Crewe Alexandra – Artell’s Assembly

September 12th 2020. The day the footballing world has been waiting for. The Premier League and the EFL announced in July that the 2020/21 season will be underway very shortly. Ahead of the new season, I have decided to take a look into the future of the 24 teams making up League One for the new campaign, with an in depth look at what each team has to offer for the coming year. Seventh on the list, is David Artell’s Crewe Alexandra.

  • The Club

The 2020/21 season will be Crewe Alexandra’s 144th in their history, and their first back in League One. Their last venture outside of League One was their promotion campaign from the 2019/20 season, when they were promoted after PPG was announced for the completion of the League Two season. The Railwaymen lost out on top spot by 0.06 points to Swindon after PPG was implemented, despite being ahead of Swindon when the season was curtailed. The 2020/21 season will be Crewe’s first back in the third tier since their relegation in the 2015/16 season, when they finished bottom of the league, 16 points away from safety. Crewe’s three seasons in League Two before promotion didn’t give out the inclination that they would be bouncing back up into League One, with three mid-table finishes in a row.

  • The Gaffer

David Artell is heading into his fifth season with the Railwaymen, having taken over from Steve Davis on January 8th 2017. He led the club away from relegation and into 17th position, before leading the club slightly higher up the pitch in his first full season in charge to 15th. In his third campaign, he took the club slightly higher again, this time into 12th position. Eventually, in his fourth campaign, he led Crewe out of League Two and into League One after PPG gave them the promotion. Crewe Alexandra was Artell’s first managerial position, but he did join the club in 2014 to work with the academy whilst he was still playing for Bala Town in Wales. Credit has to be given to Artell and the Crewe board for sticking with the manager for four years, and it has finally paid off with the promotion. In an interview with BBC Sport, Artell revealed that his Crewe side have been the best team in League Two for the past 18 months, and that he was always quietly confident that his side were going to be a success.

  • The Squad

Since the start of the 2019/20 season, Crewe Alexandra have used five separate formations across four competitions. However, the most used formation of those was the 4-3-3, which was the set up for 40 of the 46 games this season. So, for the squad set up, I will be looking solely at the 4-3-3 formation. All of the formations were found using Transfermarkt.

22-year-old Will Jaaskelainen was Crewe’s first choice goalkeeper for the majority of the season, making 39 appearances in all competitions, with 35 of those coming in the league. Supporting Will was Dave Richards, who played the other two games that the league had to offer, whilst also being the first-choice goalkeeper for the Trophy and the Carabao Cup.

All stats supplied by WhoScored. Jaaskelainen’s contribution cannot be understated, picking up eight clean sheets in his 39 games this season. Although he didn’t make as many clean sheets as people would expect him to make, his time with them this season pushed them into League One.

On the right-side, 24-year-old Perry Ng was one of the standout players for Crewe this year, with the full back getting two goals and six assists in 45 games this year. From right back, that is a very good record from Ng this year. Deputising to Ng for the final six months of the season was Michael Nottingham, who joined Crewe on loan from Blackpool in the winter. Nottingham was used primarily as a center-back when he joined, rather than being a supporting player for Ng. Academy defender Travis Johnson played three times for Crewe this season, being used more in the EFL trophy.

Stats wise, Perry Ng made 84 tackles and 43 interceptions in his 36 league games this season. An incredible player for Crewe this year who could attract Championship attention soon.

On the left, 21-year-old Harry Pickering was another star man in Crewe’s defence this season, making 42 appearances in all competitions, with 3 goals and 5 assists from the left-hand side. Having Pickering and Ng at the full back positions was massive for Crewe this year. Rio Adebisi was brought in for the few games that Pickering missed, making five appearances in total.

In terms of the stats, Pickering made 76 tackles and 33 interceptions for his defensive duties, but he did also have 43 shots and had a 75% dribble completion rate. A very comfortable attacking threat on the left.

In the center of defence, Crewe didn’t have a settled partnership for the season, with the most capped defender having only 29 appearances in all competitions. That player was 36-year-old Nicky Hunt, who played 25 of those 29 games in the league, scoring once. The second most played centre back was Eddie Nolan, who made 26 appearances for Crewe this season, scoring three times. Summer signing Olly Lancashire was a key player for Crewe in the first few months of the season, but didn’t play another league game after October, making only 11 appearances in all competitions.

