Valerien Ismael is expecting Barnsley to play at Rotherham United tomorrow and knows they will have to improve their defending from set pieces in order to record their tenth win under him.
The Reds are currently tenth in the Championship, five points off the play-offs, while Rotherham are 21st but have had their last two games called off due to an outbreak of Covid-19 in their camp. The 7.45pm kick-off at the New York Stadium is currently on.
Ismael told the Chronicle: "If we play, we are ready and focused. We are in a good rhythm. But, if we don’t play, we have more time to prepare the next game and work on our principles. Both situations are good for us. But we are preparing to play the game.”
He added: "We are fully focused on the game. From the first minute when I heard the news last week (about Rotherham’s match with Derby being called off) I was still focused on the game. Now I hear we can play and we will prepare the game. My stance for the moment is we will play tomorrow.”
On whether it was safe for his players to play at Rotherham, Ismael said: "We trust in the testing and, in England, I have a very good feeling. I feel safe. But you don’t know. It is very very difficult to control everything. We have done everything safely until now."
On whether Rotherham would be fresh after not playing for 13 days or rusty, Ismael said: "It is not my problem, I am the manager of Barnsley and not Rotherham. Every club has their own issues. It is not an easy situation. It is sensitive with the schedule and with Covid. I can feel it is a really bad situation for Rotherham.”
Rotherham are known for playing a direct style of football and in particular their strength from set pieces - an area in which Barnsley have struggled of late.
Ismael said: "It will be a fight and a battle - the basics of football. They are a team with excellent structure, a clear plan, and with conviction. We have shown we can compete with this style before.
"They are very strong at set plays. We are unhappy with that part of our game and we concede too many but we are working on it.
"For sure we want to stop conceding too early or too many goals from set pieces. We have to fix it. We are working on the solution from set pieces because everything else is good. Adam Murray (first team coach) tries to find the solution all the time and we will find it."
Goalkeeper Jack Walton added: "We have good momentum and we want the game to go ahead. We are preparing for it and we’re ready for the challenge. I know Angus MacDonald (former Barnsley captain who now plays for Rotherham). I have been training with the first team since I was 15 so I trained with him every day.
"The local derbies are great, we know how much it means to fans. If we can make it a treble of derby wins (after beating Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield in December) that would be great.
“It will be a big challenge because Rotherham are good at set pieces. We are conceding from set pieces and we’re not happy with that and we know we need to improve that. We have been working hard on the training ground at that. Earlier in the season we were very solid but we just need to regroup because we know we can do it.”
The win over Huddersfield on Saturday was the fourth time Barnsley have won after conceding first in the Championship in December, having done so four times in 322 games across the previous decade. Ismael said: "This is a big strength for the guys this season. The turning point was the game against Birmingham (the first comeback win on December 1) - it gave the guys belief we can do this and we have done it four times now.”