Return of the Maik
Maikel Kieftenbeld has shown that he still has a place at Birmingham City following his outstanding performances in the last two games.
The Dutchman was reportedly shown the door in the summer as Aitor Karanka brought in a number of midfielders to boost his Blues squad, leaving Kieftenbeld and David Davis in a position to find new clubs.
The midfielder has already come close to a departure from the club in the past when he appeared to sign for Derby County in the summer of 2017. If it had not been for an error in the paperwork, the midfielder would have said farewell to St Andrew's and reunited with the man who brought him to England, Gary Rowett.
Since the arrival of Karanka in the summer, Kieftenbeld had only played a minor role for the club, having only played in the Carabao Cup defeat to Cambridge United at the start of September. His next appearance came two months later, a cameo off the bench in the home defeat to AFC Bournemouth.
Following a streak of six games without a win and some very lacklustre performances, Karanka called upon Kieftenbeld to sit with Ivan Sunjic in front of the back four against Bristol City. A huge sigh of relief for supporters seeing the side scrap the five-at-the-back formation and lining up in the Spaniard's preferred 4-2-3-1 setup.
This is the system where Kieftenbeld used to thrive back in the Rowett days and he did not look out of place upon his return to the Blues side. He, along with his teammate Sunjic were a constant nuisance to the Robins with their constant pressing, never giving the opposition time on the ball.
It was clear under Karanka that his passing ability has greatly improved. He was always well-regarded for his defensive capabilities but it was his passing that held him back. Yet, the player we saw on Saturday and last night against Reading showed his ability to link-up well with his teammates on the attack.
After a fantastic away performance at Bristol City, it was going to be harder away at free-scoring Reading. Kieftenbeld and Sunjic were tasked with having to suppress the threatening capabilities of Ovie Ejaria and Michael Olise, two of the best midfielders in the league.
The 30-year-old did his job perfectly. His constant pressing and spacial awareness led to the frustration of Ejaria and Olise which quashed the Royals' chances of creating anything. The Dutchman's energy levels are something to behold. Throughout the game him running back to defend as well as running forward to help his side in attack. His partner Sunjic is very similar with his ability to keep chasing the ball when out of possession.
The two players, however similar their attributes, are complimenting each other and their partnership is working. In just two games alongside each other they have limited chances for two of the top sides in the division whilst also earning two victories.
It is clear the selection of Kieftenbeld has had a great impact on Karanka's last two results. He has two combative midfielders playing in a system suited to their talents who are also offering support offensively as well as defensively which the head coach and the supporters will be glad to see.
These last two performances could prove to be a huge turning point this season for Birmingham and the man previously deemed surplus to requirements may just have sparked it. Karanka will see much more success from his side keeping with his current shape and personnel, with Kieftenbeld needing to be one of the first names on the team sheet.