Barnsley 2019-20: Daniel Stendel believes Reds can surprise

SPEAKING to the media shortly after Barnsley returned to pre-season training in late June, the body language of head coach Daniel Stendel was telling.

Ready for challenge: Barnsley's Daniel Stendel.

The unadulterated expression of joy on his face which had bathed Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Stadium amid some delicious post-match scenes on May 4 was somewhat absent

Then, Stendel had been thrown in the air during impromptu scenes of wild celebrations when players, staff and supporters ushered in promotion together.

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At training, the German, looking more than a touch concerned, referenced the need for the club to boost his squad options to enable him to have as much time as possible to assimilate new signings with his playing style and requirements ahead of the start of a Championship season which will test Barnsley’s mentality, physicality, stamina and resources.

New signing: Leeds United's Aapo Halme.

His public call was relatively unprompted and did not owe too much to any particular lines of questioning.

Fast-forward just over a week and Stendel was entitled to feel rather more appeased.

Three central defensive options in Toby Sibbick, Aapo Halme and Bambo Diaby had come into the building, albeit with Ethan Pinnock heading to pastures new after rejecting an offer to become Barnsley’s top earner.

A prized winger as well in the shape of Mallik Wilks, who rebuffed strong interest from the Reds’ Yorkshire rivals Hull City to head to Oakwell and become the club’s ninth new signing of the close season.

The upshot is that Barnsley will head into their opener with Fulham with the lions’ share of their recruitment done – in marked contrast to their last foray at this level in 2017-18.

That pre-season was a time when the frustration of Paul Heckingbottom was self-evident, culminating in some famously spiky comments about the lack of transfer action after a 4-0 friendly thrashing at Rotherham United in late July, 2017.

Players did arrive in August in the shape of Brad Potts, Matty Pearson, Mamadou Thiam, Dimitri Cavare and Harvey Barnes, but it was indicative of a season when the Reds always seemed to be playing ‘catch-up’. A season which ended in relegation.

Thankfully, Barnsley have done the main bulk of their business earlier this time around.

Competing against rivals who are loaded with natural advantages, it pays to make provisions.

Stendel told The Yorkshire Post: “It is a new experience and new league for me and I am concentrating on us having a good squad in the Championship so we can play well and be successful in the division.

“Normally, it is easier to improve players in League One than the Championship. You do not have so much time to improve (in the Championship).

“Jordan Williams, Jacob Brown and also Callum Styles did not play so much last season, but improved in training so much and that serves us very well and the reason why we work well every day and we want to improve players and improve the team.

“But we have not so much time to wait for four months to see if they improve. We work together for the best solution for the club – young players with quality and experience that we need for a successful season.”

With bonds brokered between the club’s new recruits and the existing players during pre-season trips to both France and Germany and Stendel afforded plenty of ‘grass-time’ with his players, Barnsley will head into the season with the positivity, effervescence and energy that you would associate with what is likely to be comfortably the Championship’s youngest squad.

The Reds’ squad togetherness and adherence to Stendel’s ‘gegenpressing’ game-plan was a key feature of their successful promotion campaign, although new leaders must now emerge in the back five following the departures of Adam Davies, Pinnock and Liam Lindsay if the club are to achieve their aims of Championship consolidation.

No Reds supporter can truly predict how things will go in the coming months. A good start would be precious but bumps in the road are likely to occur.

The fervent hope of the Oakwell faithful will be that the Reds’ can utilise their ‘unknown quantity’ status to surprise a few rivals, just as the Championship class of 2016-17 did after promotion in the previous campaign.

On what Barnsley can expect, Stendel added: “I watched some Championship games (last season), but not so much as we were playing at the same time as them.

“I think the speed is higher than in League One and the quality from every player. We need a good team performance.

“I do not think we have the best players in this league. I think we have a lot of good players for League One, but without the experience in the Championship.

“But we have very good players who can improve, but not the best players.

“Without the experience, it is a trickier task to improve from this point. But for us, it is important we improve the player and have a very good team. The main thing to stay in this league is to improve on the pitch and in games.

“We need the same support like last year, which went so well for us and it is so important that we have amazing support, especially for the young players.

“It is very difficult for every team to play against us as we are a unit and not only 11 players on the pitch, but the squad and staff. All supporters understand.”