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Carlton Blues' early season review

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Roar Guru
12th May, 2021
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As was requested on my Round 8 review of Essendon, I am doing an early season review of the Carlton Football Club.

We will go through what worked, what didn’t, and how they can fix it before finishing off with a pass mark for the remainder of the season.

Now, I’m an Essendon supporter, so the belief may be that I will eagerly drag the Blues over the coals but they’ve honestly been in the wilderness for so long that it would not be sporting. A strong Carlton is good for the AFL.

So, without further ado, here’s my take on the early season form of the Carlton Football Club.

What’s worked for Carlton

Young jets continue to grow – the Blues have had a run with first draft picks. The current side as at Round 1 had three with Marc Murphy (2005), Jacob Weitering (2015) and Sam Walsh (2018) all lacing up the boots.

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Walsh has continued to develop his game to become Carlton’s most damaging midfielder. Averaging 30 disposals, he leads Carlton for tackles and defensive half pressure act.

Harry McKay is another player whose development has come along in leaps and bounds since the unfortunate knee injury to Charlie Curnow.

He currently leads the Coleman Medal and marks inside 50, as well as being third in the competition for contested marks.

He has become a mainstay of the Carlton full forward line and priority No.1 for re-signing, lest he take a much larger pay packet at another club. There are 17 clubs that would love to have him.

Finally, there is reigning Nicholls Medallist Jacob Weitering.

Jacob Weitering

Jacob Weitering (Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

He has been immense down back as the Blues have struggled to defend the ball in transition, thus putting the back six under more pressure.

He ranks in the elite for key defenders in disposals, spoils, and one-on-one contests won. He’s above average for metres gained, intercept possessions and intercept marks to rank among the most well-rounded key defenders across the competition, and making it two for two in the John Nicholls Medal.

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The Blues key defensive structure – Liam Jones and Jacob Weitering pack the best one-two punch at full back and centre half back respectively.

When you combine that with the abilities of Matt Parks and Lachie Plowman, the Blues’ back six are putting together a very fine season.

Weitering, Jones, and Plowman are all rated as elite for intercept marks and intercept possessions, indicating a preternatural ability for the Blues to zone off and intercept the ball.

Assisting with the intercept possession is the sling shot footy off of the half back line that the Blues hoped for when they paid an immense price for Adam Saad last year.

Saad and Sam Docherty are both within the top-30 for metres gained. While they have struggled to ensure that their disposal goes to the Blues, they can certainly ensure that score launches are started with their cannon for a leg.

Finally, we have the mosquito fleet of forwards at the Blues – while Harry McKay is no doubt playing out of his skin at the moment, it is the Blues’ small forwards that have done well to date.

Eddie Betts is playing out of his skin with ten goals in the year-to-date, while the early performances of Michael Gibbons, Lachie Fogarty, Jack Martin and Zac Fisher show the signs of supremely talented small forwards who’ve benefited from the nous Betts has brought to the side.

Eddie Betts of the Blues celebrates

(Photo by Matt Roberts/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

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However, it is still a little too easy for the Blues to give up coast-to-coast goals as their players don’t want to be defensively accountable.

What hasn’t worked for the Blues

Injuries
The Blues’ injury list includes their most gifted aerobic tall forward (Charlie Curnow), their best small forwards (Zac Fisher and Jack Martin), along with Caleb Marchbank, Brodie Kemp, Marc Murphy, Oscar McDonald and Sam Phlip.

They have an equally distributed mix of elder statesmen depriving them of leadership and young jets giving them resolve to push themselves.

Suffice it to say the Blues need to rethink their fitness department and injury management specialists if they wish to contend as having half your side break down before the bye is less than ideal.

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Midfield team defence
The midfield of Carlton has been considered a strength but there has been a regression of late. The recruitment of Zac Williams as a midfielder has comprehensively failed.

He’s a small defender and lacks the tank to put together a four-quarter effort that is representative of the wider effort of the Carlton footy club.

In addition to the difficulties they have had with the conversion of Williams into a midfielder, the Blues have forgotten the old idiom “defence wins championships”.

The pressure being applied through the midfield is feckless and weak – all you need to do is take a look at the amount of tackles applied by their midfielders: Walsh is leading with 37.

Then there is the defensive half pressure acts: Sam Walsh leads the midfielders at Carlton, again, with 92, while Adam Saad is the only other Carlton player in the top 25 of this stat.

Adam Saad of the Blues celebrates a goal

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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This indicates that the Blues are not applying enough pressure on the ball in transition and consequently, they’re putting their backs under massive amounts of pressure.

As a result, they’re conceding massive scores, as well as roll-ons second only to Essendon since 2019.

Now we’re done with excoriating the Blues’ ineptitude and fecklessness, we now move on to how to fix it.

First off, as I’m sure Macca will point out in the comments, the Blues have an easier fixture in the latter half of the year, so naturally they will get better.

They’ve also shown some promising signs against the best sides as they’ve never been hammered.

However, I doubt the easier fixture will be the panacea to the concerns of David Teague’s game style, so what can the Blues do to fix the problems they’re currently experiencing?

Encourage integrity of selection
Players who under perform on certain KPIs get dropped – no ifs, ands or buts.

Move Saad to a wing and push Williams back to the half back line
Williams hasn’t worked as an inside midfielder. He played one good game there against GWS but that doesn’t suddenly make him a midfielder.

If they can push the more defensively-minded Saad up onto a wing, and play Fogarty or Murphy in that inside midfielder role, they can roll Williams back to pinch hit through the midfield as an impact player along side Jack Martin to give their midfield an added sense of dynamism.

Re-sign McKay and Walsh to long term contracts yesterday.

McKay and Walsh are forming a very very powerful partnership in the midfield and forward line. Re-signing them now removes the uncertainty that surrounds their contracts and quiets the wolves at the gates of the Carlton footy club.

Become defensively accountable in all areas of the ground
Something they have not done too much of. They need to lock the ball in their forward 50 and get repeat entries from repeat scores.

Early favourites for the John Nicholls Medal:

1. Sam Walsh.
2. Harry McKay.
3. Liam Jones.

There you have it, folks. I hope you enjoyed my look into the Carlton Football Club.

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