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Transfer Window Changes In Midfield - Josh Extends, Oisin Heads For Scotland - What Do Oxford Do Going Forward?

Changes In Midfield - Josh Extends, Oisin Heads For Scotland - What Do Oxford Do Going Forward?


In early June, Oxford saw midfielder Josh McEachran extend his stay at Oxford, whilst Northern Ireland midfielder Oisin Smyth left to join Scottish Premiership side St. Mirren on a permanent deal for an undisclosed fee. What does this mean for Oxford and their midfield in 24/25?

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Starting with Oisin, the former U’s midfielder was in my opinion underused and underutilised at Oxford following his signing in January 2022 under the management of Karl Robinson. The midfielder has made a move to Scottish Premiership side St. Mirren permanently, and offers his new manager Stephen Robinson a versatile option in their midfield.

Smyth leaves United having scored one goal in 25 appearances across all competitions, that being his late wonder strike against Charlton Athletic on New Year’s Day, an effort which saw him earn the club’s goal of the season award. He links up with a side that are set to play European football in the 24/25 season, as well as also having the opportunity to be coached by the Northern Ireland Men’s senior coach Diarmuid O’Carroll, potentially leading the way to his international first team debut.

Onto the retained Josh McEachran now, and the Oxford-born midfielder has signed what is believed to be a new one-year deal with the club, strengthening Oxford’s midfield for the Championship in both on and off the pitch quality. McEachran signed for United at the start of last season’s promotion campaign, playing 24 times in the league and 34 times across all competitions.

31-year-old McEachran played a pivotal role as the club clinched promotion to the Championship for the first time in 25 years, featuring in one of the play-off semi-finals and in the victory over Bolton Wanderers in the final at Wembley replacing Cameron Brannagan. Spending a decent amount of his career in the Championship, his knowledge and experience could be vital for the U’s as we make the step up.


What Does This Mean For Our Midfield As It Stands?

Currently, we have a midfield that looks like this:

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In my opinion, the players in yellow are likely to leave the club this summer, and I believe we need at least 4-5 more players across these three positions, even more if we change to a two in holding midfield instead of just Brannagan. More progressive and forward thinking midfielders are needed in my opinion, with the three green centre midfielders all having more of a holding or deeper role when deployed.

McEachran’s retention, as well as Vaulks’ recent addition ensures Championship experience, as well as a solid foundation to build further in the midfield this summer, whilst providing the much needed protection for a potentially more attacking side. It is integral we continue to add to the quality and experience that we have added in so far, with a healthy youth balance in there too to provide a well-balanced summer of incomings.


Why Do And What Do Oxford Need To Add To The Midfield?

With the lack of more attacking and progressive midfielders in Oxford’s team, I think we need to add at least one or two more creative and more advanced players that can help to create chances and produce much-needed moments of flair in the Championship. Players such as Davis Keillor-Dunn, Herbie Kane, Fred Onyedinma and more could be added to this position through versatility and proven quality in previous seasons to give us new options and choice when playing varying and unpredictable opposition throughout the 24/25 season.

Oxford need to be able to strengthen and not just add to the midfield this summer, which goes for all other positions too. There is no point just adding players when you can actually strengthen and improve certain positions through those brought in as well as what they add in terms of professionalism and class on and off the pitch, especially at Championship level and above.

I think we need to add one or two players under 22 this summer into the midfield, as well as adding another one or two with previous Championship experience to allow us to have awareness and experience across the different spectrums. This provides us with a fantastic chance in the short, medium and long term with development and progression which can take us massively in the right direction over the next five years roughly.


Potential System Changes:

It is currently unknown whether Des is looking to switch to a 2-1 in midfield, or to keep more of the 1-2 in terms of having one player sitting deeper than the two more advanced eights. This could be the deciding factor in terms of what we add going forward. If we add another more defensive minded midfielder I believe we are switching to more of a 2-1 in midfield, compared to more attacking additions supporting the retention of the 1-2 in midfield going forward.

The sale of Oisin Smyth does not allude to either change, but does show that the club are looking to progress and move forward, which is why I think more will leave the club on undisclosed fees and loans from the senior players and not just those who are younger and looking to play more often in the lower divisions to gain experience and to improve such as Johnson, Woltman and O’Donkor.

The ability to now have different options in the midfield, such as Vaulks or McEachran staying back and Brannagan becoming a more advanced player, or having McEachran or Vaulks deeper and Brannagan with them behind one more advanced number ten. It provides Des and the coaching staff with more options to look to do things differently, which we have struggled with in the past when it comes to adapting quickly and at a moments notice without having continuous like-for-like players or players out of position.

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This is used from my Vaulks article, but presents exactly what I want our midfield to look like going forward, as well as how I would want us to set-up in the midfield, as is to be explained.

I think personally at the moment, my preferred midfield would feature both Vaulks and Brannagan with another more attacking player further up the pitch, though this doesn’t mean that Cam couldn’t become one of those advanced eights with Ruben or Tyler for example. Continuity with the team would be great, but with this big a step up, time will tell whether we need to change what we have to give ourselves more of a chance against bigger (and potentially better) opposition.


Impact Of McEachran Remaining At Oxford:

McEachran himself is a fantastic person and player, and provides us with an excellently experienced and well-fitting player into our squad, as well as someone who is able to come on or start and make an impact through collected and calm play, which has had many positive effects on our play in recent months.

Josh was 9th overall in accurate passes in League One last season,with 55.1 per 90, providing clear viewing of what he provides on the ball when it comes to potential on-field progression of the ball as well as what he does with it, he is not wasteful and does his best to pick out the best passes that can lead to chances and the team having opportunities further up the pitch. It would be nice to have him add goals to his resume, but being able to dictate more of the play and to have him as a player who can start attacks and bring an intelligent and aware head to the pitch could be more important in the long run.


Conclusion

It is clear that the midfield will be one of if not the biggest areas of importance to our play and to our hopes of cementing ourselves in the Championship from next season onwards, so our business so far, as well as links have me excited and confident that we are going to be able to do more with the ball when we have it, as well as having more collective calmness with and without it.

I wish Oisin all the best, and congratulate Josh on his deserved extension, looking forward to seeing what else we do this summer in the middle of the park.

Thank you for reading, let me know your thoughts on Josh’s retention, Oisin departing and this article. I'd love to hear any feedback.

In the meantime Come on you Yellows!
 
I feel sorry for McEachran, because I see a thread title saying JOSH EXTENDS, and I get excited and click on it, only to go "Oh yeah. That one."
 
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