Why Charlton Must Build Their Team Around Aston Villa Target Dale Stephens
“Dale Stephens? Never heard of him! What’s Lambert playing at!” – This was a typical tweet from an Aston Villa fan when their club was chasing Charlton’s unheralded no.8 at the end of the last transfer window. Many Charlton fans were just as bemused when the club stubbornly refused to let Stephens leave, with some reports suggesting that even a bid as high as £2.5m (I know, I know – but for a club just out of three seasons in League 1 that’s a lot of cash!) was turned down.
Yet where some Charlton fans were bemused, they should have been relieved. For years the club has given in far too easily to the demands of bigger clubs for their best assets. Lee Bowyer, Scott Parker, Jonjo Shelvey and Carl Jenkinson were all sold far below their value. As Villa knocked on the door I hope that for once we would show some ambition and hold onto our best assets. For once we did.
Am I placing Stephens in the same bracket as the players mentioned above? Not quite – but he’s not far off. I have no doubts that Stephens is a Premier League level midfielder. Stephens is the best passer of the ball that the Addicks’ midfield has seen since the days of Danny Murphy. His assist for Ricardo Fuller against Watford on Tuesday night was a thing of beauty, slicing through three players into the path of Fuller. Even Pirlo would have been proud.
If Stephens’ workload can be slightly reduced, then Charlton will boast one of the Championship’s best, if not the best, deep-lying playmaker in their side
Stephens almost never fails to find his man with a pass, he is the key to Charlton’s ticking over of possession. He picks it up from defence and moves it on. If Stephens is on form then Charlton will enjoy their fair share of opposition, no matter the opposition. Stephens, who is best operating from deep in the quarter-back role, is the first instigator of nearly all of Charlton’s meaningful attacks.
It is for this reason that Chris Powell should be building his team around Stephens. Powell and his backroom should be tucked away in some dark corner of the Valley devising a plan that brings the best out of Dale. On Saturday we play Blackpool, one of the best sides in the Championship at keeping the ball. If we are to match them at all we need to get Dale on form. For this to happen a switch to 4-5-1, or even 4-3-3 is essential.
The 4-4-2 most commonly employed by Chris Powell this season does not do enough to maximize Stephens’ ability. In a midfield two alongside Danny Hollands Stephens’ range of passing and vision is put on the backburner as he must cover the whole pitch, close down and break up play. He is not helped by the fact that too often Hollands has failed to live up to his imperious League One performances since making the step up to the Championship.
If Powell can bring in Razak and, in this writer’s opinion, Pritchard alongside Stephens in a midfield three, Charlton can truly begin to assert themselves on Championship midfields
If Stephens’ workload can be slightly reduced, then Charlton will boast one of the Championship’s best, if not the best, deep-lying playmaker in their side. (Brighton’s Liam Bridcutt being the other outstanding candidate.) Luckily for Powell, Charlton have a host of midfielders ready to slot in to a central midfield three. There is the aforementioned Hollands, a player who looked far more at home in a five-man midfield against Blackburn, Bradley Pritchard whose energy and hustling could reduce Stephen’s defensive responsibilities and Johnnie Jackson, the versatile club captain who can do a job almost anywhere on the field.
Perhaps most importantly, however, there is Abdul Razak. The 18 year-old signed from Manchester City this week. Razak has already made first team appearances for City and judging by the high regard he is held in by the Premier League Champions, his signature could be a real coup for Charlton. Razak earnt rave reviews from his spell at Brighton last season, and as the below video demonstrates, he looks to have all the attributes to be a world-class box-to-box midfielder. No wonder they are calling him the next Yaya Toure.
If Powell can bring in Razak and, in this writer’s opinion, Pritchard alongside Stephens in a midfield three, Charlton can truly begin to assert themselves on Championship midfields. It will allow Powell’s men a firmer grip on possession and more importantly, will give Stephens more time to flex his creative muscles. We can then look forward to more of this:
Follow Joe on twitter @joehallwords
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