IF BARNSLEY are to cut the eight-point gap to safety and stay up this season, a good January transfer window is imperative.
There are now just three weeks and four matches until Barnsley can alter a squad which is currently second-bottom, with 13 points from 21 games.
If they make a mess of the window, like they did in the summer, they will almost certainly go down no matter how well new head coach Poya Asbaghi and the players perform.
But, if they have a good January like earlier this year, then they are capable of survival.
Poya says he is ‘the last coach to think about January’ because he has only just arrived and his priority is to collect points.
But he will know that keeping his best players and strengthening key areas will be vital.
Here are some key issues:
Last January, Barnsley were the most joined-up in their thinking across all departments as they have been for years.
Valerien Ismael wanted physical forwards and the recruitment department found Carlton Morris then chief executive Dane Murphy secured Daryl Dike, with both having major impacts despite their CVs not necessarily suggesting they were ready to thrive in the Championship.
They need something similar in next month’s window.
They have to listen to Asbaghi and respond to his requests, even if they are outside the club’s usual transfer policies.
Last summer saw co-chairman Paul Conway calling the hosts as there was no chief executive in place.
The absence of a CEO has previously led to disaster in 2019 and 2017, the latter under the previous ownership, when Gauthier Ganaye and Linton Brown respectively left in January and were not replaced for about six months – with major shake-ups of the playing squad and relegation battles following.
Preparing for this season, they deviated from their data-led approach for some signings, changed from Valerien Ismael’s extremely successful style of play as they believe a passing approach leads to bigger outgoing player sales ignored his replacement Markus Schopp's pleas for an inexperienced midfielder.
Devante Cole signed for Ismael and Murphy but was often sidelined under Schopp while Belgian duo Aaron Leya Iseka and Obbi Oulare’s arrival was delayed due to visa issues, as was El-Ahmad’s.
Looking back at the seven players Barnsley signed in the summer, none of them have been consistently good so far.
Josh Benson, Iseka, Claudio Gomes and Cole have all had some good games each but not on a consistent basis.
Arguably the most eye-catching of the signings so far has been Will Hondermarck and he was brought in to play for the under 23s.
Remy Vita is yet to make his debut while Obbi Oulare has come off the bench twice and looked well off the pace.
Although still known as a good club for developing players, the idea that Barnsley would attract a new calibre of player after last season’s heroics never quite materialised and now their terrible position means they are less likely to secure the players they want.
The worse Barnsley's situation is, in terms of the league position and gap to safety, the more likely it is that players will look to leave and that the club will be willing to sell rather than flogging them as League One players following a relegation.
Dane Murphy was right last summer to say Barnsley should be holding out for at least a club record £5million sale for any of their stars, but there is a concern that the spectre of relegation and the constant temptation to get some money into the club could see them sold for a far lower price.
Michal Helik will be out of contract in 2023 so his value will only decrease, looking at it from a purely business point of view as it often appears that Barnsley’s owners view their decisions.
But it would be catastrophic for the team as Helik is one of the best centre-backs in the division – having made the most interceptions, second most clearances and is third for winning headers – while he is one of Barnsley’s only consistently good performers this season.
Callum Styles and Mads Andersen – although perhaps not making as much of an impression as last season – are still sure to attract attention, although both have multiple years remaining on their contract.
Barnsley have not sold any first team players in January since 2019 when they received £1.5million for Brad Potts, who could come up against them tomorrow for Preston.
It feels as though Barnsley go into nearly every transfer window requiring a more experienced central midfielder, a targetman striker and another left-back.
They are still looking for players who can get anywhere near close to replacing summer departures Daryl Dike and Alex Mowatt.
Khaled El-Ahmad, the chief executive, told fans last month that Barnsley may have to sell players before they have funds available to make signings.
It is a surprise to very few people, apart from perhaps some of the Oakwell board, that going into a season with central midfielders all aged 22 or younger with barely any experience should result in some problems.
The Reds have often been dominated in midfield, struggling to protect the defence, with no one who has played in that position scoring a goal so far (Callum Styles’ strike against Birmingham was from left wing-back).
The club’s long-term vision is to only sign young players who they can develop but, just as they did with Matty James and Michael Sollbauer in the last two seasons, they may have to make an exception to bring in a midfielder leader with the knowhow to face this relegation battle.
Herbie Kane has been getting consistent football in League One with loan club Oxford United, and by all accounts impressing. The Reds could bring him back next month and, although only 23 and with less than 100 games on his CV, would at least be another option with his passing ability potentially helping to control games.
A tall targetman striker would also give them more options up front.
Obbi Oulare has been out of the squad since a bizarre cameo against Swansea in which he appeared to be off the pace.
If he cannot improve his fitness quickly, the Reds will be without a viable option for a physical presence up front which would help the likes of top-scorer Cauley Woodrow. But that would require another signing after they spent a relatively large amount on Oulare’s fee and wages, so a loan may be a sensible option.
Another position is left-back.
Callum Styles is looking like playing another season on the left flank having hoped to move into central midfield this season.
Remy Vita is yet to make his debut while Ben Williams and Clarke Oduor – who was converted from attacking midfield to the left – have been jettisoned from squads under Asbaghi.
If Bayern Munich loanee Remy Vita – who has not played in in three months at the club under three managers – is not going to play, it is probably time to replace him with someone who will.
It would make sense to recruit someone who is a natural left-back and who can play there in a back four which may be tricky for Styles. Liam Kitching would be an option in a 4-3-3 but is a centre-back.
Barnsley seem almost allergic to signing left-backs, last doing so permanently four years ago with the arrival of Dani Pinillos, so may be happy to continue with Styles starting and Jordan Williams back-up.
Williams has generally done well out of position but, going forwards, often has to check back onto right foot to cross or pass which slows down attacks.
TRIM DOWN SQUAD
Barnsley’s squad has become bloated and overcrowded in certain areas, after different managers and chief executives brought in different waves of players.
There is likely to be some trimming next year.
Ben Williams, Clarke Oduor and Toby Sibbick have not played under Asbaghi, being left out of the last two squads.
Dominik Frieser has been in and out of the side all season but, having been left out of the 18 on Saturday, he may be eyeing a return to the continent.
Remy Vita looks likely to return to Bayern Munich having not played a game while
the future of Obbi Oulare is also unclear.