Birmingham's Defensive Stability- Answers behind the numbers
Image from Robbie Jay Barratt (gettyimages)

Birmingham City currently occupy 14th place in the EFL Championship, with Blues head coach Lee Bowyer steadily making progress despite a recent injury crisis. 

Birmingham have yet to find a consistent run of positive form but with key players returning and a busy Christmas schedule approaching, the time may be right for Bowyer's Blues to make up lost ground. 

Statistically Birmingham's strength has been at the back, with goalkeeper Matija Sarkic keeping ten clean sheets, more than any other Championship goalkeeper. The Montenegro international was initially signed on loan from Wolves as back-up to Neil Etheridge but over the summer, Etheridge contracted coronavirus, suffering long-term side effects. Etheridge has since returned to the bench, with Sarkic keeping his place in the starting eleven due to recent performances. 

Birmingham's defence also do well to shield the goalkeeper, as Bowyer's side currently have an xGA of 18.32, the lowest in the league. Injury issues have impacted who's selected in defence, but the teams shape has remained the same with Birmingham primarily operating in a 3-5-2 system. 

In Birmingham's opener against Sheffield United, Bowyer selected Kristian Pedersen, Harlee Dean and Marc Roberts as his three centre-backs, with Jeremie Bela and Maxime Colin playing as wing-backs. Since this game, Pedersen, Roberts, Bela and Colin have all spent time on the sidelines, forcing Bowyer to get creative with his team selection. 

Wolves loanee Dion Sanderson was drafted into the back three, with left-back George Friend filling in at centre-back alongside academy prospect, Mitch Roberts. Fellow academy talent Marcel Oakley  featured as a wing-back, whilst attacker Jordan Graham also carried out the same role. Despite this factor, Birmingham top the charts alongside AFC Bournemouth in clean sheets, as Bowyer will now find it difficult to drop deputising talents who have impressed regularly such as Sanderson and Graham. 

Since replacing Aitor Kanaka last season, Bowyer has went about changing the mindset of his players who are more physically competitive in games, whilst also becoming hard to beat. This change in strategy does have some negatives attached to it, as Birmingham have recorded the leagues most red cards (3), with only Middlesbrough FC and Stoke City accumulating more points in the Fair Play table. 

Birmingham travel to The Den on Saturday, facing Millwall who are managed by ex-Blues boss, Gary Rowett. Both sides have conceded 21 league goals this season, and defence may be the factor that settles this mid-table clash come Saturday. 

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