In the opening article of our 2019 Season Preview, we compared this season’s Plymouth Argyle squad with that of 2018/19 to determine which is better.
It’s all change between the sticks at Argyle this season. Matt Macey and Kyle Letheren have left Home Park, with the former returning to Arsenal following his loan spell, and the latter signing for Salford after seemingly being dismissed by Ryan Lowe. The only constant between the two seasons is youngster Michael Cooper, but to use that as a direct comparison would be unfair.
Cooper barely played last season, and his talents were not given a fair assessment by Derek Adams. This season, however, he will compete for a spot in the first-team, and could yet prove he is better than both Macey and Letheren. The key to deciding whether Argyle’s goalkeeping options are healthier than they were last year, meanwhile, may well be down to Alex Palmer.
The young goalkeeper joined Argyle this summer on loan from West Bromwich Albion, and looks set to start the season after solid outings during the friendly matches. Whilst he has impressed so far, however, it’s important to note that Macey did the same at the start of last season, before tailing off as the campaign drew on.
In truth, it’s hard to decide right now whether either goalkeeper will act as an improvement on last season’s options. Combined, Palmer and Cooper have just two EFL league starts and two substitute appearances between them – how can we judge them? We’ll say things are about the same for now but, with Argyle’s two goalkeepers possessing a great deal of potential, that verdict could swiftly change in the coming weeks and months.
Verdict: Probably better? Who knows…
It’s hard to make an argument that this season’s defence is stronger than last. Whilst the defence of 2018/19 faced plenty of ridicule – and it must be said they didn’t cover themselves in glory – some of the criticism aimed at them was unfair. Argyle’s midfield deserved more of the blame for leaving the defence exposed. Indeed, when a defence is busier, it is more likely to make mistakes and concede goals.
Whilst we can cut last season’s defence some slack, this season’s is likely to be just as busy. Perhaps even more so, considering the sheer amount of attacking players Argyle will have on the field. And it must be said, the defence don’t appear to be particularly well equipped to deal with that. Ryan Edwards and Yann Songo’o have left, and the only replacement at centre back so far has been Will Aimson, yet to play a minute so far during pre-season thanks to injury.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Argyle now play with three centre backs rather than two. This means that Argyle are likely to start the season with a back three consisting of Niall Canavan, an out of position Gary Sawyer and, shudderingly, Scott Wootton. If any of those three are injured at Crewe, first-year professional Mike Peck may have to come off the bench! Amazingly, Argyle have regressed from having the third worst defence in League One last season to probably an even worse one this time around…
Hopefully, Aimson will be fit to start very shortly, and one would also like to hope that another new defender will be through the door in the coming weeks. Otherwise, Argyle will be far weaker in the defensive area this coming season.
Verdict: Definitely weaker.
The midfield is perhaps the most difficult position to compare between last season and this. This is because its role is so different now compared to last season. Whilst previously Argyle have relied on the talents of inside forwards Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras to create chances, this time this role will be delegated to the attacking midfielders and wing-backs.
Perhaps the best way to compare the two midfields is to look at them in their component parts: the deeper lying players, the creative players, and the wide players.
Argyle are definitely stronger In the deeper lying position. Joe Edwards appears to have very quickly understood what he is required to do in the role of the “1” in Lowe’s 3-1-4-2. He already appears a much better fit than Songo’o or David Fox could ever have been. That being said, the strength in depth isn’t quite there. With the departures of Songo’o, Fox and Jamie Ness, Argyle will be required to call upon youngster Adam Randell if Edwards is unavailable. He may shine, but let’s be cautions not to overstate our expectations.
The creative players, meanwhile, are fascinating to compare. Of course, Carey and Lameiras were key players during their time at Argyle, or at least they ought to have been last season – they were ultimately hindered by Derek Adams’ 4-2-3-1. The thought of Carey and Lameiras playing in Lowe’s system is a salivating one, but alas it wasn’t to be. One thing we can at least say here, however, is that Argyle have at the very least looked to bring in replacements.
Danny Mayor is a major signing, and can be expected to be a focal point of many Argyle attacks this season. The other creative player looks set to be Conor Grant. Whilst he was at Argyle last season, he wasn’t really given a chance in this position, so his chance to make a mark on the side is now. It would be foolish to say at this time that Mayor and Grant can perform better than Carey and Lameiras, but at least the hole has been filled to some extent.
Jose Baxter has been brought in too and, provided Ryan Lowe doesn’t use Antoni Sarcevic or Joel Grant here regularly in these positions, the Greens could be set up well.
Finally, the wide men have changed significantly over the summer. Argyle rarely used conventional wingers last season, with Carey and Lameiras playing much more like inside forwards. There’s an argument that Argyle won’t be using conventional wingers this time around either, with traditional full backs Ashley Smith-Brown, Tafari Moore and Joe Riley all playing in the wide roles across pre-season.
However, it must be said that Argyle have looked better when conventional wingers have occupied these positions, most notably on the left where Callum McFadzean offers something new to Argyle this season. On the right, Riley appears to be in pole position to start, but the creative demands of the position appear to better suit Joel Grant or Sarcevic, neither of which have been tested there yet.
Overall, a direct comparison is very difficult in this key area of the field. Due to Carey and Lameiras’ influence, one could perhaps conclude that last season’s midfield was stronger. But the midfield is set up very differently this season, so only time will tell on that claim.
Perhaps the main conclusion to be made here is that Argyle’s attack appears to be stronger this season, at least in terms of squad depth, but one key departure has severely limited the extent to which the Greens have improved. Argyle’s forward options last season were Freddie Ladapo, Ryan Taylor and Alex Fletcher.
Taylor and Fletcher have remained at the club, but Ladapo has departed for Rotherham for a club-record fee for the Millers. This poses a problem for Argyle.
Whilst under Adams, Argyle would have benefitted more from Taylor playing the striker role, that is not the case under Lowe. In fact, Ladapo would have been the ideal striker to have in his 3-1-4-2. Whilst he does appear to be a big miss, Argyle have at least added some firepower.
Whilst the rumoured chase for Nicky Maynard did not come off, Dominic Telford and Byron Moore have come in from Bury. Furthermore, Joel Grant can do a job up front, and Klaidi Lolos has impressed playing there during pre-season. Add in Fletcher and Taylor, and Argyle have a few talented options for the forward positions this year.
However, those players will have to find the back of the net regularly to make up for Ladapo’s hypothetical goals tally. Whether they can do so will probably be the decisive factor in whether or not this season’s attack can be considered the better of the two.
Verdict: Maybe, but not much.