that the ex-Villa man would play in one of the two more attacking roles, but so far, he has been instructed to sit deeper in an almost quarterback role.
This is actually a position manager Lee Johnson was always keen to fill at Ashton Gate, often remarking about Sheffield Wednesday captain Barry Bannan and how he’d love that style of player in his midfield.
When he did play, this is where Brunt featured, often with the main intent of conducting play rather than offering any defensive stability typically akin to a holding midfielder.
The primary issue facing Lansbury is who else is playing in this midfield. When he entered the frame against Bournemouth as a substitute in the 50th minute he was alongside Tyreeq Bakinson and Kasey Palmer.
These two are very progressive in their own right, as in this match Palmer completed four dribbles, and the pair of them completed 34 forward passes as well as two key passes.
In complete opposite, Lansbury’s last start at home to Middlesbrough, he completed only 47% of his passes and not a single dribble was successful.
The Robins then end up in a situation where three midfielders are looking for the same “miracle pass” to break through the opposition’s backline and produce a chance.
This is hard enough, but City don’t have a striker that runs the channels and looms on the shoulder of the last defender to run onto the threaded balls.
Famara Diedhiou isn’t quick enough to run in behind and Nahki Wells isn’t typically the sort of player to hang off of the last man, normally dropping deeper to join the build-up play.
A lot of the passes I see Lansbury attempting suit the typical play of Benik Afobe or someone of the same style, who runs into the wide channels of the pitch which is the one type of striker Pearson doesn’t have.
The ex-Forest man has actually committed three times as many fouls (12) as he has completed key passes (4), picking up three yellow cards along the way.
Lansbury’s contract expires in the summer and City have shown their occasional ruthlessness with retaining players, for example, captain Korey Smith was released last season.
For Lansbury to remain at Ashton Gate he is going to need to find that spark that made him so coveted by Aston Villa all those years ago but as it’s still early days it can be turned around.