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Jacob Butterfield: Will St Johnstone reunite Derby County partnership with Craig Bryson and can he play the Ali McCann holding role?

Jacob Butterfield will give Callum Davidson central midfield options.
Jacob Butterfield will give Callum Davidson central midfield options.

Assumptions are often made about the English Championship.

It is perceived to be the land of the football giants, where central midfielders survive on their physical attributes as much as, if not more than, their technical ability.

St Johnstone fans shouldnโ€™t make the mistake of thinking Jacob Butterfield falls into that steel over silk category, even though he has played more than 300 games in the second tier down south.

The Perth club are getting a versatile operator in the middle of the park but one renowned for his passing and creativity (with an eye for goal thrown in for good measure).

Not his brawn.

Courier Sport picks out two big positional questions that arise from Butterfield’s signing until the end of the season.


Is it likely to be Butterfield AND Craig Bryson or Butterfield OR Craig Bryson?

The two men know each otherโ€™s games well from their days at Derby County, which is clearly good news as far as the new man integrating into the Saints side mid-season.

There are more similarities as players than differences.

The statistics of their two seasons as first team regulars at Pride Park show that in the first of those, under Paul Clement and then Darren Wassall, the scales tipped towards it being a case of selecting one or the other.

Butterfield played 46 times and Bryson 25 in 2015/16. And only six occasions, were they both starters.

In 2016/17 Nigel Pearson, Steve McClaren and Gary Rowett saw things differently, however, with that playing together number rising to 15 from 45 (Butterfield) and 37 (Bryson).

Ironically, it was Rowett, the man Davidson has worked with at Stoke City and Millwall, who sent both men out on loan for the following campaign.

The likeness of their styles of play was perhaps best summed up by Carlos Carvalhal later saying he swithered over which one to take to Sheffield Wednesday to fill a hole in his squad, in the end opting for Butterfield.

In terms of what will happen at Saints, it is probably a bit of a red herring to look that far back.

Bryson isnโ€™t the same attacking midfielder as at his career peak and has adapted his role even from Aberdeen to Saints.

The same could well be true for Butterfield.

Bryson has been the best of the midfield bunch at McDiarmid this season and Davidson will likely want to get both men in his side.

His system of two out and out central midfielders, like the one deployed on Saturday with Liam Craig and Bryson, would appear to suit both playmakers perfectly.


Will Davidson be tempted to deploy Butterfield in Ali McCannโ€™s old role?

Davidson will no doubt have picked the brains of Rowett already.

And the Millwall manager will have told his old number two that Butterfield will offer him versatility.

Like McCann, he can play as an anchor or an eight, though the latter would still appear to be the preference.

After a 3-1 victory for Derby over Wolves in May, 2017, Rowett said: โ€œI thought Jacob Butterfield was excellent in the holding role.

โ€œWe were going to play Will Hughes in that position before he picked up an injury, but I actually toyed with it beforehand. I felt as though Jacob might be better suited to that role because of his range of passing.

โ€œI thought he was as good as any of our players. Left foot or right foot, he will take the ball in any position.โ€

In his last spell in British football, Butterfield was signed by ex-Saint Graeme Jones at Luton.

Jones used the Manchester United academy product at the base of the midfield but he drifted out of the side, with the favoured diamond formation not bringing out his best football.

โ€œIโ€™ve always played as a number eight, that’s naturally is my best position, and itโ€™s the only position that I never featured for Luton,โ€ he said, reflecting on his season at Kenilworth Road.

There turned out to be โ€œno optimal position for meโ€, which would tend to suggest it wonโ€™t be Butterfieldโ€™s regular spot with Saints.

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