Key player: Matty Lund
When you look through their team, Matty Lund stands out as one of the few quality players who would be desirable to clubs higher up the league. That in itself doesn’t necessarily mark him out as their key player – I’m sure we can all think of plenty of players highlighted in season previews of past that have failed to live up to the billing. Yet, Lund provides undoubted quality in central midfield that should serve to replace what the club lost in Callum Camps, who left for Fleetwood.
Furthermore, Lund knows the club from the four years he spent with them between 2013 and 2017, recording 32 goals and assists along the way. Though Keith Hill doesn’t remain with the club, he should stand a good chance or reintegrating himself with the surroundings he left in order to pursue Championship football with Burton Albion.
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Manager: Brian Barry-Murphy
Brian Barry-Murphy is one of a string of League One managers early in their careers having recently retired from professional football. Yet, few have been thrown in the deep end like he.
Rochdale had struggled all throughout 2018/19, but the walls appeared to be closing in when their form plummeted after Christmas. One win in eleven saw them drop from lower-mid-table safety to the relegation places and cost Keith Hill his position as manager after six successful years.
Barry-Murphy was put in caretaker charge and presumably tasked with preventing the club from falling further adrift while they found a new permanent manager. The club were five points from safety then, yet less than a month later the sinking ship had begun to be bailed out. Two wins and two draws pulled the club level on points with 20th with a game in hand.
Barry-Murphy was given the job permanently and finished what he had started. Rochdale won four of the last seven matches to end the season 16th, four points clear of relegation, with safety assured before the final week of the season. Quite the turnaround.
He followed that up last season with another relatively comfortable survival effort. A disciple of predecessor Keith Hill, having been the first-team player-coach under him, the question is whether he can turn Rochdale from a struggling club into one that could rise up the table.
Creator: Alex Newby
There were safer players to pick then Alex Newby, such as the dependable Jimmy Ryan or centre-back Eoghan O’Connell. But something about Newby caught my eye. Having picked him up from Chorley, he looks like a very astute signing given their financial limitations. Though Chorley went down, Newby was clearly one of the classiest members of their team: an astute dribbler, playing with his head up and trying to make something happen.
Rochdale have a history of playing attractive football under Hill and some of that returned last season too, but Rochdale now have to adapt to life after Ian Henderson, Callum Camps and others. Putting all their eggs in one basket might be risky, but Newby looks like the sort who could thrive as the focal point in attack for Rochdale, with attacking moves running through him and others playing from the space he has created. They’ve handed him the number 10 shirt, so clearly there’s a level of faith there, but can he repay it?
Last season: 18th in League One
Rochdale were comfortably safe on the points-per-game average once the season had ended, though not so safe that they wouldn’t have been at risk had the season gone on. We’ve seen many dramatic escapes over the years, but for that to happen there has to be a club to suffer, and Rochdale were in a threatening enough position for that to have potentially happened.
Regardless, it didn’t, and given their run-in, and their form throughout the season, they probably would have stayed up anyway. Their form throughout the season was poor, but never once did their noses dip below the water. They always had enough points on the board to avoid the threat of relegation.
Not a great season, but the objective achieved.
Key departure: Ian Henderson
There was only one player that could be mentioned here. Ian Henderson is Rochdale’s record goalscorer, he may be 35, but in seven full seasons at Spotland he has not once failed to reach double figures for goals in the league. That’s quality that Rochdale can’t buy, meaning they definitely can’t afford to lose it either!
Yet, here we are. 343 games and 126 goals later, Henderson’s departure was forced by the financial restrictions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, against the wishes of the player, club and fans.
Will Rochdale replace his goals? Almost certainly not. Will that lack of goals cause their relegation? More than likely. Who will step up as the leader of the team in his wake? Yet to be determined. Henderson’s departure is possibly a bigger blow to Rochdale than any other departure from any other club in England this summer.
Target: Avoid relegation
Rochdale probably look like an easy pick for relegation but their side is stronger than some would give credit for. Unlike other clubs, they have a smartly assembled core – the question is whether they have the goals in them to avoid the drop. Henderson is gone along with Camps, Calvin Andrew and Aaron Wilbraham. The club is desperately short of strikers.
With nobody there to put the ball in the back of the net, they’re surely relegation fodder. If they can somehow piece together the puzzle to solve their goalscoring problem, they should perform a repeat of last season and tread above water throughout the season.
(provided by Rochdale fan Aiden)
Rochdale are probably in for the toughest season so far and I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. Dale have always been a small fish in a big pond and with the financial aspects of Keith Hills tenure coming to an end and the pandemic rolling in, the football club are definitely feeling the squeeze with multiple key players being forced out like Ian Henderson and Callum Camps.
Brian Barry-Murphy has been a breath a fresh air since taking over Dale, completely changing the style of play and dynamics in which we play the game, we might not always get the ideal results but the football is definitely good to watch.
His task won’t be helped this year by being forced to release practically his whole squad and with a reduced budget on top of the reduced budget last year I’ve got a feeling we will be forced to field more youth players than normal this year in an attempt to keep the club rolling.
A tiny squad in comparison to most at this level, much less experience too but a lot of heart and determination instilled by BBM staying up is a massive task but I wouldn’t rule us out just yet.
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