Tranmere will offer an interesting challenge for Wrexham’s strong defence, as they are able, when firing on all cylinders, to offer an attacking threat from a variety of areas of the pitch.
They deployed a 4-4-2 against Maidenhead, with Connor Jennings’ movement from the left flank particularly interesting. He showed terrific energy, constantly shuttling inside and out again as he looked to find pockets of space inside, and then went back wide again to stretch the Maidenhead defence.
A nice example of the threat he could pose when he came inside came early on, when he dropped into a central position as Tranmere were defending and, as the ball was won back, lifted a clever pass over the top of the opposing defence for the pacy, direct James Norwood to run onto.
When Tranmere had more settled possession, Jennings could drift inside and offer a third target through the middle in support of the strikers. However, he more likely to sit deep and allow other players, such as the left back Liam Greenhalgh, offer more advanced width, or drop into a position where he can pick up second balls on the edge of the box.
On the other flank, on-loan Josh Ginnelly made his debut. He clearly has the attributes of a more orthodox winger, but Ginnelly will also look to come inside and make the pitch narrow, inviting overlapping runs from Adam Buxton, who is happy to go either outside or inside.
With central midfielder Oliver Norburn, used as a wide striker earlier this season, able to get into advanced positions, and Jay Harris always keen to hoover up balls in central areas and have a shot on goal, Rovers have plenty of possibilities going forwards. However, they can be vulnerable to the counter-attack, especially as there is not a lot of pace in the centre of defence.
Jennings and Ginnelly will go narrow at the same time, inviting both full backs forward, and they were nearly caught on the break early on as a consequence of this against Maidenhead, Harris having to retrieve the situation with a good covering run as Rovers left two-on-two at the back. Harris will often be left as a sole holding midfielder with both full backs quite high up the pitch, creating the danger of a counter-attack if Rovers are careless in possession higher up the pitch.
Up front, Norwood is a real threat. He likes to pull out to either flank, but predominantly prefers to go to the left, where he can cut onto his right foot and curl in shots. Hpwever, he is also a goal threat when he drops into the right channel and goes for power in his shots instead.
Norwood is strong and quick enough to get in behind the centre bacs. His constant movement is a genuine danger and he has a goal record approaching one every two games for Tranmere. Frankly, he has looked so threatening in recent games that it’s a surprise he doesn’t have more than eleven this season.
The fluidity of Tranmere’s movement against Maidenhead was a major factor in their attacking threat, with Norwood and Jake Kirby willing to pull wide to drag the Maidenhead defence around. However, there is likely to be an important change in the configuration of their attack at The Racecourse. Target man Andy Cook was absent last Saturday through suspension, but will be available again for the derby.
Cook’s qualities are well known: he is prodigious when competing with centre backs for straight, long balls, holds the ball up well and gets a lot of headers on goal from crosses. The 4-4-2 shape Tranmere deploy looks perfect to provide Cook with service from the flanks, and offer plenty of runners for him to bring into play when he flicks on a header or holds the ball up.
Apart from Harris and Jennings, another ex-Wrexham player in the Tranmere side is goalkeeper Rhys Taylor, on loan from Fylde. Wrexham fans will be well aware of his qualities, and his agility was best displayed in his stint at The Racecourse when he put in a superb performance at Prenton Park in the FA Trophy, which must have made an impact on the Tranmere hierarchy!
Surprisingly, in his current spell at Tranmere he has been given problems with high balls into the six yard box, possibly as a consequence of not having played since September.