Stats wise, Nicky Hunt made 15 tackles and 24 interceptions in his 25 league games this season. Not as influential compared to Ng and Pickering. Compare that to Eddie Nolan, who made 25 tackles and 19 interceptions in 19 league games. Neither player was a standout for Crewe, but Nolan did look like the better defender.

In the centre of the pitch, Crewe had a fair few players to work with. The most capped one of those was 23-year-old Ryan Wintle, who played 46 times for Crewe this season, including every single league game, with four goals and five assists. An excellent season for the youngster. Alongside him for the majority of the season was Tom Lowery, who played 36 games this season, with five goals and four assists, a slightly more attacking threat than Wintle. The third of the midfield three that Crewe worked with this season was Paul Green, who made 33 appearances this season, scoring four times and getting two assists. 13 goals and 11 assists from the most used midfield three this season has been a catalyst for the solid campaign Crewe had.

It wasn’t just that middle three that Crewe worked with, as James Jones popped up for 29 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice and getting five assists. Another very good season from a midfield player. Finally, Crewe also had Oli Finney to call upon, who was the top scorer of all the central players this season with six goals from 24 games. Crewe had one of the best midfields in the whole of League Two last season. Stats wise, Ryan Wintle made 62 tackles and 42 interceptions from the defensive midfield position, being a vital cog in front of the defence. Tom Lowery was a more attacking threat from the midfield, having 51 shots, a 67% dribble completion rate and an 82% pass completion rate.

On the wing, Crewe had a good set of players to work with. 22-year-old Charlie Kirk played 44 times for Crewe, predominantly on the left-wing, scoring nine times and getting 15 assists. An incredible season from the youngster, who is surely garnering interest from sides in the Championship. On the other side of the pitch, Owen Dale was one of two right wingers for Crewe. Dale played 36 times on the right, scoring twice and getting three assists. Not as influential as Kirk was, but a steady player on the right.

Daniel Powell was the other right winger, getting nine goals and two assists in 33 games for Crewe this year. Another excellent performance from a Crewe player. Callum Ainley is registered as a winger, but was mainly used as a substitute in the midfield. He played 31 times for Crewe this year, scoring three times and getting five assists. In terms of the stats, Charlie Kirk had 84 shots for Crewe this season, whilst also having a 78% pass accuracy rate. Kirk was the standout winger.

Going forward, Crewe had two key options to choose between for the season. The first was 27-year-old Chuma Anene, who spent the season on loan with Crewe from FC Midtjylland in Denmark. Chuma played 34 times this year, scoring nine goals and getting one assist. The other striker who led the line for Crewe this year was Chris Porter, who scored 14 times and got one assist in 31 games for the Railwaymen. Both strikers led Crewe to promotion this season with their solid attacking play.

Stats wise, Chuma Anene had 27 shots in his 28 league games, which is remarkable considering he scored seven times in the league. Chris Porter was more dangerous in front of goal, with 48 shots from his 26 league games. Porter also won more than 50% of his aerial duels, which is very impressive for a striker.

  • The Transfers

With their promotion sealed, Crewe Alexandra will be looking for reinforcements for the new season. The club have so far acted upon their key aim of strengthening the attack with two new signings. The first of those is 23-year-old Offrande Zanzala, after his release by Accrington Stanley. Zanzala played very well for Accrington last season, but was not guaranteed first team football with the Lancashire club, so left the club at the end of his contract to join up with Crewe. As well as Zanzala, Crewe have also quickly moved to snap up ex-Gillingham forward Mikael Mandron after his contract expired. Mandron had been linked with Aberdeen and Barnsley earlier in the window, so it looks like a real coup for Crewe that they have got this deal over the line. Strengthening the attack was a big thing for Crewe in this window.

In terms of outgoings, the biggest departure has been the sale of Nicky Hunt to Darlington, with the defender leaving the club after guiding them to League One. Also leaving the club on a free is James Jones, who has joined up with Lincoln City in League One. Crewe’s retained list was small compared to other teams, with Shaun Miller, Paul Green and Connor Heath being part of the list that haven’t found a new team yet. Chuma Anene’s loan deal has expired, which is the main reason why Crewe acted so quickly to bring in some more attackers.

  • The Problem Areas?

