A look at why the talented Michael Jacob’s first team opportunities have been limited, and how he might best fit in to the Wolves side. By Daniel Hall.
Small, quick, two footed, with incredible close control and balance. Not the typical attributes associated with a League One midfielder, but the technically proficient Michael Jacobs seemed a steal when Kenny Jacket brought him in for a modest fee of around £250,000 from Derby County following a successful loan period.
Jacobs established himself as a key part of the team that would win the division’s title, playing in 30 games and scoring 8 times. In these games he demonstrated proficient dribbling skills and a desire to drive at defences.
It came as some surprise to many to be well into the first third of the season without seeing too much of the former Northampton and Derby midfielder. With Rajiv Van la Parra joining the club in the summer, and Bakary Sako and James Henry cementing their places as the preferred wingers in recent games, Jacobs has found his Championship chances hard to come by, and has even been left out of the match-day squad all together on some occasions. Some fans might see this as harsh considering how important Wolves’ number 27 was last season, but the manager’s decision to leave him as a bit-part player might take into consideration important tactical factors that could be exploited by higher-quality opposition in a tougher league.
Whether he was played wide right, left or centrally behind the striker last season, Jacobs showed a preference to cut inside rather than get to the by-line and deliver a cross into the box. This tendency to leave the touchline and drift into midfield can leave an attacking full-back making an overlapping run in ample space to deliver a good ball in; conversely, it can cause problems if possession is lost due to the full-back being left two-on-one with the opposition full-back and wide man. Also, a wide player who cuts inside onto his stronger foot tends to cross it less than a traditional winger, which can starve the striker of service when things get tight in the box. These tactical risks could have contributed to Kenny Jackett’s preference for Sako and Henry on their ‘correct’ wings, especially with the added threat level that a higher division brings, although the front men have been given some license to rotate.
So where does Michael Jacobs fit in during this season back in the Championship?
Due to Sako’s injury, Jacobs got his chance to start a league match for just the second time against Leeds last weekend, on the left of midfield. Somewhat underused, he showed a willingness to carry the ball with his silky touches and drive directly at the defence but was slightly lacking with his end product. In this match, with Wolves 1-0 down at half time, the ineffective David Edwards was substituted for Leon Clarke to give extra forward impetus. Edwards has been the first choice centre attacking midfielder for most of last season and the start of this one, which has also influenced Jacobs missing out on more regular selection.
The ineffectiveness of Edwards in the last match led me to think that Jacobs might be a good option to replace him for coming matches, with Sako returning out wide. Losing the ball by taking defenders on in central positions can be a lot less costly than being dispossessed out wide and leaving your full-back exposed, so the central role can give a dribbler like Jacobs more freedom to persevere with his skill to try and craft openings for a quick forward like Nouha Dicko. On the other hand, very few players can match the work rate of the tireless Dave Edwards, and for this reason Jackett may continue to prefer him for his defensive cover.
Despite this, Jacobs should remain patient and wait for his chance, as I feel that he could be very useful in the ‘number 10’ role in behind the striker to move the team up the pitch and drive at the heart of the opposing defence to create opportunities for other players. He certainly shows excellent technique and a good finish, demonstrated by his goal against Brentford last season, and may arguably contribute more in the final third than Edwards. Versatility is a valuable commodity in a manager’s eyes, and Jacobs’ ability to play left, right or centrally might prove to be a blessing as the season stretches on and injuries affect the team. A player of his ability in this division is a luxury as a back-up, and he will surely have a say in future games this season.