Barnsley FC: What’s gone wrong and how can they put it right
With an unwelcome air of inevitability at this time of year, there is turbulence again at Oakwell and the current conditions are the sort which you normally associate with a perfect storm.
The prevailing wind is against head coach Markus Schopp. As Napoleon once said, the best generals are dealers in hope or lucky. Schopp is neither at the minute.
His Barnsley side have accrued eight points from 11 league games so far. The total is just two more than Daniel Stendel managed after the same amount of games in 2019-20 before being sacked following a brutal 5-1 defeat at Preston, exactly two years ago today.
The first anniversary of the departure of Gerhard Struber, the man who replaced Stendel, arrives tomorrow.
After 11 games last season, the Reds were already showing serious signs of recovery under Struber’s successor Valerien Ismael.
He provided clarity in terms of his playing style and made it known in no uncertain terms what he expected from his players early in his reign for a young group who needed guidance.
Crucially, some positive early results ensured his squad bought into his methods quickly.
By contrast, Schopp’s side currently have an identity crisis.
Aside from the opening 45 minutes at QPR in August, Barnsley have struggled to look anything like the side who scared most of the Championship witless under Ismael for much of last season. They look a side struggling for a plan who have lost their mojo.
In fairness, a disruptive close season which saw staff and key players on the pitch and voices in the dressing room leave has ensured that the Austrian has enjoyed little luck.
The recent exit of two well-respected members of the backroom staff in head of physiotherapy Craig Sedgwick and first-team goalkeeping coach Kevin Pilkington is also something he could have also done without.
Injuries to two leading lieutenants from last season in Mads Andersen and Carlton Morris and fitness/availability issues with some new signings has hardly helped Schopp’s cause either.
The overall situation would have tested managers who are seasoned in Championship life, let alone one with no experience of it. As if following Ismael was not going to be hard enough.
The visa saga regarding Aaron Leya Iseka and Obbi Oulare was something Schopp could not have foreseen. He was not responsible for their fitness before he arrived either.
While he referenced a need to bring in experience – a common refrain among many of his predecessors in truth – Barnsley largely brought in young, but unproven Championship players such as Claudio Gomes, Remy Vita and Will Hondermarck. Despite some top-flight experience at Burnley, Josh Benson is still only 21.
Undoubtedly, Schopp has been given a bad hand. But what is equally undeniable is that he has played his cards poorly with a number of selections which have had left fans bemused.
The game plan looks puzzled at times and game management has been found wanting and the fact that results and performances have failed to arrive has grown the disconnect between himself and fans and lost him time.
Schopp has spoken regularly about finding solutions in recent weeks. Fans will only ever be interested in answers.
His desire to play a more possession-based game ahead of the start of the season was admirable if brave. Given the transition and upheaval which followed Ismael’s departure to West Brom, it also had the potential to be a fanciful and potentially dangerous idea.
So far, it is as if Barnsley have been playing two different sports from last season to this, let alone the same game of football.
For most of the last campaign, teams hated playing Barnsley. Currently, the reverse applies.
A side who kept going to the end and scored 15 goals in the last 15 minutes of league games last season, including 11 in the final ten, Barnsley are the only side in the EFL, let alone the Championship, to fail to score from the 75th minute onwards this term.
They have not scored in the second half of a game since the opening day. Their total of three home goals so far this season is the second worst in the division.
Perhaps, the first bit of luck for Barnsley this season has arrived in the timing of this latest international break.
After three straight defeats, it comes at a good time for a beleaguered group and staff to collectively lick their wounds, close ranks and hopefully get some players back and come up with a quick-fire, strong response.
Barnsley have been written off many times before and provided a timely response in the nick of time. Think the Hull City home game under Struber for instance and the ‘Great Escape’ wins against Brentford and Nottingham Forest to name but three.
Schopp’s Barnsley now need something like that and fast or it will be all change again this autumn.