Before their narrow 1-2 loss at home against Reading, Birmingham enjoyed a three-game winning run on the trot. The Blues’ back-to-back wins against Swansea, Middlesbrough, and Bristol City have allowed them to plant their feet back in the Championship. Lee Bowyer’s side are currently placed at the 15th spot in the league, with six wins, four draws, and seven losses in 17 matches.
At the start of the season, Bowyer utilized a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation, but more recently, he has switched to a 3-4-2-1 or a 3-4-1-2 system. Both the systems have allowed Birmingham to run the games in the midfield. The duo of Ivan Sunjic and Ryan Woods has been impressive for the Blues at the centre. Although more recently, Sunjic has been partnered with Gardener in a two-man midfield pivot. It remains to be seen if Woods will be making a return to the starting XI soon, although Sunjic has remained a mainstay for Bowyer in the midfield this season.
Sunjic moved to Birmingham from Dynamo Zagreb in the summer of 2019. After a slow start to life at St. Andrew’s, Sunjic has finally started displaying qualities that made him the club’s record signing. The Croatian has been brilliant for Birmingham this season, putting up energetic performances in the defensive midfield position. So far, he has only missed two games in the Championship, which further highlights Bowyer’s faith in him.
Let’s dive into his stats in order to understand his strengths and his role in Birmingham’s midfield.
Sunjic has been above average this season in terms of the majority of defensive stats. He averages more than six defensive duels per match while making an average of more than four recoveries in the opponent’s half per 90.
Sunjic can play both as an anchor or in a box-to-box role in the midfield. He is capable of playing at the base of a midfield three while he is also comfortable in the defensive role in the two-man pivot. For Birmingham this season, he has been deployed in the defensive midfield in a double pivot. Sunjic is comfortable with the ball at his feet, and his pass map highlights the areas of the pitch where he has delivered his passes this season. Sunjic has delivered highly threatening passes into the opposition box from multiple areas of the pitch.
Sunjic’s heat map this season has been impressive. He has been covering almost the entire pitch from box to box. He is the engine in the two-man pivot who protects his defenders while also joining in the attack. This season he has been most active in the half-spaces in the opponent’s half. In addition to his decent technique, Sunjic’s awareness and reading of the game allows him to position himself appropriately on the pitch.
The Croatian is adept at breaking up the opposition play and can quickly set the tone for his side’s attack. So far, he has made 73 recoveries in the opponent’s half, which is the fifth-highest in the Championship.
Birmingham City are heavily reliant on Sunjic’s energy and work rate. He has put brilliant performances in the midfield for the Blues this season, especially with his work off the ball. Sunjic is the engine in Lee Bowyer’s midfield that keeps the team running.