Former Bristol City and Sunderland manager Lee Johnson has been tasked with pulling the club up the Premiership table following a forgettable season which resulted in a bottom-six finish, a semi-final and final defeat at Hampden Park and two managerial sackings.
The early signs have been promising. Hibs defeated English opposition in Hartlepool United and Burton Albion while on a pre-season training camp in Portugal ahead of the return to competitive action. New signings showed up well, there were positive aspects to the team’s play all the while players gained minutes in the leg.
It is very much a new-look side. No team has added more than the nine signed by Hibs with Johnson hopeful of adding at least two more. However, stalwarts of old remain in place with Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson, as well as Ryan Porteous and other figures who have been at the club for a couple of seasons to provide a semblance of continuity.
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Formations and principles of play
So, with all that in mind, and taking into consideration the two pre-season matches, with the caveat that there was a different XI in all four halves of football, what can we expect from Hibs when they line-up against Clyde?
“Don’t worry about formations,” he said. “It’s not about formation, it’s about the principles of how you want to play and bringing those players in that are elite in the key factors that we want for that position. Therefore we can be flexible, because you’re going to need to be when you come up against top teams.”
Hibs displayed that flexibility in Portugal. Having started against Hartlepool with a 4-2-3-1 system, the game against Burton Albion saw the formation resemble more of a 4-4-2 with Elie Youan partnering Christian Doidge in attack. Within that you had Youan dropping off the Welshman into deeper roles or Jair Tavares and Aiden McGeady pushing high up on both flanks to make it a front four.
That bravery and ambition is no surprise. Full-backs will be required to get up the pitch and connect with the winger, especially with the likes of McGeady who will be looking for overlapping runs so he can move infield. In the center of the pitch, midfielders will need to be capable of progressing the ball forward quickly.
Johnson is an attack-minded manager and set out his stall early on.
“As a manager, I like to turn up the attacking dial during the game and I want to play a high-tempo brand of football,” I have said. “Whatever formation we play, I will make sure my team is consistent in our playing style – aggressive and on the front foot.”
Building from the back, it would be a surprise if David Marshall wasn’t starting as goalkeeper. The former Scotland international brings a raft of experience to the position and will be expected to be a more reliable presence between the sticks than Matt Macey who moved on to Luton Town. He has, at times, had his issues with conceding from long-range but he is a very good goalkeeper and one who will benefit the development of Kevin Dabrowski.
Hibs will line-up with a back four with Ryan Porteous a certainty to take his place at centre-back. Since Paul Hanlon is currently recovering from surgery the identity of his defensive partner is not clear cut. The main candidates are Rocky Bushiri and Kyle McLelland.
It is an area of the pitch Johnson is looking to strengthen but to get the best out of Porteous he needs to be on the right-hand side of the pairing. That way he can impact the game with his excellent range of passing. Bushiri is almost more comfortable on the right which suggests McLelland could start despite being signed primarily as a development player. However, he showed up very well in Portugal.
There is another tough choice on the right of defence. Chris Cadden was one of Hibs’ best performers last season and a key attacking outlet. However, they have added Lewis Miller. The Australian is highly thought of and an excellent player. A no nonsense, combative figure who has set his desire to not only “kill it” at Hibs but leave his mark on a few wingers in the process.
On the left it is hard to currently look past Josh Doig.
Nohan Kenneh is a coup having been signed from Leeds United. Against Hartlepool he made a good impression early on, dropping deep at the base of the 4-2-3-1, picking up possession and progressing the ball. He also gives Hibs plenty of protection out of possession.
It is him, plus either Jake Doyle-Hayes or Joe Newell. The former is more all-action, while the latter showed a different side to his game in Portugal, driving forward with the ball.
The make-up of the front four is certainly intriguing. Christian Doidge is the only fit out-and-out focal point but there have, of course, been question marks over his future. Both Youan and Elias Melkersen can play that position, as well as featuring in a wider role.
Ewan Henderson is primed for the No 10 position. He can create and score. McGeady brings experience and the ability to move centrally, combine and create from the left. On the right, Tavares can balance that with width and directness.
As for the striker, against Clyde, expect to see Youan unleashed.