4 options in midfield to fill the gap left by Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu
After such a wonderful victory over Sheffield United, the team were delighted, however, there was one fly in the ointment, that being Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, a midfielder who has played 360 games across 4 divisions with Luton Town, and stepped up to every new division, will most likely not play again this season. Pelly is the one player in this Luton Town squad who most deserves to play in a playoff campaign with a shot to get into the Premier League. Both his and Luton Town's fortunes are entwined, it's beautiful, poetic and in the modern game, which is being consumed by parasitic owners, countries and incompetent governing bodies, you just need a piece of Pelly Following the game Rob Edwards said in his press conference:
"I'm just a little bit gutted as well because I feel for Pelly.
As I've just to the lads in there, we've got to look after each other. We are a family and he gives everything for this club."
Rob Edwards has acknowledged that the full extent of the injury won't be known until Pelly has a scan. However, with 10 games left of the season (as well as the playoffs), it's very unlikely that we will see Pelly before the season reaches its conclusion. This is a big loss considering he also missed out on the run in for last season after being carried off against Huddersfield in April 2022, then missing the playoff, with most of his off season involving getting back to fitness. Pelly finally made it back into the team this season in September 2022 and after slowly getting minutes under his belt, he had finally got back to the peak of his powers, with his injury coming as a result of being cynically hacked down by Jayden Bogle, during one of his trademark bursting dribbles from midfield.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu has played 340 games across 4 divisions for Luton Town | Photo courtesy of Gareth Owen
This season Pelly has played 23 games, starting 18. He has scored 1 goal, and outside the box effort against Stoke City. Pelly has laid on performances that have been so consistent he was managing to keep Allan Campbell out of the starting lineup, and with the signing of Marvelous Nakamba, his performances went up another level. His passing has been spectacular, with only Luke Freeman enjoying a better pass success, with Pelly keeping things ticking over in midfield with a 76.2% passing accuracy. Therefore who can step into Pelly's shoes and complete that midfield triumvirate which has been so dominant since January? With the final 10 games, it's not just a case of playing the same midfield three each game, as there is always a concern of over exhaustion and players picking up injuries, both in training and matches. Here are 4 options for starting in the midfield 3 alongside Clark and Nakamba, as well as rotation options: Allan Campbell Wee Al is the most likely choice to fill in the starting position in Pelly's absence, considering he made way in the midfield 3 once Nakamba was signed. Allan is a great option to have in the middle of the park with his running, pressing and long range shooting all good attributes that will ensure that Luton don't lose their edge in midfield, which has been a fundamental theme in our solidity and success this season. Currently Allan has played 32 games of our 36 this campaign, starting 29 of them. He has notched 2 goals and 2 assists, creating 15 chances from midfield, with a pass success rate of 71%. He also has a big point to prove considering he's now a full Scottish international, therefore big performances can ensure he forces his way into the squad for upcoming International matches - which at the time of writing have just been announced and he has missed out on the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain. Your loss Jocks!!
I had doubts as to whether Luke still had the legs for playing a full 90, although against Sheffield United he did well with the pace of the game considering he has not played a lot of football this season, as well as his primary usage as an impact substitute. Personally I would continue to use Berry as a bench impact player, with the occasional start, as his effectiveness from the edge of the box and ability to find a yard in a phonebooth gives us a big threat when looking to score.
So far this season Berry Has played a part in 13 matches, only starting 1, accruing 321 minutes in total. However, as mentioned above, his eye for goal has given him a ratio of 107 minutes per goal. 2 of his 3 goals have come from outside the box, and each of his goals have been incredibly vital; ensuring a win against Blackpool, snatching a late draw against Rotherham and most recently a draw against fellow playoff contenders Millwall. Sure Luke lacks the physicality that Allan Campbell brings to the table, but he does bring technique, guile and a willingness to shoot.
The grass man is fit again, however, with Henri filling in for Pelly in the starting lineup, you will lose the ground that gets covered between the boxes. There are no doubts from me regarding Henri's ability with the ball at his feet, or his bloodlust when it comes to diving into a bone crunching tackle. My only concerns are about losing that energy when we press high up the pitch to win final third turnovers, as these have been vital to our success this season. As Henri has gotten older, he has gradually moved further back, in order to dictate play from deep. Potentially he's an option to bring on to sit with Nakamba (or even unleash Nakamba higher up the pitch) to close out games. This season Henri has played in 9 games, starting 6 and scoring 1 absolute peach against Hull City. Even from deep he has managed to create 11 chances this season, and demonstrates a strong pass accuracy of 71%. However, he is likely a bench option over these last 10 games.
Louie Watson/Casey Pettit/Zack Nelson Ok, I know I said 4 options, but playing development players is an option. I'm not expecting them to start games, although Louie Watson did manage to get 4 matches with 2 starts under his belt during Rob Edwards' first games in charge. Watson has since dropped off the radar, since his 45 minutes against Grimsby he hasn't featured in a matchday squad. However, now with midfield reinforcements required, it's a good chance that we see a development player frequently on the bench.
Regarding Pettit and Nelson, they have both featured on the bench numerous times, but are yet to get any first team minutes in the Championship. In my mind Pettit is most likely closer to getting minutes from bench purely because of his age advantage meaning he's physically more developed that Nelson. However, in football if you're good enough, you're old enough. These two certainly wouldn't be expected to be starting games, but they can certainly grab some minutes to give either Jordan Clark, Allan Campbell or Luke Berry a rest in the closing minutes of a game. Regardless of whoever fills that big gap left by Pelly in the middle of the park, I have the utmost faith in Rob Edwards to always make the right decision. COYH.