West Brom's Taylor Gardner-Hickman eyed for a 'ten role'
Head coach Carlos Corberan has outlined a new offensive vision for Albion utility man Taylor Gardner-Hickman ahead of the new campaign.
The 21-year-old is a central midfielder by description and prefers that role but Corberan sees his technical qualities as useful in the final third.
The Spaniard believes academy graduate Gardner-Hickman, from Telford, still has “maturities” to make on the defensive side of his game to progress as a central midfield ‘number eight’.
“This year I see him more playing in front of the midfield, more as a number ten,” said Corberan, who takes his side to Blackburn today for the Championship opener. “During pre-season, I was analysing the last year’s games and the areas where I think he can better show his skills.
“As an eight, no doubt, but he still has defensive skills to mature. It means that, for me, he can offer to the team something close to the opponent’s box.
“The fact that he hasn’t developed all the defensive skills – for example it’s not the same to play as a number eight with five at the back and four at the back, there’s a difference.”
Gardner-Hickman scored two second-half goals in an impressive pre-season cameo at Salford City in an attacking midfield role.
Corberan said: “When I came here he was playing in a 5-3-2 in the middle of the pitch, and he had played as a right-back and wing-back before I arrived.
“After I’d arrived, we moved to a back four and he played as a number eight, he can play in all of these positions, but sometimes I think that the best of Gardner-Hickman can be when you move him closer to the opponent’s box because, for me, he has a level of technical skill which means he can score goals.
“He has very good finishing, and he can score goals. Against Salford, knowing although that it’s a different level, he scored two very good goals because he is quick in the technical action and he is good at finishing.
“He can be useful when you put him there.”
Corberan insisted Albion have a number of formation possibilities within the current squad. Albion have mostly used a 4-2-3-1 since the Spaniard’s arrival, or played with two wide forwards advanced either side of a striker – but the head coach has placed an onus on new recruit Josh Maja being capable of playing alongside Brandon Thomas-Asante.
He added of Gardner-Hickman’s role and formations generally: “The gap of improvement, you are going to demand less when he is playing higher up the pitch. With the players we have right now, in the middle, I am working him more as a number ten.
“The fact that he is a midfielder gives him special conditions in his legs which allow him to play there, but after that we can play with two midfielders and a number ten, we can play with three midfielders. We can play with two centre backs and play with three centre backs.
“When we finish (in) the market, I can tell you how we can play!
“We have five centre backs, and it allows me to play with three or two. If I include Gardner-Hickman as a midfielder, we have five midfielders plus (John) Swift, so six – that allows me to play with three midfielders or two and a ten. Sometimes maybe in future two midfielders and two nines.”