Are Swindon missing Liverpool’s Brad Smith already?
As Smith returns to Anfield apparently to solve a contract dispute, Alex Cooke looks at the contribution of the Australian wideman.
Brad Smith showed some promise in his 10 games for Swindon, but he also showed a lot of inexperience. His best qualities seem to reside in his natural attributes – exceptional pace, dogged persistence and a willingness to work for the collective. His weaknesses seemed to result from his lack of games: hurried crossing, an anxiousness on the ball, and a lack of understanding with his teammates.
Smith’s athleticism was his primary asset. It allowed him to contribute in both defence and attack, to run beyond the forwards but also to flank Jordan Turnbull when the opposition counter-attacked. It sat well with his ability to not become disheartened by making a run unseen or failing to get a cross in. He always went again.
Playing as a left wing-back so high up the field, didn’t always suit him though. He seemed to understand the role, tucking in with the back three when required and adding width on the attack. However, Town’s dominance on the right flank through Nathan Byrne and Massimo Luongo meant Smith was often the outlet ball when play was switched. Especially against Oldham, he seemed to struggle being caught offside or miss-controlling the ball, limited the threat.
He also seemed too keen hit any cross first-time to whip the ball, rather than take another touch – especially in his early appearances. It might have been something required at Anfield but in League One he seemed to overestimate the ability of his rival full-back rushing him into some poor crosses. He also seemed under instruction to go low and hard for near-post, aiming at runs coming across the defence, but still too many would drift straight out.
He also suffered from comparisons with Byrne. Not that everyone expected him to perform as Town’s stand-out player does, but that he should always be able to attack his full-back. Smith lacked that ability or confidence to beat a man with a drop of the shoulder or a trick and turn. Instead he needed the ball played ahead of him to run onto. It was seemed to annoy the crowd in the Don Rodgers that Turnbull wouldn’t pass to the marked Smith, however, Turnbull knew the ball would come straight back and that his position for the next pass would frequently be worse.
Perhaps it was also confidence that meant Smith would look only to run up the line, rather than look to come off the line and into the space between full-back the covering defensive midfielder. When he did, such as against Sheffield United, he proved that he could be decisive. Again, he still seemed to be bedding in.
So far his replacement, Amari’i Bell, has been better than Smith, and worse. Bell is more prone to errors but also more likely to be involved in general play. He’s stronger but less decisive. A better tackler but positional weaker.
To put it in terms of ‘player ratings’, if Smith was frequently a 6 out of 10, Bell can swing between a 7 or a 4.
More importantly, Smith’s return to Anfield has further limited Mark Cooper’s already meagre options on the left. If he had stayed Bell and Smith might have had to share the position, but at least that would have spared Jake Reeves the need to be Town’s left winger on Tuesday night.
Instead Cooper now needs to start the process of bedding a player into the position all over again, with Norwich’s Harry Toffolo. Unless Smith is allowed to come back …
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