Their promotion to League One leaves Crewe in a situation where they need to decide how much money they want to reinvest into their team for the new season. However, with the academy that they have at their disposal, Crewe should not be looking to bring in loads of new players. In goal, Crewe still have Will Jaaskelainen and Dave Richards at the club from last season. At the age of 22, Jaaskelainen will be looking for another big season with the Railwaymen, knowing that he could be replaced at any moment. The club also has 31-year-old Dino Visser with them, after joining on a free transfer after leaving Exeter in the winter. Perry Ng and Travis Johnson are the right back options this year, with Harry Pickering and Rio Adebisi being on the left. Ng and Pickering are very capable at Championship level, let alone League One.

In the centre of defence, Crewe have Eddie Nolan and Olly Lancashire still at the club, with Luke Offord and Billy Sass-Davies also available. Will need to be an area that is addressed in the window, way too weak for League One. Centrally, Crewe still have Ryan Wintle, Tommy Lowery and Oli Finney to work with, but losing Paul Green and James Jones means they will probably need to add at least one player to the middle if they continue with the 4-3-3. On the wing, Crewe have still got Charlie Kirk, Owen Dale, Daniel Powell and Callum Ainley to work with. Should be a decent group of players for League One. Going forward, Crewe have added Offrande Zanzala and Mikael Mandron to the attacking front which already has Chris Porter. If continuing with the 4-3-3 formation, then they shouldn’t need to add another player here.

  • The Fixes?

I’m not suggesting by any means that I am a scouting guru who has an extensive knowledge of the world of football, but I do like the process of the transfer windows, and trying to be someone who can identify talent when it becomes available. For each team, after identifying the problem areas, I want to try and see if I can find any players for a specific set of positions who could be suited to each club, based on previous transfer years and the club’s reputation surrounding incomings:

Centre Back –

Rhys Bennett – Peterborough – 28 y/o – Free Agent

Released by Peterborough in the summer, Bennett has experience in both League Two and in League One. Needs a career restart.

Sam Hughes – Leicester – 23 y/o – Loan Deal

Spent the first six months of the season with Salford City. Leicester U23’s captain, and is expected to have a big future in the game.

Jason Shackell – Lincoln – 36 y/o – Free Agent

In need of some valuable experience in the squad with Paul Green and Nicky Hunt leaving this summer. Could be the perfect person to add to the changing room.

Omar Beckles – Shrewsbury – 28 y/o – Free Agent

Hasn’t put pen to paper on a deal to extend his stay at the club past this summer, so could be on the move to another League One side.

Donervon Daniels – Luton – 26 y/o – Free Agent

Would be an excellent signing for Crewe for the new season if they can pull this one off. Would be a very good League One player.

Ryan Sweeney – Mansfield – 23 y/o – Transfer Fee

Left-sided centre back who could perform very well in League One. 39 games last season with two goals, could be on the transfer targets list of a lot of League One teams.

Centre Midfield –

Luke Murphy – Bolton – 30 y/o – Free Agent

Currently training with Crewe, and is also an ex-Crewe academy player. Could be the ideal player to add some experience to the midfield.

Adam May – Portsmouth – 22 y/o – Free Agent

Released by Portsmouth in the summer. Wanted by a lot of League Two sides, but could be good enough to keep himself in League One.

Jake Hessenthaler – Grimsby – 26 y/o – Free Agent

Released by Grimsby in the summer. 77 tackles and 39 interceptions in League Two last season, the most interceptions of any Centre Midfield player in the league. A good free option.

Jake Doyle-Hayes – Aston Villa – 21 y/o – Free Agent

Spent last season on loan with Cheltenham in League Two. Deserves a shot in League One. Attempted over 1400 passes last season in only 30 league games.

Archie Collins – Exeter – 20 y/o – Transfer Fee

Played 45 times for Exeter last season, scoring once and getting four assists. Attempted over 1100 passes last season. Very young player who will definitely get Championship football very soon.

Josh Sheehan – Newport – 25 y/o – Transfer Fee

Played 42 times for Newport last season, scoring twice and getting three assists. Is a player who also deserves the jump up to League One from League Two.

  • The Verdict

It’s always difficult to tell how each team is going to fair in the new season, because we haven’t seen many signings nor the influence of pre-season friendlies. Just by going off how each team is expected to deal with the current COVID-19 financial troubles, and what each team is capable of doing under much greater restraint right now, I think that Crewe Alexandra should comfortably stay up next season. They have the basis to become a top end League One team in the next few years. Keep developing their youth, and they have a very bright future.

What do you guys think? How do you think Crewe Alexandra will fair in the new season? Will Artell struggle in his first League One season, or will it be a joyous return to the third tier for Crewe? Let me know in the comments below and make sure to follow All Out Football on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.